Overview: A young princess, Snow White, is driven from her home by fear of her jealous stepmother, who envies her youth and beauty. Walt Disney Productions; 83 minutes.
The Fair: This is one of those Disney movies in which the story is secondary to the beauty of the hand-drawn backgrounds and the nuanced animation. Little ones won’t know it, but they’re watching a work of art. That doesn’t mean the plot is uninteresting, however. It is simple and linear, with plenty of touches meant just for children. The dwarfs are silly and fun, and provide a bit of a lesson in moods (with names like Happy, Bashful, Grumpy, etc., and corresponding personalities). Children identify with these little men as Snow White inspects their hands to see if they are adequately washed for dinner. At the same time, children will identify with Snow White, who, in her isolation, talks with the abundance of adorable forest creatures and whose imagination turns a benign forest into a terrifying place full of grabbing branches and unknown monsters.
Whistle While You Watch: The music, as well as the art style, is reflective of popular music of the era – heavy on romance, strings, and vibrato. Some modern viewers might find Snow White’s trilling distracting, but these songs are lovely and enduring. The loveliest – the intro, in which Snow White sings into a well (which echoes back) that she’s waiting for the one she loves to find her – is also probably one of the least well known. More familiar are “Hi Ho” and “Whistle While You Work,” which, in addition to being catchy, reinforce a positive attitude and work ethic.
The Foul: As this film is reflective of its time, there are some aspects to which an enlightened parent might object. Snow White’s dream is to be found by Prince Charming, and when she seeks shelter with the dwarfs she endears herself to them by “keeping house,” as women do. This passive waiting for an idealized man and Snow White’s impulse to cook and clean and mother only reinforce traditional gender roles, which place women subservient to men. The emphasis on physical beauty, and the portrayal of women as competitors, could also be problematic for impressionable young children. Then, of course, there’s the darkness… This movie is quite scary, and doesn’t shy away from death or evil. Some parents might feel that this exposure to reality is good for children, but those who want to protect their children from awareness of murder, cruelty, death, and carrion birds would do best to steer clear of this one.
Overall: A very enjoyable, classic Disney animation, with pleasant music, a simple and engaging story, and some lessons – good and questionable – for children.