“Women and Their Wiles”
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) – Part Two
Mary: Welcome to Revisiting the Vault, a podcast where we’re exploring history, film, animation, fashion, music, and a whole bunch of other things through a Disney lens. Just a little bit of a behind the scenes note, we actually recorded most of our discussions before we had decided that each film was going to be divided up into two episodes.
So this is the second half of our discussion of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from 1937.
I am Mary Ratliff. I am a writer and general film nerd who is extremely interested in the history of animation.
Gretchen: And I am Gretchen Harwell. I am a mom. I am a big time fashion and fashion history enthusiast and former classical musician.
Mary: I have a friend who I went to college with, Snow White was her favorite princess. I think most people who grew up as girls in America have some sort of princess identification system. Were you a Belle or an Ariel or a Snow White?
Mary: I think most of us end up with one, mine’s Belle. So hers is Snow White. And she’s a lovely person, she was a great friend, and her thing was always that Snow White was so kind, and that she was so forgiving, and that, like, she had a lot of really great characteristics. And so I tried to go into this being, like, this is one of my friends favorites. I’m trying to see the positive things here.
Mary: Because I actually get really mad. I mean, obviously, since I just said, like, the Belle is one of my identifying ones, I get really mad at the discourse around Beauty and the Beast. That, when we get to that episode, that is going to be long, because I have thoughts.
I also get the same way about The Little Mermaid, when people trying to be like, Ariel just gave up her voice for a man, and I’m just like, don’t even. So, I’m trying so hard, watching Snow White, to be like, let’s look at this not being super restrictive about, like, this is what a feminist is or isn’t. Like, let’s look at this with an open mind trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, and I can’t. I can’t do it.
Mary: She is so naive about everything, and she does almost nothing. Almost nothing.
Gretchen: Right. She’s so helpless. And hapless.
Mary: She is completely shocked that this huntsman tries to kill her. I get that. Okay. Your stepmom hates you, but you’re not going to expect her to suddenly try to, like, actually have you murdered.
She has little to no people skills because she’s been kept in isolation by her stepmother. Okay. I will give her that. But she goes and she has this thing where she runs through the forest. Great sequence.
Mary: The geography of it makes absolutely no sense.
Gretchen: She falls down through a cave and comes out on surface level.
Mary: Right. Did she fall into, like, another country? I couldn’t make it make sense. It’s clearly all of those visions were all in her head.
Mary: And that forest was not actually scary at all until she, until she calms down and takes a deep breath and sort of actually looked around her, which I thought was like a metaphor that probably flies over almost every child’s head.
Mary: But not a bad metaphor, really, if you want to start teaching kids about these things.
Gretchen: No, I mean, the forest is scary when she’s scared. It’s pretty straightforward.
Mary: Right, and she has that whole thing that she talks to the blue bird about not being scared, right before she does all of this. But, so she has this whole sequence, she gets to the end of it, and there’s all these animals, and she’s like, No, it’s okay, I’m not scared anymore, everything’s okay, but I do need a place to sleep. And then she just asks a chipmunk Where a house is.
Mary: And the chipmunk is like, I totally know a place where you can sleep. I mean, assuming she’s a druid, and she can talk to animals, and that she, she has the talk to animals skill. She can understand the chipmunks, and they can understand her. We’ll, we’ll give you that.
There’s an evil queen. It’s fine. I mean, she does have the thing where she’s like, I can’t live in a nest, and I can’t sleep in a tree, or whatever, like you guys do. Like, she does do a little bit of that. It’s still going to be someone’s house!
Gretchen: She’s trespassing.
Mary: Right! And she just, she gets there and she’s like, do you think they’ll let me stay? And the chipmunk, or like the deer, or maybe one of the birds is like, yeah, yeah, cool. I’m so glad about that. I just can’t. And again, it’s because it’s plot. They have to rush through it. They don’t have time. They don’t have time for plot. They have to get to the song.
Gretchen: Yes, that’s exactly it. And it’s just., to me, I can’t not look at that through a modern lens and just be like, no, no, no, no. These are boundaries. This is another boundary problem we’re having here, friend.
Mary: Right. Maybe it’s because she’s royal, so everything belongs to her.
Gretchen: Maybe so. I had a couple things where after her little nightmare scene, and she sits up and she’s talking to the animals, she says, oh, I’m so ashamed of the fuss I’ve made. I feel like that fuss was warranted. Because…
Mary: Right. Someone just tried to cut out your heart.
Gretchen: Yes, somebody was going to kill you and she’s like, I’m so ashamed. She’s like, no, you deserve a day to process that.
Mary: Right, yeah.
Gretchen: Go ahead. Take a day. I just, I have a hard time with that.
Mary: And like, it’s been a lifetime of abuse at this point.
Gretchen: Right. And I also, like I had a, I kept thinking, I was like, oh, it makes me so mad because she’s so helpless and she won’t do anything and blah, blah, blah. And then I’m like, okay, is this good old fashioned 1937 Walt Disney sexism at work? Yes. But in, let’s call it 1537, the OG Snow White Margaretha, did she have many other choices?
Gretchen: And that’s actually a real question because more women than we have been traditionally led to believe made choices for themselves, even back then. There were women who did stuff. Have they been written out of history? Yes, there is that, but, by and large, their choices were still very limited.
Mary: Right. It was choosing between one or two bad things.
Gretchen: Right. And they were even more limited than they were in 1937. At which point, okay, so is this accurate? No ish? Yes ish? Maybe ish? Did she have to be such a wallflower? Or…
Mary: Literally, her only skills were cooking and cleaning.
Mary: Which was very 1937.
Gretchen: Exactly. Yes. That’s this whole thing. It’s just like, well, it’s, it is really sexist and it is really terrible, but might it be accurate? Kinda. She’s such a pushover. I mean, I just, I want to look at her and be like, listen. You have a spine.
Mary: Yeah, you can make choices.
Mary: Yeah, I mean, she goes in and she’s like, you know, this house, it must belong to children.
Mary: Which I guess is a reasonable thing to assume if you haven’t met a, a group of seven dwarfs in your travels before. Her, her naivete is partially due to being sheltered because of the abuse.
Mary: Let’s go ahead and like label that with modern terminology. But her first instinct is this house is filthy, I should clean it. And they will be thankful that I cleaned it.
Mary: That is so 1930s.
Gretchen: Right, and she’s doing what she knows.
Mary: Right. I mean, it’s like, okay, well, I guess she was a maid and she was taught that her value in life was because the queen kept her alive because she can clean the kitchen or, you know, clean whatever.
Gretchen: The steps.
Mary: Yeah. But it’s still just this weird moment where, like, I’m a very… organized person that is, like, obsessed with cleanliness in, like, a weird way.
Gretchen: I’m a compulsive tidier.
Mary: But, like, if I walked into that house, I would not be like, I need to clean this place. I would be like, I need to leave.
Gretchen: Right. This is gross. Let me out.
Mary: Like, this is obviously not the place for me. I can’t do it. Also, this is the first time we get that animal helpers helping with household chores trope.
Mary: Which all of us, I think, have internalized in a way where we’re just, where are the squirrels to come help me do my dishes?
Mary: How do these animals know how and what to do to clean this house? Because they’re all just like, oh, clearly this is clothing. We’ve never worn clothing. We have no reason to know what clothing is, but it needs to be washed in the river.
Gretchen: Right. And at first though, they’re trying to cheat. They’re trying to sweep stuff under the rug and she’s like, no, no, no. And so not only do they know what cleaning is supposed to look like, they also know the workarounds.
Gretchen: The little cheats that lazy people do and they have a level of sophistication that honestly Snow White does not display for a lot of the movie. She’s not thinking about things like that and yet they’re chipmunks.
Mary: It’s one of those things that I’m sure people listening to this are gonna be like, oh my god It’s just a movie like it’s an animated movie. Why are you nitpicking etc?
Mary: At least they’re not talking animals, which you know sure. At the same time this becomes one of those things that you start to fixate on because there’s no plot.
Mary: If this was just a music break, I probably would be like, it was a funny little music break.
Gretchen: Right. A dream sequence, where suddenly the animals were helping her clean. You know? I guess also, the audience now has become so much more, I don’t want to say sophisticated, I don’t mean to like, but like, as far as our expectations of a movie. They are way higher than they used to be because movies are way better than they used to be in many respects.
Gretchen: I won’t say all of them, blah, blah, blah. Don’t come at me, film people. That’s not what I mean. But you know what I mean?
Mary: Storytelling techniques have evolved.
Gretchen: Exactly. And so we don’t need chipmunks doing the laundry. Frankly. I mean, I could use some for sure, but, you know, skipping to the end of the movie, since we’re not going chronologically, they also help her bake pies. It’s unsanitary.
Mary: It’s so unsanitary. And also, like, I have never baked a pie that went that easily.
Gretchen: Nope. Nope. There’s always some tears.
Mary: Yeah, like watching her cut that crust off, like I know this is like a total tangent. She’s cutting that crust off and it like cuts off so perfectly in one piece that they then used to decorate the top of the pie.
Mary: And like I made a pie two days later, just coincidence, decided that I was going to make a pie and my crust was too dry and so it’s like trying to cut the edge off and it was a disaster. And I was just like, Snow White set me up for this disappointment.
Gretchen: Yes. because you didn’t have bluebird helpers.
Mary: I know. I didn’t, I didn’t have little bluebirds and squirrels or chipmunks who think it’s totally cool to put goldenrod as your table centerpiece.
Gretchen: Well, they don’t know.
Mary: I mean, admittedly, they didn’t know that one of the dwarves was Sneezy. But I’m just like, goldenrod’s not even that pretty of a flower, but I mean, maybe to birds it’s, it’s gorgeous. I don’t know.
Gretchen: Yeah. It might stand out in their color vision. I don’t know. I have no idea.
Mary: Yeah. And also I know no one at Disney thought this hard about it.
Gretchen: Right. They were like, what’s a little flower that’s easy to draw?
Mary: And I mean, I think it’s important to bring up, because when you look at the success that Disney has had in the last few of their animated features. It has been because they finally, I know that they started to do more research, especially around like the Bambi era, but the research and care that went into Moana and Encanto, especially.
But also, you know, if we stray into Pixar, looking at something like Coco. The way that they said, this is not a culture or a place that we’re familiar with, so we’re going to go talk to people who are and learn more about it, and do this research. And like, did they get everything 100% right? No, of course not. There’s going to be quibbles in all of that.
Gretchen: It’s Disney.
Mary: But Moana and Encanto, both, because of that research and that heart that went into that world building? Succeed on so many levels where Snow White fails. Which, again, we have to admit that Snow White was the first time they did any of this.
Mary: They didn’t have time to think about world building because they were trying to figure out, like, literally how to make this even happen. Like, there were scenes where the rain at the end, I could look at it and sort of figure out what they probably did, but that was, like, the amount of time and effort it took to animate that rain just in that ending sequence, it made me tired, just thinking about it.
Gretchen: Well, and you can also think about, I think they took the same approach to the culture that they did to the costumes. They did 16th century German, well, no, I take it back, they did 1930s fashion and they historicized it. So they took 1930s America and… germanified it.
Mary: Mm hmm.
Gretchen: I think they took the same approach and they’re like, well, what do you think of when you think of Germany? You think of lederhosen.
Gretchen: I don’t know those weird little wooden clogs that aren’t really German, but okay, you know and like.
Mary: You know they’ve got a beer sign for no reason.
Gretchen: Exactly, like they’re drinking out of this the steins and stuff. I think that’s what they did.
Gretchen: To their credit I don’t think they were trying to be accurate so much as give a flavor of, so.
Mary: And I, I think that’s the thing, and I think that that’s the thing where it, it becomes so hard to, like, look at it without that modern view. And partially it is because of this lack of plot to hang on to. This lack of, like, deep characterization of any kind.
None of the characters have character. Which, so there’s a scene, again, in the, in the making of featurette, where, like, one of the historians is talking about how this is the first time that animated characters really needed to have any depth of character at all, and they really needed to have…he’s talking about this, and I’m like, none of them do.
Gretchen: Right, you know, it’s not even scratching the surface.
Mary: The most complex person you get is the Evil Queen. And that is why she is, she is the MVP of this movie.
Mary: On, like, every level. Lucille Laverne was her voice actress. She was amazing. The voice acting, the animating, the character, like, everything about the Evil Queen is iconic.
Mary: You remember it, it sticks in your head. Generations know these images. And I think part of that is because she is the only character who has some character.
Mary: And really, what is her motivation? She wants to be the fairest in the land, okay.
Mary: Not much of a motivation, but we’ll give it to her. We have no idea why she married the king. Was it for power? Was it for money? Was she, did she actually love him? You know, we don’t know any of that. We know she’s into magic. We know she’s evil. We get great little stuff, like the scene where she’s walking by the skeleton that’s like reaching out of the jail cell trying to grab that jar of water.
And she, like, kicks the jar of water away from the skeleton who is already dead. She’s got a depth to her that none of the rest of them have.
Gretchen: Yes, I mean, like, yeah, she’s, like, adding insult to injury for the skeleton.
Mary: I mean, one of the things that I wrote down about the dwarves was that all of their characters are 100% just there for them to make fun of the other 100% of the dwarves characters.
Mary: Doc? They sort of put across as like, he’s the smart one that’s not actually that smart.
Mary: But like, that doesn’t even go very deep.
Mary: It’s just a characteristic that’s there so they can make fun of him for that. Sneezy is only sneezy when it’s funny.
Gretchen: Mm hmm.
Mary: Grumpy is always grumpy, but sometimes he’s also sexist.
Gretchen: Yes, he’s a grumpy sexist is what he is.
Gretchen: I actually, there was one line that he had where I was like, okay, and he’s like, there’s trouble coming. My corns are hurting and it’s just like, okay. Then like, you know, there’s like, I can tell when a storm’s coming because my knees hurt. So I get it, man. I get it. It’s relatable.
Mary: Well, and it’s funny because like, again, you know, sort of the same with the princesses. I think everybody sort of has like the one dwarf that they got lumped in with growing up. Mine was always Grumpy. Sometimes Sleepy, but usually Grumpy. Like he’s sort of been the one. And so then to find out that my favorite dwarf all these years was the sexist one who’s always going on about women and their wiles.
Gretchen: Yes! Her wiles are beginning to work!
Mary: And then it ends up that he actually gets won over by her because she’s so sweet and so nice.
Mary: This is, again, this is the 30s. Okay.
Mary: Ugh. Okay.
Gretchen: And let’s talk about these dwarves for a second. First of all, they’re clearly adult based on their features and their hair slash baldness.
They have gray hair or are bald. They live by themselves. They’re complete idiots. They’re helpless. As soon as she steps into the picture. How were they independent before she came along? And then she steps into the picture, and they turn into they’re children.
Mary: Right. I mean, I was guessing 5 or 6 years old was about where their skill set was.
Gretchen: Yes, but then they were living independently before that. So what was happening then?
Mary: And they work in a gem mine, which I really have so many questions about the economics.
Gretchen: I have, yes. It’s bizarre. Also, where did they get the gold for the coffin? Are they mining that too? Because I don’t think Bavaria was ever known for that.
Mary: It’s just such, it’s got this, because fairy tales have their tropes.
Mary: And dwarfs are presented in this film as a fairy tale race.
Mary: And not as a thing that exists, which is a problem, which has come up with the live action remake, which the less is said about the live action remakes, the better, I think.
But they’re treated as something that doesn’t exist. It’s like a, you know, almost like a… Dragons or elves or vampires, you know.
Gretchen: They’re a fairy tale creature.
Mary: Right. And so if you look at them as a fairy tale creature, there’s this idea, I don’t know where it comes from, like how far back it goes, I’m sure it’s somewhere in Grimm, that dwarves are known for mining, for whatever reason, and also for… craftsmanship.
Mary: And my thing is, I’ve known plenty of people who are super skilled in one area and super terrible in others. That’s obviously a thing. But I’ve never known anybody that could be called a master craftsman who does not know how to dust.
Mary: And who has never washed his hands.
Mary: It’s just, it’s so hard to see it as anything other than a string of gags because of things like that.
Mary: And it’s funny because about a month ago I finally saw the movie My Neighbor Totoro for the first time. You know, on the way home from going to see that, I was talking about how, like, it’s not a movie that could be made in America.
If anybody tried to do, like, a remake or a modernization of it, they would really try to force more plot into it because it is a movie that is this is a summer in the life of these two little girls where, like, some weird things happen. It is a string of vignettes with this magical forest creature. I was thinking of this as a much more Japanese or Eastern style of storytelling than what I’m used to and all of this stuff, but then I watched Snow White.
Mary: But at the same time, I don’t want anybody to think that I’m saying My Neighbor Totoro was not… that’s an instance where they took this skeleton and they made it what it could be. I wasn’t watching that movie wanting plot.
Mary: Because the other pieces were so strong, and because the characters had depth, and the place it existed in felt so real, because it was real, it was where the director grew up. And so it like, it had this accuracy, and this through line, and it felt built in a way that made me be like, it’s totally fine that this is just a few scenes in a life.
Gretchen: Right. It’s not like a white man’s idea of what this story should and probably does look like.
Mary: Right. Right.
Gretchen: Which I think is what happens in Snow White.
Mary: Yeah, and that’s the thing that, like, Disney is gonna get a lot of critique for over the years, is the way that they take fables and stories and historical characters sometimes.
Mary: And they Disney fy it. And this whole thing of the ways that they took Cinderella and they took out the aspects of the stepsisters, the gruesome aspects of the fairy tales, and they made them kid friendly and all of this stuff. I mean, that’s something that’s going to dog Disney to today.
Gretchen: Right. Let’s talk about the kid movie nature of this. First of all, the very first thing I wrote down in this movie was so much reading.
Gretchen: At the beginning.
Mary: Yeah, that went on for a while.
Gretchen: It goes on for a while, and I’m like, okay. So now we think of it as a kid’s movie. Back then, did we think of it as a kid’s movie? I don’t know. And what five year old was reading that?
Or were their parents in the theater going, okay, and this is what this says?
Mary: Alternatively, I wonder how much kids even cared.
Mary: Because kids will roll with stuff.
Gretchen: Yes, you’re absolutely right about that. So they might have been like, well, this is boring. Oh, wait, now there’s stuff happening on screen. And so, and that’s another thing that I had written down and I saw in your notes, too. The credits moved and thank god they did.
Gretchen: Because, like, you already have to read for, realistically, it’s not that long, but it feels really long. We’re used to modern movies where it’s like, hit the ground running. Let’s make a movie.
Mary: Yeah, you have to have that opening hook.
Gretchen: You know, you’re reading for what feels like forever and then there’s credits. And you’re like, what is happening? And way to build suspense or and or bore your viewers right from the start.
Mary: And that was just the conventions of the time that like we sort of forget was how it worked.
Mary: Was that in the 30s, and I don’t know when this shift happened. We’re probably going to end up seeing it in real time whenever it did. But, putting the credits at the end, just, it wasn’t done.
Mary: The movie ended and you walked out. Like, the credits went at the beginning. Just, that was how you did it. Credits are really fascinating when you start to get into, like, the logistics of it. Looking back at Snow White and all the people that didn’t get credited.
Gretchen: Right. Like, Snow White.
Mary: I was wondering, like, idly, if anybody’s done a comparison of, like, how many animators are credited on Snow White and how many animators are credited on, like, Encanto or Raya.
Mary: And… you know, what is the difference? How big has that workforce grown? Has it? Because now we’re in a situation where with CGI is actually making them do a whole bunch of underhanded Hollywood stuff.
So, you know, the comparison of how big did these workforces get? Also, how many people’s names just weren’t there?
Mary: The voice actors weren’t there.
Gretchen: Right. I mean, there was so much that wasn’t there. I mean, like the studio musicians.
Mary: Every time I watch old movies, like no matter how wonderful an old movie is, when they start that credit sequence at the beginning, I always just feel really tired.
Gretchen: Yes, but I’ll be the first to admit, you know, when it comes to the end of the movie and it’s like, okay, time for credits. I’m out. I’m done.
Mary: Oh, yeah, see, I watch the whole thing. So I don’t do it when I’m watching on television.
That’s not… But when I go to a movie in the theater, one of my things, and I’m sure that there are theater, people who work in theaters that don’t like this, and I’m, I’m here to say right now, you can start cleaning while I’m there. I don’t care. But I started to do it when I was in film school.
I just started to get this feeling about how there are all of these people who did some tiny piece, they worked really hard, and they put so much into making this, and their name scrolls by so fast and in such small fonts at the end.
Mary: I can’t read them, I don’t read the whole thing, like even when I’m looking for a friend’s name, I don’t see it.
Gretchen: There have been times where I’m looking for my husband’s name, and I’m like, wait, where were you? What happened?
Mary: Right, exactly.
Gretchen: How do you do this?
Mary: The main thing I’ll catch is like sometimes I’ll have like the funny credits.
Mary: And then I always cheer for all the union logos at the end.
Mary: It’s just something for me. I like to sit there to like honor those people. And it’s so funny that I will actually sit and wait through the whole credits and If they’re at the beginning of the movie, I hate it. Because credit sequences are longer now.
Mary: They’re like two songs long.
Gretchen: Yes. Oh gosh. It takes forever.
Mary: But you put it at the beginning of the movie. It’s just, it’s the wrong, it’s the wrong time. It’s the wrong mood.
Mary: So like the actual animation technique, this is the thing that I love. Like, you know, I mentioned that it’s an actual physical picture.
Mary: And that is something that I think we forget that, because people will talk about stop motion animation still because there’s still a few studios doing that.
Mary: And we think about the meticulousness of it and how they have to make all these little models and they have to move them this tiny little bit. They were doing that but with paintings.
Mary: And that’s the sheer amount of drawing that had to happen to do it.
Gretchen: Oh my gosh.
Mary: And then the way that they did it with the layers, which I think is easier for people to understand now if they’ve done any Photoshop, so you start to understand how it works, but.
Mary: It’s layers of clear acetate that you only paint part of the picture on.
Mary: The thing that killed me was the rotoscoping, which, so rotoscoping is where you basically film something and then you paint over top of the film.
Mary: I’m super used to rotoscoping. Anybody that grew up in the eighties is because all of the cartoons we watched in the eighties were rotoscoped.
Mary: He-man, a hundred percent. That’s why there was so many He-Man cartoons. That’s why they cranked ’em out so fast. It’s ’cause they used a rotoscoping technique. So like we’ve seen it, bu in Snow White, oh, it was rough. It was so rough. It was really hard to watch.
Mary: And it stood out really badly. And what I discovered when I was looking into it, because I was like, well, when did they figure out how to do this? Like, how early on was this? And actually, so rotoscoping was invented in 1915, but the animator who invented it patented the technique, so no one else could do it.
Gretchen: Mm hmm.
Mary: Until… the mid 1930s when the patent expired. So Snow White was actually the first time anybody other than Max Fleischmann’s Studios did rotoscoping. It was the first one.
Mary: Rough though.
Gretchen: Right. And I mean, and that’s before. Nowadays, somebody would patent that and will say, oh, we’ll license it to you.
Gretchen: And we’ll have our guys come in, and we’ll show you how it’s done. And you gotta hire our guys for it, and blah, blah, blah. And back then they were like, nope, touch nubbies, it’s ours.
Mary: Right. This was 20 years that no one else could do it. And you know that Disney was just sitting there, watching this, being like, I want to, I want to.
Mary: I want to do it. I want to do it. Because as soon as it expired, like the day, it seems like. the day he could. He was like, we’re in. But they only use it for Snow White and Prince Charming. And I wonder if that’s why, that’s part of why they’re so flat. And so…
Mary: Colorless. Noseless. Yeah. That like, maybe it was just, maybe they even use like literally a different paint.
Gretchen: Right. Maybe so. I mean, it’s possible that that is a, the reason for the whole frustration with their, I don’t want to call it their look, because that’s not the right way to put it, but… The style of those two characters.
Mary: It makes the way they move feel strange.
Mary: Because it stands out against the other characters is part of it.
Gretchen: Right. I mean, if you, if you go back to the Evil Queen being the one kind of really fully formed or more formed character. Not only as a character is in the, like, the idea, but as a drawn character. She’s a lot richer than Snow White. And it’s just like, okay, she’s got more depth of character and she’s got literally more to her appearance.
Gretchen: It’s interesting, I guess, is the only word for it, to say, like, okay, well, she’s the one with any depth of character and she’s the one with any actual features that you can see.
Mary: Right. Going back to the music, like, I can just be like, I really love this song. It’s really fun. And you probably can explain to me that it’s fun because of, like, this chord progression or like…
Gretchen: Actually, that’s another thing about the music. I was listening, when the dwarfs are heading back to hopefully save Snow White because it has, like, suddenly the birds are like, hey, guys. Something’s up.
Gretchen: And then they’re chasing the evil queen away. First of all, it sounds like the 1812 Overture. Like, I was like, when do the cannons come in? I’m really, it really sounds like 1812 Overture.
Gretchen: But then that actually, there’s another thing that sort of comes into play on that. And that is, the music totally fits there. I’m on board. It’s a little more upbeat, I think, than the scene calls for. But…
Mary: Maybe they’re trying to tone down the murder.
Gretchen: Maybe so. And yeah, it could be a totally intentional move on their part, but also, first of all, I had forgotten that the queen falls off the cliff, and that is how she meets her end. I had completely forgotten any of that. I do think it’s kind of, you know, it is a nod to it being a movie intended for all audiences, or at least audiences that are not accustomed to violence. You don’t actually see it. You don’t see her laying. I mean, you know.
Mary: You don’ t see Snow White die either.
Gretchen: Exactly. The dwarves, they clearly have murderous intent. They are going after that woman.
Mary: They are 100% gonna straight up murder her.
Gretchen: Right, but she dies because lightning strikes the cliff and she falls to her death and the boulder then falls on top of her.
Mary: And just in case we were wondering, you have the buzzards.
Mary: Circling down in soft focus.
Gretchen: Exactly. Exactly. Which I love the use of soft focus too. It’s like all of the Barbara Walters interviews from the early 2000s where there’s just clearly Vasoline on the lens. You know what I mean? Like that. Actually, that was a touch where I was like, nice use of soft focus, but it’s like an animated soft focus.
Mary: And again, that’s a time where you remember that it’s a physical camera.
Mary: Taking physical pictures. So they could do soft focus.
Gretchen: Exactly. Exactly. And I, it’s like, that’s crazy. It’s crazy. But. Very, I don’t know, inspired, I guess is the word I’m looking for. But it’s like, does the choice to have her die by lightning strike, ultimately, does that kind of restore the dwarf’s collective virtue?
Mary: I mean, that had to be what it was.
Mary: Especially when you think about, there’s a, I don’t know what name it has on TV tropes, but I would imagine it probably has something to do with Disney because they made it so famous, but the idea that the villains in kids movies, in animated movies, but especially in Disney movies, die by falling off cliffs.
Mary: And I don’t know how often it actually happens. It could be like something where, when I started making the list and I realized that there are not actually that many princess movies.
Gretchen: Mm hmm.
Mary: In the Disney canon. Not even just looking at the fact that, like, Disney has their official list of these are our princesses and these other ones are not.
Mary: Even the ones where you’re like, are they or aren’t they a princess? There’s not that many. So I don’t know if it’s one of those things that happens in, like, three movies and we just all remember those three because they’re so iconic. But, like, it really feels like the, the witch, the queen falling off of that cliff is starting a trend.
It has to be because it’s a clean way to be sure the villain is gone so that you can have your happy ending so that my kids are satisfied that the monster is gone without actually showing death, without showing murder.
Gretchen: Right, without, I mean murder in self defense. It’s, you know, you’re still taking a life. And so, these dwarfs that, who have been dumb, but also very good natured.
Mary: Right. They accept this random woman just because she’s gonna bake them gooseberry pies.
Gretchen: Right, they accept her.
Mary: And they’re totally fine with all the chipmunks.
Gretchen: Right, and, and they’ve never, you know, washed their hands, all this stuff, and suddenly they’re gonna murder somebody? That feels like a hard left turn.
Gretchen: I do think it’s an intentional thing, and it’s very handy for the point of storytelling, because like, you know, I’m getting ready to take my daughter to Disney in a couple of months. It’s her first trip, and it will be my second. I don’t want to go to a character dinner with the dwarfs if they are murderers.
Gretchen: Right. You know, even if it’s complicated, and that also, it does, you know, it helps to keep things black and white for a kid’s perspective sort of thing. For a kid’s purpose, there’s the good person and there’s the bad person, and you don’t need to wander into that gray.
Gretchen: You don’t need the villain’s backstory.
Mary: I think it’s okay with kids movies. And this is, again, the not a parent speaking, but I think kids do need to learn that you can fight back.
Mary: Against things. I think that that’s okay. So, I do like, It’s jumping the gun, but in Tangled, at the end of Tangled, where Rapunzel is just like, I’ll do what you want, but I’m never going to be okay with it. I’m always going to be fighting. I’m always going to be mad at you. And she really stands up for herself.
Mary: I think that that’s a good lesson for kids. You can fight back. You don’t have to be passive. You don’t have to be good all the time.
Mary: But that when is it okay to throw an evil queen off a cliff?
Gretchen: Yeah. Yeah.
Mary: That’s hard to explain. So when you start to look at it, and you look at all of the ones who do fall off of cliffs, which again, mother Gothel one of them.
Gretchen: Right? Gaston.
Mary: Scar. And almost all of them, there’s a moment where the hero or the heroine tries to save them and can’t.
Mary: Or where the villain won’t accept their help.
Mary: And so, It’s that thing of, like, there’s also this little extra push of, like, even if you hate someone, even if they’ve hurt you, you still shouldn’t wish death on them. It’s not an overt thing that I think that they ever say anywhere, but it is definitely a value that I think is laced throughout it.
I think it goes into a little bit of the fact that parents are non existent in a lot of Disney movies, and that they’re almost always just died off screen. And, or maybe just never mentioned, but part of that is because narratively they want to have your surrogate character have this adventure or whatever.
Mary: And I think children are savvy enough to understand that if Snow White’s dad was around or Snow White’s mom was around to protect her, she would have.
Mary: You know, and looking at the later movies, they give reasons like Maurice is trying to help Belle, but he can’t because of society or whatever. I think narratively it’s just a cop out.
Mary: They sat and they said. What would her mom be doing if her mom was there? Which, obviously, if the queen’s a stepmom, her mom can’t be there. Okay, so what would her dad do if her dad was there?
Mary: And they’re just like, I don’t know if we can make this story work if her dad is there. Let’s just have him be gone.
Gretchen: This is definitely a recurring theme. I did actually have a thought, and it ties into the animation too, and that is the queen, when she transforms herself into the crone. A, she is scary. She sounds scary. That animation with her hands, all of it, it’s good. It is scary goodness.
Mary: So good. I mean, they had that brief flash of her bones in her hands, which I mean, I guess actually because they’re animating each frame wasn’t as hard.
Gretchen: It’s good.
Mary: But wow. Yeah. It’s so impactful. Yeah.
Gretchen: It’s really good. She is scary. And then you kind of have to ask yourself like, Hmm, maybe this is her true self. When I was taking notes, I was like, hmm, her transformation and her witchy self are really quite scary. And especially for a young kid watching this.
Gretchen: Like, it is dark.
Mary: Yeah. Because that was also, like, one thing that we thought of when we were watching it was like, she turns herself into a crone, and we’re like, how does she go back?
Gretchen: Right? Or is this the real her?
Mary: Yeah. Is she not going back? Is she so set on murdering Snow White she’s fine with it. ’cause she’s so set on murdering Snow White. She forgets to look and see if there’s a cure for the poison apple.
Gretchen: Yes. She, she’s like, oh, let’s, let’s check this real quick. And, and then she’s like, oh, it’s gonna be fine. It’s gonna be fine, guys.
Mary: Yeah. She’s like, it’s, it’s true. Well, this is actually where it gets a little dark again, like everything with the queen, where it starts to get dark. It’s love’s first kiss. Not true love’s kiss. Which I thought was interesting. But her reason that it’s not gonna happen is because the dwarves will assume she’s dead and they’re gonna bury her and she will rot in her grave before anyone will kiss her.
Mary: That is a lot to throw into a kids movie and to just like move on.
Gretchen: Right. Okay. And a thought comes from that. She dies as the crone.
Mary: Mm hmm.
Gretchen: When she dies, do you suppose she turned back into the evil queen? Or were they like, I don’t know, this old witch came and she killed Snow White and, but the queen’s gone.
Mary: Again with the politics.
Gretchen: Right. And they ride off to the prince’s kingdom. So now is this kingdom completely left without a ruler? Or do they know like, oh, well it turns out that was the queen and she turned herself into a crone. Now she’s dead, but the princess is gone. So Doc is going to be the king now.
Mary: When you don’t have enough of a plot.
Mary: To really, and if I was an eight year old. I’m assuming that being able to sing Whistle While You Work and Hi Ho would be enough of a plot for me and that I would not care.
Gretchen: Yeah, no, totally. Totally. But again, also, you can’t go too far into the weeds when you’re making what you’re going to tell everybody is the first full length animated film.
Gretchen: Feature length.
Mary: When what they were very much used to the, again, this is from the making of feature at which I highly recommend. They were saying that the Silly Symphonies in the beginning were just, they had a song that everybody knew and then they just had characters cavorting to a song.
Mary: And then only a few years before they started work on Snow White, they did the Three Little Pigs where they actually had a song that they wrote for that. Where the plot was the song and audiences weren’t really primed for, like, a deep plot.
Gretchen: A story.
Mary: Especially in animation. I guess this gets to, like, what is our wrap up? And my thought is, does this movie, like, it has obvious historical significance. There’s no denying that.
Mary: It’s extremely important to history. It’s extremely important to film history, to American history, to many things. But does it deserve to be so beloved as a movie?
Gretchen: As a mother of a nine-year-old in 2022, I gotta say, nope. There’s, you know, there’s a couple songs that are catchy.
Mary: Right, right.
Gretchen: If this movie came out, there are student films that come out now that are better than this. That’s how I have to look at it. And as a piece of history, 100%, yes. Yes, it did things that nobody had done. Go for it, yes. Is this a thing that I’m going to sit down and watch again?
No. I can’t even say that I hated it. I was baffled by it. I was just like, what?
Mary: Yeah, it was just, it wasn’t what I remembered and it wasn’t what people have made it out to be. Because that’s, again, that featurette, you’ve got these like notable names. These people are just going on rapturously about this movie and how important it was to them and how much they love it and they love watching it with their kids and all of that stuff. It has to be something where it made that impact on you when you were really young.
Mary: And so you’re willing to not interrogate it.
Gretchen: Yeah, you can overlook all of those icky feelings that arise.
Mary: Which, I do.
Mary: I mean, if I ever made something like this about the Neverending Story, y’all, I love that movie, but it’s plot is all over.
Gretchen: Yes. Yes. It’s just, I think you do have to appreciate it as a piece of history and a product of its time. It was the Haydn of its time, you know, I mean, it took movies to a new place, period. That being said, I know my daughter has seen it and I don’t think she even likes it. And she’s, she’s nine and she probably hasn’t seen it since she was like six.
And even then she was like, you know. I don’t think she would give it. Like, I like to jokingly give things an F- I don’t think we’re at F- level.
Gretchen: She probably doesn’t care if she ever sees it again.
Mary: Yeah, there are a lot of movies that are historically important that I actually will say are trash and should be forgotten and that we don’t need to remember. I don’t think this is one of them. I don’t think this is offensive. I think there are offensive scenes. There’s definitely, like, a little bit of racism happening with Dopey, who just, like, suddenly does, like, a Chinese caricature for, like, half a second, and then he’s gone.
Mary: I think that it doesn’t have so many of those things that I’m like, don’t show that to kids.
Mary: If you want your kids to watch Snow White, let them watch it. They’ll like it or they won’t. I do think that it does well with the scary elements. I know that there’s a thing… Kids actually start to really love scary stuff.
Gretchen: Yes. They like the thrill.
Mary: Yeah, they like to have safe, scary experiences. And I think Snow White is a safe, scary. I think it’s a really good safe, scary, actually.
Gretchen: You’re right about… I mean, it’s not so glaringly… The sexism side of it is glaringly problematic. It is not so… glaringly offensive on multiple levels that it’s, don’t show that to children because they’ll grow up helpless idiots. That’s not going to be the issue.
Gretchen: It is definitely a product of it’s time. But for my money, there’s just better movies to watch.
Mary: I know. It’s just Disney did it better later.
Mary: They figured it out. And this was, this was their first baby steps. Um, it’s not really a baby step. It’s a giant leap.
Mary: Even like, and this is just going from memory, like the next movie we’re going to watch is Pinocchio.
Gretchen: Mm hmm.
Mary: I remember Pinocchio having quite a bit more plot. Maybe I’m wrong. Well, Pinocchio might have more racism.
Gretchen: It does for sure. It does. It really does. I owned that one.
Mary: Yeah. Thinking about just even their next movie. They did start to figure some of these things out and they started to get it right. So, I think it is like, if you have glowing, lovely memories of it from when you were young. Continue having those glowing, loving memories of it.
Gretchen: You know, maybe you watch it again with your kid and you see more nuance than you could see when you were a kid. And those memories might get tarnished a little bit, but you still have them. You know, like there are things I didn’t see when I was a kid, but it’s fine.
Mary: It’s one that if you want to watch it, go ahead and watch it, but… I wouldn’t say to start there unless you’re like us and actually trying to go in order.
Gretchen: Yeah, if you’re trying to torture yourself a little bit.
Gretchen: So I think that’s like a lukewarm thumbs up, kind of. Do what you will.
Mary: Yeah, it’s not going to be one where I’m going to be like, oh, don’t watch that. Because there are movies where I’m like, don’t watch that. No, it’s fine. It’s fine if you want to watch it.
Mary: Kill an afternoon. Yeah. So like I mentioned, the next one is Pinocchio.
Mary: If we get any listeners and they want to follow along.
Gretchen: Watch it with us.
Mary: Yeah. So that’ll be fun and interesting.
Gretchen: It will be.
Mary: Revisiting the Vault is a Nine Hour Gilms production, and it was edited by Mary Ratliff with music by Music Motion and Lynn Publishing. We are not affiliated with or authorized by the Walt Disney Company. You can find us on Twitter @RevisitTheVault, and our website is revisitingthevault.com. As with every podcast, it would be a really big help if you could leave a review on whatever program you use to listen.
So, fun fact, our discussion on Snow White actually was about three hours long. There was a whole lot of really good stuff that I ended up having to take out. But the good news is, I’m going to be posting some of those deleted scenes and outtakes for our patrons over on patreon.com/ninehourfilms. So if you want to hear a little bit more, you can head on over there and sign up.
Thank you so much for listening and for supporting our new podcast. We’ll see you in two weeks for the first half of our discussion of Pinocchio from 1940.