An illustration for the fairy tale made between 1838 and 1846 by Ludwig Richter shows Snow White with forest animals, suggesting her sympathy with nature. Similarly, Disney sought to stress the connection between the princess and the animal world in order to emphasize her isolation. Walt Disney suggested that, in the conversation with the baby bird, Snow White could ask "Are you a little orphan?" to reinforce this theme.
When the film was being developed, animators who worked on the animals included Eric Larson and Milt Kahl. The task of animating the creatures proved difficult; some scenes featured as many as 23 animals on the screen at the same time, sometimes interacting with other characters than each other. Larson tackled the problem by animating the animals as a single entity but placing each individual creature's actions at a different time. The deer in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were later referred to as possessing 'flour sack bodies' when compared to the more anatomically strict animation of Bambi.
The only human character who seems able to speak to them is Snow White, whom they make it their priority to protect and help throughout the film. Birds, rabbits, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, and quails inhabit the forest; however, the most significant of the forest fauna is a turtle, who is always a step behind the other animals. The animals are primarily used to justify many of Snow White's lines; rather than talking to herself, she is addressing her animal friends.
As Snow White works in the courtyard of the Queen's Castle, several doves are gathered nearby. She informs them that the well nearby is a wishing well, and sings I'm Wishing to her reflection at the bottom of the well. The Prince, enchanted by her voice, joins in the song; though Snow White, startled, runs indoors to watch the prince from a low balcony, the doves remain; the Prince kisses one of them. Later, the Huntsman raises his dagger behind the princess as she helps a baby bird find its parents. Snow White is next seen with animal companions after her flight through the forest, when it is revealed that the eyes that have been menacing to the princess only belong to the friendly animals of the forest. They feel sympathetic towards her and gather around her as she cries; a rabbit is the first to approach her. When Snow White has calmed down, she sings a duet with the baby bird she helped (who is unable to reach a particularly high note, much to its parents' disappointment). The princess asks the animals if they know of a place to stay. They lead her through the (now pleasant) forest to the Cottage of the Seven Dwarfs, which they approach with caution. The inhabitants of the cottage are out, but Snow White decides to clean the house in the hopes of securing a place to stay. The animals help as Snow White cleans to "Whistle While You Work"; squirrels use their tails as dusters, antlers are used to carry wet clothes, and the turtle's shell is used as a drying rack.
After cleaning the house, Snow White and the animals go upstairs, where they find the dwarfs' beds. They instantly fall asleep, tired from the work. However, the animals wake upon the arrival of the seven dwarfs, whom they confuse and frighten in the shadows of the cottage's ground floor. When Snow White eventually wakes and the dwarfs allow her to stay, the animals and dwarfs are friendlier towards each other; as the dwarfs sing The Silly Song, the animals watch happily. They remain with Snow White when the dwarfs leave for the mine the following morning, and help her bake a pie for Grumpy when they are startled by the arrival of the Evil Queen (in her peddler disguise). Though Snow White is unaware of the Witch's intentions, the animals notice two vultures watching the scene and, sensing danger, try to attack the Witch. They are prevented from doing this by Snow White, who takes the Witch into the cottage to give her a drink of water. The animals hurry to the mine, where they try to tell the dwarfs that the princess is in danger. However, the dwarfs are unable to understand them and initially resist; it is only when Sleepy suggests that the Queen is with Snow White that the dwarfs panic. They ride the animals (mostly the deer) back to the cottage, to find Snow White poisoned, and the victorious Witch emerging from the door. They chase her to a cliff, where she enters a fatal fall, is crushed by an enormous boulder, and eaten by the vultures. The animals mourn for Snow White, but rejoice with the dwarfs at her resurrection when the prince kisses her, breaking the spell. They then all wave goodbye to Snow White and the prince as they set off to his castle in the clouds.
Pictures of the animals appear in the Dive to the Heart stage in Kingdom Hearts. Outside of this, the birds appear in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, making them the only ones to physically appear in the series.