Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the world's first full-length animated feature, is generally considered one of the most influential films of all time. Without the financial success of the film, Disney would not have been able to continue making animated films; though Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi did not produce a profit on their first release, they are considered by many to be Disney's greatest artistic achievements. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became the animated film against which all later Disney films were judged. The studio would also reuse the story formula of Snow White - an innocent young heroine, a powerful, mature villainess, comical sidekicks, a dashing hero and true love prevailing in the end - in Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid. The success of the film's use of expressionism prompted its use as a storytelling device in later Disney films, particularly Pinocchio and Fantasia. The film also influenced live-action films, including The Wizard of Oz and Citizen Kane.
The soundtrack of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which featured five of the songs in the film and was released by RCA Victor Records in 1938, was the first soundtrack to use the same recordings used in the film; previously, all movie-related music albums featured only interpretive re-creations. However, the term 'soundtrack' was not officially used until the release of the music of Pinocchio.
Influence on Disney Animated features canon
The enormous financial success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs allowed Walt Disney to continue to produce animated films, though, against popular demand, he did not make a sequel to the film. However, a number of visual elements and storytelling devices used in Snow White are, to a certain extent, used in the films that followed:
- Most films in the Disney Animated Features Canon are adaptations of books or fairy tales; almost all of these original sources are European.
- An ornate book is used to open and close Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A number of Disney animated features that followed use a similarly decorated tome (sometimes, as with Snow White, filmed as a live-action prop) to introduce the audience to the story. This could be linked to the decision to make many of the early animated features resemble European illustrations.
- The Queen's Castle, with its high towers and general shape, is a traditional fairytale fortress, used prominently in the advertising of the film (acting as the backdrop of the film's poster); later Disney fairytales, including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, feature similarly fantastical castles and palaces, which these buildings often act as centrepieces or backdrops for the movies' posters. A fairytale castle stands at the centre of each Disney theme park, and the image of the castle is used in the logo for Buena Vista International.
- The Evil Queen is a 'femme fetale' villainess: an intelligent and regal woman in a position of power oppressing a comparatively powerless heroine. This role, referred to by Disney as 'the heavy' was later filled by Lady Tremaine in Cinderella and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. A comical, entertaining element was later added to Disney's dangerous, powerful, oppressive villainess, producing Cruella De Vil in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Madame Medusa in The Rescuers and Ursula in The Little Mermaid.
Influence on Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty is the most similar of Disney's films to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, particularly in setting and story-structure. In some cases, dialogue is lifted from Snow White, sometimes word for word (Snow White's line "I'm awfully sorry - I didn't mean to frighten you" is also said by Prince Philip in Sleeping Beauty). The manner in which Philip and Aurora meet is also directly lifted from Snow White; she is initially alarmed when he suddenly joins in her singing, and, after retreating shyly, re-emerges to see him. The scene in which Aurora's forest friends dress as her 'dream prince' recalls the dwarfs' 'human costume' in "The Silly Song". Maleficent inherited a number of characteristics from the Queen, including the cowl, widow's peak, high collar, billowing cloak, arched eyebrows, cruel lips and Raven familiar.
Abandoned concepts from Snow White were also used for Sleeping Beauty. The Prince was originally conceived as a 'Douglas Fairbanks type' who was 'great pals' with his intelligent horse; though these ideas were ultimately not used in Snow White, Prince Philip and his horse Sampson fit this description. Another abandoned concept from Snow White was that the Queen kidnap the Prince and lock him in her dungeon; the Prince would then have escaped in order to wake Snow White. Similarly, in Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent kidnaps Philip so that he will not interfere with her plans for Aurora.
Influence on The Wizard of Oz
The success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs persuaded Metro Goldwyn Mayer to take a risk in purchasing the rights to The Wizard of Oz. Certain storytelling devices, narrative elements and stylistic decisions in MGM's film were also influenced by those of Disney's:
- The Munchkins were originally conceived as having individual personalities, in response to Disney's Seven Dwarfs.
- The song "We're Off to See the Wizard" was referred to in production as "The Marching Song", and was written in the spirit of Disney's "Heigh Ho".
- Emulating the scene in Snow White in which The Prince revives Snow White with a kiss, the Scarecrow was originally to wake Dorothy from the poppy-induced sleep with his tears.
- The Wicked Witch of the West played a relatively minor role in L. Frank Baum's original novel, appearing quite late in the story. In the film her role was expanded, and she is a present threat for most of the film, similar to the Queen in Snow White.
- Emulating the scene when the Queen dies after taking the potion. It's similar to when Dorothy got knocked on the head and everything was spinning.
- Producer Mervyn Leroy initially suggested that the Wicked Witch of the West be slinky and seductive, with a sinister beauty, like Disney's Evil Queen; glamourous actress Gale Sondergaard was persuaded to test for the role. Associate producer Arthur Freed then persuaded Leroy to make the Wicked Witch ugly, "like Disney's Old Crone in Snow White", but then, after more make-up tests in which Sondergaard was given the "ugly treatment", Sondergaard had "absolutely no regrets" in turning down the role, which was eventually given to Margaret Hamilton.
- In Snow White the Queen transforms into the Witch; a less macabre transformation occurs in The Wizard of Oz when the bicycle-riding Miss Gulch transforms into the broomstick-bound Wicked Witch in the cyclone.
- The Flying Monkey present in the Wicked Witch of the West's chamber was intended to serve a similar purpose to the Queen's Raven; each silent character is present for the film's villiness to speak to, adding conviction to her character and allowing her to reveal important plot points.
- The Oz Witch's crystal ball is surrounded by the signs of the zodiac, like Disney's Magic Mirror.
The similarities between the two films were such that The Wizard of Oz was at one point advertised as "Snow White with live actors".
- Robin Allan, "Walt Disney and Europe" (Indiana University Press, Indiana, 1999) ISBN 0-253-21353-3
- Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, "The Disney Villain" (Hyperion, United States, 1993) ISBN 1-56282-792-8
- Michael Barrier, "The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney" (University of California Press, London, 2007) ISBN 978-0-520-24117-6
- William Stillman and Jay Scarfone, "The Wizardry of Oz: The Artistry and Magic of The 1939 MGM Classic" (Applause Theatre Book Publishers, United States, 2004) ISBN 1-55783-624-8