I’ve never seen Snow White before now. As a kid I wasn’t really over-the-moon about Disney movies, mainly because my parents inadvertently built a mystique around the blank tapes on which they’d recorded R-rated movies (something about being not only permitted but encouraged, chauffeured, to see Disney movies, as opposed to the blank tapes from which my brother and I were forbidden, made them way less interesting by comparison), but I was super insecure, too, about admitting I liked anything that my cooler classmates might consider exceptionally childish or girly. I did my best to avoid Disney princess movies and music by Brittany Spears and Christina Aguillera and Spice Girls – which of course I liked, everybody liked, but I wouldn’t let myself seek it out or praise it among friends.
If I’d seen Snow White as a kid I would probably have told people that I hadn’t, or that I was forced to, and if I’d liked it I would have said that I didn’t. I was a turd. Today, having seen it for the first time at 26, I’m not sure what I think. It feels condescending to grade some of these early movies on a curve, to say that something’s “good for its time,” but apart from just not being a fan of animated movies (I went on about this at length in the essay for Adventures of Prince Achmed), Snow White does seem to have way less going on than most kids’ movies today. But that’s also part of its charm, is the simplicity. Just a story of a girl who flees the clutches of a witch, gets lost in the woods, and finds a cabin with cool little characters. Given that simplicity, though, its comparative mildness compared to modern fare, I’m wondering if small children today would find it stimulating. (If you’ve got small kids, and you’ve shown em Snow White, lemme know in the comments what they think of it.)
I don’t quite understand the function of the camera in question, what distinguishes it from others of its era, but apparently Walt Disney put a new camera to work, during the production of Snow White, that did something to the effect of adding depth. He also employed a crew of hundreds to pull off the animation (after he’d personally spent a year working on the story), threw out the first six months’ work because he thought the images didn’t have enough detail, and in the end, after about a years’ work, he deemed the movie complete. I’m having a hard time finding any consensus on Snow White’s release date but, according to TCM, it premiered in December of 1937 and, according to History.com, was released nationally in February of 1938. Twenty million people are estimated to have seen it within the first three months. Tickets for the premiere were $5. Charlie Chaplin fell in love with it. Disney himself made millions. Coloring books, clothing, toys. The movie earned over $184 million during the Great Depression – the equivalent of about $1.5 billion today.
Reading about the labor that went into its production, and seeing the final product, is itself pretty inspiring. I just quit my job so I can write full-time, work on the Project, and I guess I’m looking for inspiration everywhere [editor’s note from the future: this essay was written in July 2017]. Anecdotes about people working obsessively toward the completion of a huge project, especially when those projects have lots of moving parts, make me more excited about my own work, make me wanna work harder, take things farther. Also I’ve got a huge soft spot for the idea of Depression-era entertainers working especially hard so as to produce something into which an audience could get completely lost.
So my issue here is that I’m moved and compelled by the idea of this movie, by the story of how it was made and the influence ti had on its audience, but the movie itself doesn’t really hold my attention, even though the movie is beautiful, a touching spectacle of so much intimate work from so many artists.
Still, the research makes me wonder: how often is it the case that the story of a creation is more interesting than the creation itself?