Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Nicholas Rapold: Short and Sweet - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Short and Sweet - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
by Nicholas Rapold
Reverse Shot


Even so unseated from a role in my upbringing or education, Snow White awed me with the power of its anxiety about growing up, or, to use a broader synonym, with maturation, and so with sexuality. This is no revelation, since the Grimm DNA guarantees an earthiness that all Roy Disney’s businessman-auteur management couldn’t contain. The concern with beauty and desire, affection and sexuality—and, in the film’s terms, the full-grown and the half-grown—doesn’t need Barthelme to translate, and the movie finds all sorts of things in the home closest to home, the body.

Disney movies often have a seamless appearance laid over clear moral frameworks, and evil makes its presence known to good through fears that the viewer feels at a primal level (as in Snow White’s unforgettable terrified flight into an expressionistic forest). In Snow White, these emotions and drives are all frighteningly bound up with the body. Snow White’s physical beauty becomes her bane in a kingdom ruled and scried over a murderously vain queen. And the dwarfs are prisoners of their deterministic identities, compelled by single tendencies with a force that feels as inevitable as a sex drive.

At this point I’m perhaps supposed to apologize for analyzing a children’s cartoon (and finding, yawn, sex). Where’s my attempt to feel childlike wonder at the goddamned magic? Part of that Disney magic, masterful and insidious, is to convey these both specific and sweeping sensations and perceptions buried away within inchoate feelings of wonder, fear, love, for the art, the scenario, and, above all, the characters, in all the instantly familiar details of their movement. And the animation of forms is inextricable from the body, in these bodies, about which Disney movies have always had a palpable (and understandable) anxiety, clothing people head to toe or in animal guise, a tradition extended into and by the rise of computer animation and its smooth, plastic(-surgery) surfaces.

The eager artistry of Snow White ends up giving a fine illustration of this not unproductive ambivalence in the person of its heroine. In the heady days of innovation that marked the production of the feature (at least, in the hard-sold image in the making-of materials), a concern for realism, of all things for an animated work, won out when it came to Snow White. Her movement was obsessively modeled upon some of the extensive footage of actual humans doing stuff, in this case, a woman dancing and walking about. And in the fest with her new roommates, the dwarfs, Snow White moves with a grace and flow that rediscovers the beauty in movement.


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