This 83-year-old Disney movie was the first full-length animated feature. If you haven’t seen it since your childhood, you might want to give it another look. It is beautiful and sincere and still relevant to its intended audience, children and their parents.
The plot generally follows the lines of the familiar Grimms’ fairy tale, but it was customized to appeal to young viewers, chiefly with the addition of very nice birds and forest animals, plus seven dwarfs — small, bald, bearded men, each with a childish personality quirk that is revealed as they and Snow White get to know each other.
When the evil stepmother sets out to kill Snow White, the animals and dwarfs join forces to save her. This disharmonious part of the movie, and its resolution, are much shorter than its satisfying (to children) set-up. Of course, all ends up well.
What is remarkable is that the film gratifies the basic wishes of children — for people to be nice and to be accepted by nice animals, for good to triumph and, along the way, for silly characters like the dwarfs to provide laughs that relate to children’s own experiences.
Moviemakers with Small Children
It’t tempting to guess that the birth of Walt Disney’s first child in 1933 informed some of the sincerity of Snow White and its broad appeal to families of that time.
In a similar way, think of the first Toy Story movie, released in in 1995. The film came from Pixar, then owned by Steve Jobs, who married in 1991 and had his first child with his wife the same year. Similarly, Pixar’s chief creative officer became a dad in 1992. The Pixar team included several other parents raising young families.
Toy Story didn’t reach back to Grimms’ Fairy Tales for material but rather to the fond memories of its creators’ youth — a cowboy hero, plus toys like Slinky Dog, Mr. Potato Head, Etch a Sketch and Tinker Toys. The sharing of such nostalgia must have struck a chord with other Boomer parents’ progeny, the so-called Boomlet that peaked in the mid 2000s, and no doubt gratified their parents as well.
I don’t know who is running Pixar now (it was acquired, like all franchises, by Disney) but my sense is that Pixar films are little less sincere these days, possibly because they are made by people less likely to have small children around the house.
In addition, I’d guess that films like Snow White, as long as they are available on Disney Plus or other streaming services, will resonate longer because their themes are more universal and less reliant on consumer products.
This is one reason to be happy that films like this one still can be found on streaming services.