“We’ve Got To Get These Two Kids in Love”
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) – Part One
Mary: Welcome to Revisiting the Vault, a new podcast where we’re exploring the history of film, animation, music, fashion, and more through a Disney lens.
I am Mary Ratliff. I am a writer and general film nerd who is extremely interested in the history of animation.
Gretchen: And I am Gretchen Harwell. I am a mom. I am a big time fashion and fashion history enthusiast and former classical musician. And my daughter is a big fan of all things Disney. So, this should be fun.
Mary: I think it’s impossible to have a kid these days who does not end up Disney in one level or another.
Gretchen: Right. And a lot of the time, though, lately, I mean, honestly, since Star Wars is now Disney, that’s more the side she’s into. Like, we’ll watch the Princess movies, and she enjoys them, but… She’s much more on the action side, like, she would rather build a model of the thing than be the princess.
Mary: Right. Neither one of us, I don’t think, are real, like, Disnerds, or any of those terms. I love Disney because they are an important studio in the history of film, and they’ve made some of my favorite movies of all time, and also they own everything now. But I’ve been to Disney World and Disneyland once each. And that’s it.
Mary: I have stories about how, uh, I didn’t get to go on Haunted Mansion either time. Still bitter. Although, growing up, we did have the Disney Channel. So, I got a little steeped in the backstory. Like, the history of it. Because in the early days of Disney Channel, they didn’t actually… have commercials at all.
Like, not even commercials for the Disney Channel, really.
Mary: So they were airing these things that had weird gaps in the schedule. You know, you want to start everything on the hour. So they would have, like, 15 minutes to fill with something random. And they would just plug in those old school reels of Walt Disney just walking you through the process of how they animated this sequence.
Or, like, showing you this new thing they’re about to build in the park. Those classic old Disney stuff that I’m guessing was from, like, The Wonderful World of Disney or something like that. I loved that. I loved that more than the shows I was watching.
Mary: That was my favorite part, was learning about how it was done.
So that’s sort of, like, how I started geeking out about animation. So I think that that’s going to be interesting because I have a feeling, especially with this first episode, that we might be attacking some… rather precious things.
Gretchen: A little bit , a little bit. I’ve got feelings about this one.
Mary: Just to sort of introduce the idea of the podcast, the idea is that we’re going to be going through all of the Disney movies in chronological order by theatrical release date. The rules are they have to be movies from Disney Animation Studio. None of the subsidiaries. So no Pixar, sorry.
Theatrically released, none of those straight to video sequels that happened eventually.
Gretchen: Thank goodness. The Little Mermaid sequel. I can’t.
Mary: Oh, yeah I’ve heard the Mulan one’s really bad too.
Gretchen: Oh, it’s rough.
Mary: I haven’t seen most of them I’ll be honest and then the other rule is they have to be fully animated. So none of the live action animated hybrids that they did 70s ish I want to say. So, it’s still a really long list.
Mary: I didn’t even realize how long it was until I started making it. But that means that we’re starting out with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Mary: It is very important, apparently, that it is dwarfs and not dwarves. I do not know why.
Gretchen: Yes, and I wrote it incorrectly in my notes, every time I wrote the D word, I spelled it wrong.
Mary: I’m really curious if there is actually an explanation that anybody has out there. If it’s just like an etymological thing that it shifted since the 30s, but I don’t know.
Gretchen: Who knows?
Mary: But that is interesting. So if I say dwarves we’re just gonna roll with it, because…
Gretchen: RIght, yes.
Mary: That’s how it is.
Gretchen: Forgive us.
Mary: So, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released in 1937. Little bit of the history with Snow White. It is frequently called the first animated feature film. It is not.
Mary: It is the first American animated feature film, and the first one using the traditional style of animation that we think of, or we used to think of before CGI.
Which is cel shaded, hand painted, there’s a couple different ways people call it. But the earliest animated feature film is The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which was done with shadow puppets. And some people like to argue about whether or not that counts, and this is one of the interesting things to me.
Because when you think of cel shaded animation, or hand painted, the thing that’s easy to forget is that It is still a physical film camera taking a photo of a physical object in order to create it. Nobody’s painting directly on the actual film stock.
Mary: When they make this. To me, I’m like, if you’re gonna say that shadow puppets doesn’t count, but hand painted does, that’s a line that I think is a really weird place to draw it.
Gretchen: Well, and I think it’s a really kind of, let’s call it, Disney centric view of it.
Mary: Right. I watched the making of featurette that they have on Disney in the bonus features. It was interesting. It was very clearly made by Disney. It was very glowing. Which, you know, I kind of understand. I mean, if I was going to make a making a featurette about one of my movies, I’m not going to say anything bad about myself.
Mary: And I’m not going to take the time to talk about it if it wasn’t any good.
Gretchen: Right. And I would also say, you know, at this point, Disney Studios has so much. Yeah, if they want to brag about their accomplishments. Fine. Is it a little misleading, pardon me, to say it was the first one? Yes, it is. But they have a catalog to brag about.
Mary: Right. And it’s one of those things that like if you want to start talking about the actual impact of Disney Studios, starting with Snow White. It is huge. It can’t be overstated.
Mary: How much of a cultural and film history impact that they had. But it is still, like, there’s a lot of marketing in the sort of taglines that we put with this film in particular.
One thing with Snow White that I think is important to point out, because historically we have a tendency to sort of place it in this, it was when Disney sort of, like, came to people’s attention. Or, like, became a thing. But when I looked it up, Disney has founded his first studio, like, over a decade before that, and he had already won seven Academy Awards, I want to say. Quite a few.
Mary: For the Silly Symphonies. Mickey Mouse already existed. He had already made a big splash. He was already a big name. But they still thought Snow White was bonkers.
Gretchen: Yes. Like, what kind of madness? Who would watch a movie that long?
Mary: Right. I mean, they were still just like, it’s an animated thing, how are you going to have a story for that long?
Which, you know, spoiler alert, they didn’t, but, you know.
Gretchen: But they thought they did.
Mary: Right. And everybody thought, I mean, they were calling it like Disney’s Folly and all of this stuff and they were like, this is going to bomb this entire studio so badly. And to Disney’s credit, as much as there are things that you could say about how he was not a perfect man, because he was a person.
To his credit, he was like, no, this is gonna work, and I, I super believe in this, and he put everything on the line for it. It really would have been the death knell of his entire career, and his entire livelihood, if it hadn’t worked. The fact that he pushed through, I think, is impressive. But one thing that I didn’t realize until I was watching that making of featurette, Was that this movie was made and released entirely during the Great Depression.
Mary: And so the idea of, because like one of the animators said something about, Disney was the only place in Hollywood that was like, we need more animators. Because they went from having like 10 to 300, I think they said.
Mary: So they were just hiring, hiring, hiring. So the amount of money and the jobs and everything that they put into it during the Great Depression, I think is, is really impressive.
But then, also, the fact that they made so much money when it came out, when people didn’t have a lot for things like going to the movies.
Gretchen: Yes, that is an excellent point. And also, just the fact, everywhere else, they’re like, no, no, no, no, we’re not hiring, we’re not hiring, we’re not hiring, good luck. And then Disney’s like, no, we need more.
Bring it on. Please. If you got a pencil and some paper, get over here. We can do this. That’s an exaggeration. But the contrast is so different from what it was. And now, was the depression really fading by 1937? Yes. It’s not as bad as it was at the beginning, of course, or at its peak. But still, things were tough.
I mean, my grandparents got engaged in 19, I’m gonna say 34. And they couldn’t afford to get married for five years. Because of the depression.
Gretchen: And then they couldn’t afford to have children for another six. So that’s how bad things were, and to think that, okay, well, Disney was hiring, they expanded their workforce by a multiple of, what, 30?
Mary: And doing, like, on the job training, it sounded like.
Mary: They were like, yeah, you know, you’re an artist, you’ve got some skill, but nobody had done what they were doing. There were a lot of things that no one had done before, and especially not at the scale they were doing it. So the fact that they were actually given this opportunity to, like, come in…
And really just be creative and be a little crazy. Be allowed to not be that good at it at first. That’s something that, I gotta admit, is a little bit missing in the world today.
Gretchen: Yes, right.
Mary: The fact that Disney was like, no, you’ve got a pencil and you know how to use it, we’ll give you the rest. We just need bodies, almost.
Listening to these animators do interviews, they don’t seem like they felt like they were just cogs in a machine. They felt like they were contributing.
Gretchen: Right. My guess would be that there was a kind of a mutual feeling of we’re going to figure this out as we go together. You know, it’s not like stepping into Disney now and being like, I don’t know what I’m doing.
Now, Disney probably wants the people with the skills, and they want to see a reel of what you already did, but back then they were just like, I dunno, let’s try it.
Mary: And back then, they had the thing where they said that these guys were allowed to just pitch gags. And if they came up with a good gag that was good enough for a short scene, it was five dollars and if it was a long scene, it was ten dollars. You know, they got a bonus for coming in and pitching a good idea. And I’m like, I can’t actually imagine that that’s how it works now. Whatever the entry level animation job is, when you come in, if you’re working on, like say a couple years ago, you’re working on Encanto.
And you’re just like, what if there’s a toucan? They’re going to look at you and be like, why are you talking?
Gretchen: Yeah, stay in your lane.
Mary: Yeah, I mean, maybe it sort of depends on like which director you’re working with and things like that.
Mary: But it just, it does feel like when you look at the stories of how Tim Burton ended up leaving Disney and Don Bluth and like some of the sort of big names that eventually went through the Disney machine and left on not great terms, it really does feel like they lost that aspect of anybody can contribute and we’re all working on this together, which is a shame.
But also means that maybe they have some tighter plotting.
Gretchen: Maybe so. Maybe so. I mean, or plotting.
Mary: Right! Yeah. Cause that’s the thing, sometimes you do need a manager.
Gretchen: Yeah. The thing is now, I don’t want to say Disney has a lot more at stake. But Disney has a reputation now, a reputation for their full length animated features.
Gretchen: Whereas before, they were like, this is new, let’s try it. And they’re like, oh that worked, let’s try it again. It’s different.
Mary: Right. Because that’s one of the things with watching Snow White is you start to see like the actual foundation stones of the things that became tropes, and the things that became the cliches of Disney.
And you see them, and like maybe they iterated, and maybe they perfected in a few ways. Maybe they actually did make it better, but they couldn’t have done it without the first one.
Gretchen: Yeah, he did the heavy lifting and everything else was able to come off of that. That actually makes me think of something that we’ll talk about a little bit when we get to music.
But people talk about, they compare Mozart and Beethoven all the time. And it’s like, well, you know, Mozart was a perfecter. Beethoven was the innovator. So who was Mozart’s peer when you’re talking about that? Okay, well, the answer is Haydn. And so in this comparison that I’m making, Disney was the Haydn in this group.
Or the Beethoven, if you want. He was the one putting in the work, making these huge changes, and then other people came along and they added nuance, and they added all this other stuff. And so, that’s where this happens, is he was the one doing all this hard stuff, making the thing, and it was definitely imperfect, and I have a lot of feelings about that.
Gretchen: But he built a foundation.
Mary: Yeah, and it’s one of those that, like, as much as I want to just sort of go on about all of the flaws that I found in it, at the same time, my favorite filmmakers and the films that I respect the most that have come out in, like, the last ten years or so are the ones that just, even if they didn’t succeed, tried something wild.
Mary: I have so much respect for just, like, hitting for the fences and doing something weird to see if it works.
Mary: Because not enough filmmakers have the opportunity to do that anymore. where Disney starts to falter when you look at their timeline is when they get too comfortable and they stop doing weird things to see if they work.
But yeah, so pulling ourself back from that tangent.
Mary: [Laughing] One of the other things that I thought was interesting because I looked it up just to see. Because they also mentioned in the featurette that one of the things Disney was really good at, first, he really respected music as what it was, and as an art form itself, whether or not we think the music is great, he did respect it and what it was there for.
But one of the things he also understood, because Disney was a businessman. That’s the other thing, like, as much as you might get mad at some of the things that he did, he was a businessman who wanted to make money.
Mary: So he understood that what he could do was sell records and sheet music. Because… Home theater was not a thing. Buying toys was not a thing. None of what we think of as how movies make their extra dollars existed. Televisions didn’t really exist yet.
Gretchen: Right. Branding didn’t really exist in the same way that it does now. I mean, you’re right. You couldn’t buy toys. You also couldn’t buy the princess dress. There was so much that you could not get and do that, that’s what it comes down to is he knew where his bread was buttered. And it was the music.
Mary: Yeah. Thinking about what a theatrical run meant back then, because it is kind of easy, you know, I was born in 1980, VCRs were in homes, kind of, but not really.
Mary: They were huge, clunky, extremely expensive, studios weren’t really wanting to put out anything, and when they did, it cost like a thousand dollars.
Gretchen: I remember renting a VCR from the store.
Mary: Yeah, you would go rent the VCR for the weekend so that you could watch some stuff. And this was the 80s. This was 50 years after Snow White. That was where they were.
Mary: So, what was happening then was, you know, if something was in the theater and people just kept coming, the theater owners would just keep it, if it was still making money. And they would do, like, the extended engagements. It might go off for a little while and come back.
One of the things I remember when I was a kid. So my favorite movie is E. T. I’m vaguely obsessed with it. But one of the things when that came out in 1982 was that you couldn’t buy it. The only way you could see it was going to the theater. And so it came back out into the theater, like, every six months and I made my mom take me every time. So I went to see it. 12 or 13 times in the theater when I was a kid.
Gretchen: I had an uncle take me to see that movie five times over the course of probably a weekend. Because I was so obsessed with it at the ripe old age of three.
Mary: Eventually it did come out on home video and like I literally wore out the tape. Which also was when the Disney movies started to come out on VHS and like, you know, you had the big collection with the big plastic boxes.
Gretchen: Oh, the giant boxes.
Mary: Yeah, and you would sort of wait because they didn’t release all of them.
Gretchen: No, they had the vault.
Mary: Oh my gosh, the vault. Yeah.
Gretchen: So I grew up in a, what I kind of jokingly, but almost seriously call a media vacuum. The nearest movie theater was 35 minutes away. Easy. You know, we had a store that had videos sometimes. We did eventually get a VCR and stuff. I remember it being a big deal when my grandmother bought me and my sister each a Disney VHS type tape for Christmas. I got Pinocchio, she got Dumbo. And both of those fall in my, like, hierarchy of Disney movies way down at the bottom.
As far as, like, my list of favorites. They’re like, you know… I don’t know, Snow White is competing down there.
Gretchen: And the thing is, depending on what movies came out of the vault that year for you to buy, Your choices were limited and sometimes it was Pinocchio and Dumbo. And other times it was The Little Mermaid. It was different.
Mary: As much as, as a modern audience, we can watch Snow White and think one thing, I can’t even imagine putting myself in like the mindset of like anybody of any age, but especially like a kid, eight, nine years old, sitting in a movie theater, watching Snow White for the first time.
Mary: It was a completely different atmosphere. And so you’re watching this, especially there are certain sequences in it where I’m like, that is just, it would have blown my fricking mind.
Mary: I can’t even imagine.
Gretchen: Right. And I have to wonder, like, how old was my mother the first time she saw Snow White? How old could my mother have been? My mom was born in 1950, so the movie was always already 13 years old.
My grandparents were already adult when this movie came out. That being said, so would they have been, I mean, if they were too broke to get married, they probably weren’t also going to the movies, but would they have been interested in this? So who was even the target audience for this? I mean, obviously it was families, but…
Mary: Yeah. Because that is what I started to wonder about. At the time, what were people going to see? And so if you think, you know, the Marx Brothers and the comedies, so that sort of makes it fit a little bit in with that sort of idea. But you’ve also got the sort of epic things going on with like Errol Flynn.
Who was going to see Snow White? Was it everybody? Because when they started listing off like the celebrities that were at the premiere, was Clark Gable there because he had young kids? Or was Clark Gable there because Clark Gable was there?
Gretchen: And this was a new big thing, right?
Mary: Yeah. This was not a slow burn success. This was a… It had a premiere and everybody went, whoa.
Gretchen: Right, the world turned upside down.
Mary: Yeah. Maybe everybody was going to see it. Maybe, you know, the factory workers were saving their nickels to go to the cheap seats. Even if you think about nickelodeons and the fact that it cost a nickel to go to a movie or a dime or a quarter or whatever. That could be a week’s pay! During that time period.
Mary: And so the fact that it made millions of dollars and made back its budget, because he spent an enormous amount of money making it. So the fact that it made back its budget, like, domestically, and then also did really well overseas. I mean, that is a testament to just how successful it really was when you actually put it in the time period it came out in.
Gretchen: Definitely. I mean, it’s like, and especially, you know, if you scale it up, it might not hit, let’s say, Avatar standards. But you have to put it into the context of when it was made and think about it in that way. And yeah, I mean, it really was a big deal. And so with that in mind, it’s just like, okay, it is full of problems.
Mary: So many problems. So many.
Gretchen: Just the lack of noses.
Mary: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, that’s the, like, I tried so hard every time I was starting to feel negative about it. I tried to be like, think of yourself as a 1930s moppet watching this movie with, like, the nickel you got for your monthly allowance, but, ugh.
Gretchen: Yes, I was taking notes, and I was talking to my husband about it, and I was like, I’m, I’m ha, I had a hard time not just writing down all of my like, rah, criticisms.
Gretchen: But then, there are some things that are just baffling. Like, the fact that adults had noses back then, and they don’t in the movie.
Mary: Right. It’s frustrating. So, you know, we can go ahead and start getting into it.
Gretchen: Yes, let’s do it.
Mary: The art choices. I was reading briefly, right before we started recording, about how they were having trouble with Snow White’s face getting, like, the red of the blush, or, like, tinting, because of the paint itself.
But it’s still… She is flat!
Mary: She is so flat. And Prince Charming is even flatter, somehow. The queen has a little bit of definition in her face.
Gretchen: Right, because she’s scary faced. So she’s got just like, crazy cheekbones.
Mary: She has shadows. Because that was the thing. I was like, why are they so flat? It was really bothering me. And I had read something about how, um, some of the restorations of the older animated films have actually made them flatter by just like sort of brightening things up.
Mary: And I was like, well, maybe that’s what’s happening. But then they showed the dwarves, and the dwarves have tons of definition. Snow White is lit like she’s just got a full on super bright beam light straight on her face. She has no shadows. She has no definition There’s no highlights. There’s nothing.
Gretchen: Nothing. No contour.
Mary: The evil queen has a little bit because she’s got the cheekbones and they’re wanting her to look like a little bit evil a little bit haggard and then of course the dwarves have all of these like super expression faces right with tons of lines.
Gretchen: I have a thought about that and it ties actually a little bit to the costuming. First of all to me Snow White looks like two things and they’re kind of the same. She looks like Betty Boop.
Gretchen: And for the record, I looked it up. Betty Boop came out in 1930. And so I think that was actually kind of a popular animated style for a young woman because it was like she’s very childlike in her features. She doesn’t have a bridge to her nose, and part of that I will go into later, but that goes into the whole, she’s kind of infantilized, but then you find out she’s only 14, and so kids, they don’t develop a bridge to their nose…
I’m pointing at my nose as though listeners can possibly see what I’m talking about. They don’t have it. They don’t develop a bridge to their nose until they’re probably, early puberty. She doesn’t have a bridge to her nose at all. She’s just got this little cute button nose. So she looks like a film ingenue from the 20s and the early 30s. And it’s like, okay, was that style that popular for that long? Well, sure. Maybe it was.
So to me, she looks like a film ingenue and she looks very, very young. Okay. Well, she’s supposed to be 14, that’s part of it. But also it kind of goes to this thing with. This sexist weirdness where young women are basically like, I hate to use this term, but like, sexy babies. You know what I mean? It’s gross to me. And so they made her look younger because that’s what was desirable.
Mary: And it’s hard to look younger than 14!
Mary: And still have a thing where you’re gonna have the romantic happily ever after. I can’t believe she’s supposed to be 14. Her character basically has the intellect of a 10 year old.
But I’m trying to do that thing of not only was it a different time in the 30s. So then if you want to sit and say, like, you know, what time does it actually take place? When do all the, like, the fables that it’s pulling from take place? Yes. What was your decision that it was probably 16th century?
Gretchen: Okay, so I did some research on this because I was looking into the, the costuming design and also they went into a little over the art design too. Just the basic, the dwarves’ the dwarfs’, pardon me, house.
So it the first real appearance of Snow White as Snow White is Grimm, the fairy tales, those came out in the 1800s And there are some people who theorize that it’s from the early 19th century, some stuff, but most of the sources I found, and I looked on Fiction Horizon, and I looked on Wikipedia, and then also there’s this historical fashion YouTuber who does a lot of really good research that I found, and they all point to this Bavarian princess whose name was Margaretha von Waldeck.
And she was around, her actual story, which is It’s fairly similar to Snow White’s, uh, happened in the 1530s. And so for my money, it’s 16th century Germany, the housing matches it.
And um, this YouTuber, her name is Karolina Zebrowska and she does a lot of, she did a thing where she actually recreated Snow White’s gown, but trying to make it more authentic.
She went through all kinds of 16th century German portraiture and she was like, this is a 1930s dress, historicized. So there would not have been bright colors. She wouldn’t have been wearing bright colors. So that’s a 1930s element. She wouldn’t have been wearing short sleeves. That’s a 1930s element as well, but she would have probably had sleeve rolls with those colored slits. So that’s legit.
They did have the high collars. The skirt is all wrong. She sure as heck would not have been wearing heels or the clogs.
Mary: The clogs totally caught my eye. That really felt like a, well for one, apparently one of the concept artists was from Switzerland, I want to say. So, you know, maybe he pulled it in and they just thought they looked cool.
But it really felt like one of those things where an American was just going, I’m gonna do a thing that’s vaguely European here. And having absolutely no idea what they were doing. But then, yeah, when she starts running through the forest in those heels, I am not one of those people that critiques movies by being like, Women can’t run in heels. Because like, A, I can’t. But if a woman regularly wears high heeled shoes, then she can…
Gretchen: She can run in them.
Mary: She can do anything in those shoes that she can do without, than anyone can do without them. So, there are women that run marathons in high heels to raise money for charity, more power to them. But, at the same time, like, she’s running through the woods in these heels and, like, they’re not sinking into the ground at all. And also, why is she in heels? Why is she not in flats? She’s 14! She’s a scullery maid!
Gretchen: Yes, yeah, oh, I have thought about that, too. Okay, first of all, they didn’t even have shoes that differentiated from one foot to the other. Your shoes were flat. There wasn’t a difference in them. Can I just, real quick, insert this because there’s not necessarily a good place for it.
Okay, she’s a scullery maid who is cleaning the steps. A scullery maid works in the kitchen.
Mary: I didn’t even think about that. But yeah, again, it’s something where like, an American who kind of knows some vague things about medieval stuff. Maybe she was the only maid in the castle, but then they still could have just said maid.
Gretchen: No, well, I think maybe they took scullery maid straight from the Grimm’s Fairy Tales story. Maybe they were like, boom, scullery maid. And then they were like, hmm, maybe working in the kitchen is too much work. Let’s have her cleaning some steps. Or maybe they’re like, well, what does a scullery maid do? I don’t know, maybe she cleans steps. And so, I mean, it could have been a choice for the sake of efficiency. Let’s not waste time having her chop onions.
Mary: It could have been, we need to have her outside so that Prince Charming can just, like, randomly climb a wall and they can fall in love at first sight.
Mary: By singing a duet together.
Gretchen: Without knowing each other’s names.
Mary: Yeah. Having absolutely no introduction. No real interaction. I mean, yeah, they sing at each other a little bit.
Mary: It’s not even a full verse, I don’t think.
Gretchen: No, and it’s weird.
Mary: This Prince Charming guy, I mean, I know this is a tangent, but like, let’s just take him at the beginning of the movie.
What is he doing? Is he just riding around the kingdoms being like, I just like, I want a girl, I’m bored. What’s he doing climbing the wall at somebody else’s castle?
Gretchen: Right? What’s he doing climbing the wall? Does he not understand literal boundaries or the metaphorical kind? He just goes right up to her and he’s like, you look good.
Secondly, at the end of the movie, he’s been riding around looking for her. He’s a prince. Doesn’t he have things he has to do? Or is he like sorry, Dad.
Mary: Is he like the third son?
Gretchen: Yeah, I don’t know. But like, is he like, sorry, Dad. There’s this girl. She might be dead. I’m gonna go kiss her, because I think it’s the one I sang to.
Mary: Yeah, exactly.
Gretchen: So I’ll be gone. I gotta walk through the woods looking for this girl.
Mary: I mean, it’s the whole thing that like, when she starts telling the dwarves the story, and she’s like, Oh, there was this princess. I’m like, is it you? And she’s like, yeah. I’m like, okay. I mean, that’s kind of funny. I’ll give him that one.
Mary: But then it’s like, she fell in love. Was it hard? No, it was easy. And I’m like, yeah, it took ten seconds. Like, I could probably time it. Ten seconds.
Gretchen: She didn’t even know his name.
Mary: Nothing. They knew nothing. And it was just… The other thing that gets me is that I’m trying to figure out, I know this is me with a modern audience and a modern eye or whatever, but I’m trying to figure out, like, anything about the politics of what’s happening here.
Mary: You’ve got this evil queen. I’m assuming Snow White’s dad is also dead at this point.
Gretchen: Who knows.
Mary: In the grand tradition of Disney parents just not being around. They do actually say the evil queen’s a stepmom. I was like, oh, maybe it’s actually her mother, and they’re like, no, they do actually say the word stepmom, like, once.
But, what gets me is, like, let’s assume the queen is her stepmom, but her dad is also dead at this point. Maybe he’s the skeleton in the basement.
Gretchen: Who knows.
Mary: The queen is the rightful ruler of this country.
Mary: Bad person or not, she is the rightful ruler of this country. The prince, not being Snow White’s brother, I’m assuming, not the rightful ruler or ruler or citizen of this country.
Mary: And then when she starts telling the dwarves, she’s like, well, somebody wants to kill me. Who? My stepmother, the queen. And they are instantly like, or no, she just says my stepmother and they’re like, the queen.
Mary: They know. They know she’s a princess. They know the woman’s the queen. They also know she’s evil. Grumpy is like, she’s a witch. They know that the queen is evil. Before Snow White even says she tried to kill me.
Mary: Or have me killed. So wouldn’t the prince also know that? Maybe?
Gretchen: Right. Like, it’s gotta be common knowledge if these dudes who live in a house in the woods know about it. And they don’t seem to interact with other people very often.
Mary: Yeah. Who is this prince that has decided, It’s a great idea to go running around just looking for pretty women singing in the wells.
Mary: That’s a fantastic way to find a bride.
Gretchen: Listen, you gotta do something with your time.
Mary: Yeah, exactly.
Gretchen: There wasn’t TikTok back then.
Mary: Yeah, I mean, there was no doomscrolling, so what are you gonna do?
Mary: But he’s just gonna be like, oh yeah, this is the castle where that evil witch lives. I’m gonna jump over her garden wall and have a duet with this girl. Nothing bad is gonna come of this.
Gretchen: Nope. Nothing bad.
Mary: We’re dissecting this scene. This scene is like, five minutes? Six minutes?
Mary: Not very long at all. The length of a song. That is the bulk of the plot in the first act of this film.
Gretchen: For real. Yes. It’s like, we’ve got to get these two kids in love.
Mary: Right. And that’s my biggest problem with it, is that the pacing. And again, trying to put myself in the 30s, trying to remember, like, where we were and what we were doing, and if they were doing something nobody had ever done.
Every time they had any danger of having some plot. They rushed through it as fast as possible to go back to the gags.
Gretchen: To me, that makes it sort of feel like it’s a bunch of those Silly Symphonies stitched together. Let’s put them in order.
Mary: It comes across almost like they had made like a serial version of some short cartoons and then put them together as a feature, rather than it being a fully conceived feature length story.
If I sat and actually had timed it, which I almost wish I did, and said, this is a scene where plot is happening, and this is a scene where plot is not happening, it’s probably less than 30%.
Gretchen: I was gonna say, at best, it’s one third plot, two thirds not plot.
Mary: The scenes that the plot are in, Prince Charming aside, anything with the Evil Queen is just iconic and amazing. So that’s what our brain sticks with and remembers.
Mary: We remember her mixing up that potion and becoming a crone. We don’t remember that the dwarves dance for like 10 minutes. With Grumpy playing the weird hand carved organ thing and like that scene just goes on and on and on and on we don’t remember that because it’s just gags.
Everything with the Queen, those were the scenes that when I was watching them, I was like, yes, yes, this one. I remember this.
Gretchen: Yes, exactly.
Mary: The hand washing. They’re gonna sing a song now? I didn’t even remember the song.
Gretchen: Well, cause it was terrible. It was not a good song. I mean, also, I have two things. One, I want to talk about a couple of the songs, because, and the singing style.
So, the first thing is… Snow White’s voice. She’s got that really high weird bird like vibrato. It reminds me a bit of Wizard of Oz. Some of the singing in that. Just a really high pitched kind of tinny sounding.
And she has the quietest, she’s not whisper singing, which is a modern phenomenon that I really have a hard time with. She’s not whisper singing. She’s just got this really small, again, childlike voice, even the dwarfs and Prince Charming have these massive voices by comparison. That can’t be an artifact of recording.
The weird, rapid vibrato, I think, you know, that’s possible, but I think it was a style because I’ve heard a lot of recordings from back then and it could be a function of technology couldn’t fully capture the way it can now. BLah, blah, blah.
But I don’t know. And I can’t go back in time to actually listen to a live performance and go, oh, so that’s how they really sang.
Gretchen: But there are operas, there’s specifically some Mozart operas and arias that come to mind where they do sound very bird like and high and it’s supposed to sound that way.
But it’s still like a fully fledged opera singer who is clearly a grown woman singing it, and not somebody who kind of sounds like a child?
Mary: Yeah, well as you were saying that, I looked it up. The voice actress is Adriana Casalotti.
Gretchen: Right, she was an opera singer.
Mary: Yeah, another interesting note, none of the voice actors were credited.
Mary: Modern me is just like, hmm, you don’t do that. But then I’m having to remember that like in the early days of film, actually none of the actors were ever credited.
Mary: That started with like Mary Pickford and stuff. So that was not weird. And for it being the first feature length animated film, they probably just didn’t think about it, but it’s still a shame.
Mary: Just some, like, quick math in my head, if she was born in 1916, and the movie came out in 1937, considering how early they probably had to record a lot of it, she would have been a teenager!
Gretchen: Right, or, or 20.
Mary: Yeah. 20 at best.
Gretchen: You know, a woman’s voice is not fully developed, especially even that early. Like they, you shouldn’t be singing opera at that age. You shouldn’t be singing that high. It’s bad for your vocal cords. These are all things that we know now. Did we know them then? I’m not sure.
Mary: Probably not.
Gretchen: It sounds really weird.
Mary: It’s hard to understand.
Gretchen: Yes. And she’s got like a quarter of the vocal power. And I’m saying it as it comes across not like literally she might have been an amazing singer in real life I don’t know, but she’s got a quarter of the power that all of the male characters have and it’s just like okay Is this sexism?
Is this a style choice to make her sound like a little baby? What is this decision that’s being made? Is this the technology not being able to carry those high notes? I don’t know.
Mary: has like his one little bit of singing with his duet with her, which is where you can really feel the difference between the two.
Mary: But he definitely is doing a very specific style of singing that is gone now.
Mary: Sort of crooning almost. That like over enunciated. And that style is definitely like the heroes are not singing like that in the modern Disney movies. Flynn Rider would never.
Mary: For good reason. But then like, I mean if you look at the dwarves, their singing style, I guess is leading more towards like a comedic element.
Mary: They’re much more easy to understand. I had no trouble understanding anything in any of their songs. Their singing, I think because it wasn’t so stylized, those were the songs that I was drawn to more. The song at the wishing well. I was like, what? I barely remember this.
Gretchen: One, it’s terrible. So, there’s that. You know, like, to your point, if you think about, if you ask anybody, what is a song from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, they’re gonna say, Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go. They are not gonna come out with the song at the wishing well, and they’re not going to come out with whatever other one she sings. I can’t even remember.
Mary: I think some people do know Someday My Prince Will Come, and I think that’s because enough people have re-recorded it and that it’s become kind of a Disney anthem in a way.
Mary: Because it’s part of that, like, princess culture that Disney has that I am sure we will talk about ad nauseum as we do these.
Gretchen: Once or twice, it might come up.
Mary: Yeah. And it’s funny, because, you know, I was sort of waiting for Someday My Prince Will Come. And she starts it, and you know, you remember the beginning of it, and then she keeps singing, and I’m like, this song is weird. And the hand washing song, I did not remember at all that existed.
Mary: Hi Ho was the one that I was like, and it’s interesting that like, the first time they sing it, it’s Hi Ho, It’s Home From Work We Go.
Gretchen: Okay. Because I was listening to that, and I was like, wait a second, they’re on their way home. And I didn’t pay close attention to the words, and I was like, this is just weird.
Mary: Yeah, when they started it, I was like, why are they singing hi ho now? But they actually say it’s home from work we go the first time.
Gretchen: Okay, fair enough.
Mary: The opening of Hi Ho, and this is me, like, I know almost nothing about music. Go ahead and establish the disparity in our expertise there. I am definitely a person that’s like, I know nothing about music, but I know what I like. But the opening of Hi Ho, where they’re doing that, like, call and response thing to each other in the mine.
It’s actually almost chilling. It’s really good. And it’s really interesting. And it’s like, this is something that’s building into something. And the song itself has a really good rhythm. I’m sure kids sing it all the time because it’s probably really easy for kids to remember.
Mary: Whistle While You Work. That’s the other one that I think probably people remember because parents use it to get kids to do their chores.
Mary: And that’s not a bad song either, I don’t think.
Mary: Because that’s one where I can understand what she’s saying because she’s not trying to be that romantic opera singer right then.
Gretchen: Yes, and those two songs are very, very similar. They’re straightforward, they’re bouncy, it’s not an aria…
Gretchen: …as far as like the musical style, but they’re still moving the plot along, or it’s Snow White singing, Someday My Prince Will Find Me. It’s just like, I have feelings about that. I have feelings about the dwarves.
Mary: Oh, I have so many feelings about the dwarves, but I think we’re out of time for this one. So we’re gonna have to hold that thought and next week we’ll continue our discussion of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Thanks for listening.
Revisiting the Vault is a Nine Hour Films production. It was edited by Mary Ratliff with Music by Music Motion and Lynn Publishing. We are an independent podcast and we are not affiliated with or authorized by the Walt Disney Company. You can find us on Twitter @RevisittheVault and our website is revisitingthevault.com. As with every podcast, it would be a huge help if you could leave a review on whatever program you use. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll see you next week for the second half of our discussion on Snow White. Here’s a quick sneak preview:
Mary: All of their characters are 100% just there for them to make fun of the other 100% of the dwarves characters.