Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

US Animated Movie (1937). Disney. Pr Walt Disney. Sv dir David Hand. Based on the version in Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1812-1815) by the Grimm Brothers. Voice actors Roy Atwell (Doc), Adriana Caselotti (Snow White), Pinto Colvig (Grumpy, Sleepy), Billy Gilbert (Sneezy), Otis Harlan (Happy), Lucille LaVerne (Queen/Witch), Scotty Mattraw (Bashful), Moroni Olsen (Spirit of the Magic Mirror). 83 mins. Colour.

The wicked Queen asks her Magic Mirror who is the fairest of them all, and to her fury it responds that there is one fairer than she . . . This retelling of the classic Fairytale differs in no substantial way from its original; moreover, the movie has become such an Icon itself that any differences between it and the Grimms' version have now become part of the traditional tale.

SWATSD was the first feature-length Animated Movie, and is thus a landmark in the history of the Cinema. It was obviously a landmark, too, in the history of Disney, and would certainly have bankrupted the studio had it flopped; costing, in the end, $1,480,000, a huge sum in those days, it was before its release widely known in Hollywood as "Walt's Folly", a soubriquet that is one of many testimonies to the fact that the movie was most definitely Walt Disney's own project. New techniques were part of the expense (about $200 per foot, compared with $50-$70 per foot for the Disney shorts); also expensive were the deliberately created subliminal effects, including not only the colour of characters' clothing and eyes (selected to reflect personality) but even the textures of the colours used, which involved the development of new types of paints. Animals were imported to the Disney lot to serve as live-action reference for the animators; actors were used for the humans, Snow White herself being modelled by Marjorie Belcher, later better known as the actress Marjorie Champion. All this was for a movie made at a time when no one knew if audiences would have the patience to sit through more than a few minutes of animation.

Fortunately for Disney, the critical and popular reception went beyond mere enthusiasm. Both at the time and in the decades since, however, some have objected to the Disneyfication of classic fairytales; and a few objecting voices were raised concerning the movie's scariness. Viewed today, however, SWATSD seems a fine film, its animation still impressive, its characterization generally excellent, its narrative drive compelling, and its sense of quintessential Fantasy – in particular through its juxtaposition of Humour with imaginative transports – strong.

Live-action screen adaptations of the Grimm tale include Snow White (1972; East Germany; dir Gottfried Kolditz; starring Wolf-Dieter Panse, Doris Weikow; 70 mins; colour), Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961 US; vt Snow White and the Three Clowns; dir Walter Lang; starring Carol Heiss, The Three Stooges; 107 mins; colour), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1987 US; dir Michael Berz; starring Sarah Patterson, Diana Rigg and many others; 85 mins; colour) and various soft-porn versions. A non-Disney animated sequel is Happily Ever After (1993). [JG]

further reading: Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1978) ed Jack Solomon; Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and the Making of the Classic Film (1987) by Richard Holliss and Brian Sibley.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.