When I wrote about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) last September, I described its lush landscapes as “iconography right out of a stained glass window.” This is one hell of a beautiful movie. Its images have a mythic thrust to them, yet they’re still crisp and vital. In their first feature-length venture, Disney and his animators composed a still-unmatched argument for the necessity and power of animation. Lucky for me, that fairest film of them all is the subject of this week’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” over at The Film Experience.
For a first taste of Snow White’s immaculate beauty, just gaze at the layered forest, penetrated by sunbeams and dotted with animal eyes, in my second-favorite shot. It’s a rich illustration of the film’s tonal turning point, when Snow White’s huntsman-inspired terror gives way to renewed joy with her woodland friends. The shadows and gnarled trees that flank the frame are counterbalanced by the friendly yellows and greens cushioning poor Snow White. Even in this snapshot, you can see the mood begin to lift. It contains both the traces of terror and the glimmers of hope. My favorite shot is similarly dense, but expresses a very different range of emotions.
As much as I love the film’s storybook vistas, I just can’t get into Snow White herself. She’s peppy, yeah, but also boring—a blank slate of a princess who’ll give herself over to the first prince or apple-selling hag who comes along. The Evil Queen, however, is fascinating: obsessed with the girl she hates, steeped in arcane knowledge, willing to hex away her own precious beauty just for the chance to poison her rival. She ruins her looks in a painful transformation sequence, just to validate her vanity! Her eyes are radiant with homicidal envy. You do not fuck with this woman.
This shot transpires right before the Queen swigs her potion. Here, the chalice functions as another “magic mirror,” another medium to reflect her authority and control. She has sacrificed everything for total power; now, in that reflection, she and her magic are one. The gray clouds, green bubbles, and sharp red nails add to the sense of mounting danger. This is horror movie territory, as dark and macabre as anything out of Universal. And through that darkness, it’s my most beloved shot in Snow White.