Children are a pure audience. They grab on to the simplest of suggestions and turn them into fanciful ideas in their head. Part of such precious wonderment comes from a wholehearted belief that the fantasy unfolding before their eyes is real.
It’s not gullibility. It’s faith. For as long as we hold on to this sentiment, we retain some of our innocence.
Walt Disney, pioneer of the animation industry and a visionary in every sense of the word, not only understood it he made it the very basis of his everlasting creativity.
At the end of a documentary, I once heard him say, ‘Over at our place (Walt Disney Studios), we’re sure of just one thing: Everybody in the world was once a child. So in planning a new picture, we don’t think of grown-ups, and we don’t think of children. But just of that fine, clean, unspoiled spot down deep in every one of us, that maybe the world has made us forget.’
Some of my fondest memories at the movies are a gift from Disney. Foremost among them is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
When this magical adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale and the first-ever full length cartoon feature released in December 21, 1937, I didn’t exist. Even my parents weren’t born.
But when it re-released in the early 1980s, I was a pre-schooler clasping my mother’s finger tightly as she ushered me to my seat inside Colaba’s Strand theatre. (If my memory serves me right it was the now-defunct Strand and not Sterling.)
As soon as the credits rolled, I was instantly transported. Even today my heart fills up with an indescribable feeling just thinking about the rawness of that moment.
The Snow White experience is deeply etched in my memory.
At that time, I couldn’t articulate my thrill as emphatically as I would have liked, but I was simply dazzled by the novelty of it all — Snow White’s silly laugh and coy manners, the exuberance of the dwarfs and their droll individuality, the imposing queen and her perilous ‘fairest of them all’ obsession, her frightening, fascinating, fierce transformation into a cackling witch, the graceful participation of the forest animals, the redness of the poisonous apple, the mouth-watering gooseberry pie, the mine where a million diamonds shine, the yodelling, the customised beds and, not to forget, the power of true love’s first kiss.
Of course, I would go on to revisit the film a zillion times after that only to notice blatant similarities between Satte Pe Satta and Snow White’s reluctance-to-bathe sequence and realise I am not a big fan of the teehee-ing Princess after all.
The classic, all of 80 today, gets all its spunk and sinisterness from the dwarfs and the wicked queen. In an otherwise raving review, the late film critic Roger Ebert observed, ‘Snow White is, truth to tell, a bit of a bore, not a character who acts but one whose mere existence inspires others to act.’
Composing stunning scenes of visual poetry, Disney ensured the enchantment isn’t relegated to backdrop but central to the scenery.
One so spectacularly detailed in the scene where Snow White is running scared into a seemingly threatening forest pursued by several pairs of curious, creepy eyes. Too young, too scared, too hurt (remember her stepmother just tried to take her life), she collapses and cries.
But once the darkness is lifted and the identity of those said eyes is revealed, it’s anything but terrifying and a crucial life lesson is conveyed magnificently.
His failure to carry on the gruesome task leaves Snow White with no option but find shelter deep in the woods.
Some altruistic birds and bunnies guide her to a cosy cottage that belongs to the seven eclectic dwarfs — Doc, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Bashful and Dopey. (Did you know some of the suggested names included Gabby, Shifty, Hotsy, Jaunty, Awful?)
Although Grumpy is against the idea, they decide to let her stay in exchange of housekeeping, something she’s had ample experience in at her previous home.
When the Queen learns that Snow White’s still alive, she disguises herself as a pointy-nosed crone and corners her bane into eating a bite of a poisoned apple.
Snow White collapses into a death-like sleep and the Queen, too, dies minutes after in a freak accident.
The dwarfs are sad and place her in an exquisite glass coffin until Snow White’s long lost prince arrives and plants a kiss of life on her lips.
Revived and rejoicing, she immediately sets off with the prince to kick-start their obligatory happily-ever-after.
One could argue there’s plainness to this narrative and uncomfortable level of obscurity too.
Why is the Queen’s palace always so empty and stark? Where are her subjects? Why would someone so preoccupied with good looks take the most hideous form possible when she could have accomplished her purpose in a more agreeable guise? Why do we see so little of Prince Charming? Why don’t he and Snow White stay back for some tea and hang out with the loyal dwarfs after she comes back to life? What’s the rush?
Learning about the 1,500 unique colours in the 1 million drawings and a dedicated army of animators employing every bit of path breaking technology, while their boss Walt Disney risked all his fortune to make the film that eventually helped him build his iconic studio answered that.
A lot many sequences had to be dropped. It wasn’t feasible to animate every proposed storyboard, every song.
Snow White’s enormous success didn’t just draw viewers but garnered laurels too. It won Disney a special Academy Award, one that came along side seven miniature Oscar trophies.
Be it as satire or spin-offs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs continue to occupy a special place in pop culture besides popularising movie merchandise long before Star Wars came into the picture.
Once I spent more than an hour inside London’s H Samuel deciding between Sneezy and Grumpy Jim Shore collectible much to the shop attendant’s dismay.
The art of animation has changed dramatically over the decades, but Snow White’s legacy isn’t entirely resting on nostalgia. an Its old-fashioned artistry wears the verve of a painting. Its cheer is just as infectious and its ambition could inspire an entire film school.
I see its timeless appeal live on in the joyous expression of my two-year-old nephew every time he sings ‘Heigh Ho’, kisses all his toy dwarfs to sleep, strikes that trademark Grumpy pose or does the most adorable impression of Bashful saying ‘Oh Gosh’ for me.