Program Notes: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

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Snow White
Snow White: the human could handle it. Easy.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first feature-length cartoon. As far as I'm concerned, it remains the greatest.

Apologies to Pixar.

But then, that’s hindsight for you. Back in 1937, when Walt Disney risked his iconic characters and studio to get enough money for his dream project, Snow White was derided as “Disney’s Folly.”

As crazy as it sounds today, some very reasonable people maintained that the human eye and brain couldn’t accommodate 90 uninterrupted minutes of animation.

All those folks back in ’37 should have known better than to underestimate Walt Disney.

Here was a man who started his own Kansas City animation studio – Laugh-O-gram Films – at the age of 22. When it went belly up he headed west and in a few years had created Mickey Mouse, a cartoon character so iconic that his only rival for worldwide fame was Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp.

Film Screening:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Sunday, Dec. 9 at 1:30 p.m.
Plaza Branch
RSVP now!

The screening is part of the free Movies that Matter series running through May.

Disney gave us the first cartoon with sound (Steamboat Willie) and the first cartoon in Technicolor (Flowers and Trees). He gave us characters like Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto.

To make Snow White he quadrupled the number of employees in his animation factory, running shifts 24/7 to ensure that the film was completed in time for the Christmas holidays in 1937.

And when it finally hit the theaters, Snow White was widely hailed as a masterpiece. And not just by the critics. The left-leaning Daily Worker praised it for its depiction of the dwarfs as a miniature Communist society.

Although he had already made millions with Mickey Mouse merchandise, Disney pulled out the stops in marketing his biggest film to date. Thousands of consumer products – from handkerchiefs to toys to dishware to the first-ever movie soundtrack album – were generated by the film.

And in the future Disney would go on to become a pioneer in television programming and to almost singlehandedly invent the modern theme park.

So bring the kids and the grandkids. About the only way in which the film seems dated is in its depiction of Snow White, who is awfully placid when compared to today’s assertive cartoon heroines.

But in every other regard – narrative, the characterizations of the dwarfs, the scary elements, the astonishing atmospheric effects, the careful balance of humor and terror – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs remains a triumph of popular entertainment.

And here's your chance to see it for free.

Bring the kids. Bring the grandkids.

Show them where it all began.

Kansas City Public Library Beta