David Hand? Look at the credits and you’ll see the name down as the director, one among quite a few, depending on where you’re looking. Such is the grip of the “director as auteur” notion on modern thinking that everyone – from the IMDB down – feels obliged to list the director first, as if theirs were always the guiding hand.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that Snow White is a Walt Disney film. He might not have directed any of it but he directed the people who did. And, in the days when we’re meant to marvel at the computer-generated output of Pixar and the like, how much more amazing to reflect that those people drew every one of Snow White’s 250,000 individual cels by hand. And each cel is crammed with movement. Left to right, top to bottom and even front to back (it’s all shot on a multiplane camera, which gives the illusion of depth), there are moving trees, scudding clouds, bouncing animals, dwarfs falling over each other, a dancing Snow White, a glowering queen. And it’s in slow, cumbersome but beautiful Technicolor. Snow White is a triumph of the industrial process in other words. Not only that, of course, it’s a triumph of art – Uncle Walt somehow, and this was his first attempt at making a feature-length cartoon, came up with the story-telling formula that all animations still use today, comedy sidekick animals and all. The other thing that’s notable on rewatching Snow White is how dark it is – the sequence where Snow White is running through the forest as the trees reach out to grab her is a beautifully wrought piece of nightmare expressionism. The film is one of the last hurrahs of a darker European sensibility in Disney’s work – time and again Snow White is steered away from Grimm imaginings and towards a more optimistic American look. Technically, artistically, financially, this is the film that made Disney the mega-corporation it is today. It’s never bettered it.
© Steve Morrissey 2013