Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

More than any other type of culture, I absolutely love animation. Naturally, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is very dear to my heart.  It was the first feature length cel animated film, released at a time when animation was otherwise limited to short gag features and short musical features. .  It showed that animation was capable of being scenic and lyrical and dramatic.  It is a masterpiece of filmmaking. It is also damn near unwatchable.

The film starts with a live action book being opened.  On the first page we read the following:

“Once upon a time there lived a lovely little Princess named Snow White.  Her vain and wicked Stepmother the Queen feared that some day Snow White’s beauty would surpass her own.  So she dressed the little Princess in rags and forced her to work as a Scullery Maid.

Each day the vain Queen consulted her Magic Mirror, “Magic Mirror on the Wall, Who is the fairest one of all?”…and as long as the Mirror answered, “You are the fairest one of all, ” Snow White was safe from the Queen’s cruel jealousy.”

Following that prologue, we see the Queen consulting with her Mirror. This is the inevitable day that the Mirror tells her that Snow White’s beauty has overtaken the Queen’s. This is not a subtle statement: The Queen looks in a mirror and it tells her that she is not beautiful enough, driving her into a jealous rage.

We now meet Snow White. She is shown to be beautiful despite her stepmother’s attempts at stripping her of any glamor. She is cleaning a wishing well and talking to the birds, who listen raptly to her every vapid word.  She is wishing that a man will come and take her away and treat her nice.

While she is singing her repugnant dreams into a wishing well, a handsome Prince arrives, and he is instantly smitten with Snow White, who plays coy. The Queen witnesses this courtship from a window, and this is her breaking point. To her, feminine sexual beauty is the only virtue of any importance. Now that her young stepdaughter is is an object of sexual desire, she has become an intolerable threat that must be dealt with.

It is an important point that “fairest” in this film indicates not just “beauty” but specifically the sexual beauty of womanhood.  The character of Snow White has hit that uncomfortable transition state between child and woman. She still retains the innocence of youth, but it is her nascent sexuality that causes her to become more fair than her rival. And in the world of Snow White the virtue of “fairness” is quantifiable. Something so important could not possibly be subjective.

So now that Snow White has surpassed the Queen in sexual desirability, there is nothing to be done but kill her.  A Huntsman is tasked with the job, and given a sweet-ass box for heart retrieval.

However, when push comes to stab, the Huntsman can’t off the beautiful princess and instead tells her to run and never come back.   It almost looks like Snow White takes an active role at this point in the story, running away from her-would be killer, but that isn’t really so. She is only spared because the killer cannot harm one as beautiful as she, and she only runs because he commands her to.  In fact, after her initial panic, she is embarrassed that she ever doubted that the universe would automatically protect her.

Snow White is now alone in the woods. She is so lovely that all the cute creatures of the forest are drawn to her, where like every living creature other than the Queen they hang onto every stupid thought she utters. Exiled from home after a failed attempt on her life by her only living relative, Snow White bemusedly wonders to her woodland friends where she will now live.  She doesn’t worry about her current lot, nor does she make any move to solve the problem herself.  And why should she?  The creatures of the woods love her, and they lead her to a small secluded cottage. “Just like a dollhouse.”

Despite the fact that this house is clearly lived in, Snow White has no qualms about letting herself in and poking around the premises.  The house is a dump and has tiny furniture, and from this she surmises that it must be occupied by children.  She enlists her animal friends to help her with doing the only thing other than wishing that she is good at: cleaning.

Of course, this house does not belong to seven children, it in fact belongs to seven dwarfs, who without a woman to clean for them, have no choice but to live in filth. First appearing at 21 minutes into the film, seen hard at work in a mine brimming with pre-cut gems,  the titular dwarfs come as a bit of a shock.  The film has thus far been astonishingly, gorgeously naturalistic, unlike anything the audiences of 1937 had ever seen. By contrast, the dwarfs are as cartoony and stylized as you would expect from a typical Disney short feature. It is quite jarring.

The dwarfs are genuinely great creations. They are caricatures, each built around a single trait, which is a delightful conceit that is quite well-realized. They are given some wonderful gags which are expertly animated. They stand as a fascinating contrast, against the lush naturalism of the rest of the film. I think in a different film that contrast could be used to great effect. Here, they simply fail to mesh with the tone of the rest of the film, especially since there is frankly nothing in this story that is serviced by the presence of seven comically lovable dwarfs.

At any rate, the dwarfs finish their day at the mine, and come home to discover that their house has been entered and that the intruder has cleaned it.  Their initial fear at this violation is played for comedy, but eventually they meet the princess-in-exile and a bargain is struck:  Snow White will be allowed to stay with them, in exchange she will keep house.

Now, obviously there is an unsavory aspect to a young woman staying with seven grown men.  Since her budding womanhood is at the heart of her character, the film can’t cast her as a child amongst men.  Therefore, the dwarfs are instead infantilized.  Although they are all smitten by the girl’s beauty, they are written as so childlike that they can not possibly pose a sexual threat.

Meanwhile, the Queen’s Mirror continues to tell her that she is not beautiful enough. And so she has discovered that Snow White lives and that she is living with the dwarfs.  Upon this discovery she hatches a complicated plan to disguise herself as a hag and in that guise gift Snow White a poison apple.  One may wonder why she doesn’t just send a squadron of soldiers to burn the dwarven hut to the ground., but it seems obvious that she fears Snow White’s power, i.e., her beauty.  After all, that beauty foiled the original murdering.

The Queen turns herself into a hideous crone. Of course she does. To her, this seems the perfect disguise. She fears nothing so much as beauty, so the uglier the person, the less threatening it seems. And of course, thematically, it means that she now has an exterior ugliness to match her interior ugliness.

As for the apple, it won’t actually kill Snow White outright, but will freeze her into a “living death” that can only be disrupted by “love’s first kiss”.  That may seem like a horribly foreshadowed loophole to jaded 21st century audiences, but the Queen is distracted by the sweet sweet notion of Snow White being buried alive.

The next day, when the dwarfs leave Snow White for the mine, the Queen-as-hag arrives, giving Snow White an apple.  This is played for suspense, as if the Queen is perpetrating a great con, when of course Snow White has no reason to question why a stranger would gift her with treats.  She expects special treatment.  After all, she is beautiful and a princess, which in her world is one and the same.

Snow White’s woodland animal friends know better than to trust an ugly old woman. They rush to get the dwarfs so that they can save the utterly incapable princess.  Meanwhile, the Queen tells Snow White that the poison apple is a “Magic Wishing Apple.”  And so Snow White once again wishes for a handsome prince to take care of her.  Then she bites the apple and dies.  Cruelly, we are denied the privilege of seeing her die on-camera.

The dwarfs, having arrived too late to save the princess, chase the Queen to the edge of a cliff, where she falls to her death, thus saving her from being bludgeoned to death by dwarven beating sticks.

But the princess is, to all intents and purposes dead.  Snow White is “so beautiful, even in death, that the dwarfs could not find it in their hearts to bury her.”  Instead they built her a glass coffin so they could look at her lovely, perfect corpse. Snow White is prominently displayed so that she may be mourned anew every day as the months pass.

Eventually, The Prince, who has no personality traits other than princeliness, finds the sleeping princess.  Without a word, without delay, he kisses her and she awakens.

That’s it. Without a word spoken between the two of them, it is understood that he will take her away to his castle.  She does not seem in any way surprised.  She is the fairest of them all, and this is sort of thing is to be expected.  She gives the dwarfs farewell kisses. Their use to her is at an end.

And they lived happily ever after.

Snow White is the story of a horrible young woman who exists to be beautiful and to let others take care of her. Her only skills are housework and wishing. Even if that wasn’t a morally repugnant message to be sending our daughters (which it is) it would be just plain bad storytelling.  Snow White is our protagonist and what she wants is for her problems to be solved by someone else. She is thoroughly awful.

The other day I got a call at work from my girlfriend.  She had found Snow White in the DVD player and needed reassurance that I hadn’t been showing this to our three year old daughter.  I reassured her I would never do that.  Straight up, this is a terrible, poisonous work of film.  How any parent could want their child to emulate this passive, entitled user of a character is beyond me, and yet the mulitbillion dollar “princess culture” has over the past decade become the single dominant force in girl’s entertainment.  It is beyond vile.

Great animation, though.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

109. Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Bros. 3
Nintendo Entertainment System
Nintendo EAD
1988

This one, I played with my girlfriend. She is shocked by how terrible it looks. She’s racked up a fair amount of Mario 3 in the past, but always the All-Star remakes on the SNES and GBA. She’s never before played with the original recipe 8 bit herbs and spices. Compared to those excellent up-ports, no two ways about it, this game looks rough.

My perspective is a little different. I’ve played a lot of NES in recent days, so I’m very aware of the graphical range of the system. So, even though I’ve played this game over and over throughout the years, when I loaded it up this week, I was simply blown away by how amazing it looked. Just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It’s a joy to just look at this game, let alone play it. Its visuals are crisp, beautiful and infused with a charm and personality that is second to none.

I mean, pretty much everyone who cares enough to have ever taken the time to pick a greatest NES game agrees that this game is it, right? Sure, that’s mainly due to the innovative level design, the seemingly endless volume of manic-clever ideas, and the perfectly frictive controls. But it is also because –on both the art end and the technical end– this is easily the best looking of its era.

Mario 3 is a marvel. It pushed the boundaries of Nintendo’s aging console hardware to the very limits. This is a game that was so badass that before its release, a theatrical feature film was made and sold around the premise of “Holy Fuckballs Look At This Game Mario Can Turn Into A Goddam Raccoon This is Crazy and Rad And Also We Can Now Play Video Games With Gloves.” The Wizard was a truly terrible movie, but when they unveil Mario 3 in that game, young minds across America were irrevocably blown.

Today, Mario 3 looks like a dinosaur. But you gotta admit that it’s a T-Rex. Most NES games are more like the Brontosaurus: They were the greatest thing in the world when we were six, but now we know that what we thought was real and awesome never even existed in the first place.

Super Mario Bros. 3, you are king of the Thunder Lizards.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

108. Spy Hunter

Spy Hunter
Nintendo Entertainment System
Sun Soft
1987

“Car Exploder” would be a more accurate name for this game. Of course, “Car Exploder” sounds like a totally sweet game, and Spy Hunter is pretty much garbage, so it is probably best that this game has the name that it has.

They should totally rename the Burnout games as the “Car Exploder” series.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

107. Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll

Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll
Nintendo Entertainment System
Rare
1990

I have vague childhood memories of watching Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll being played by someone, maybe an older cousin, maybe a baby sitter. I’m not clear on the specifics, but what I remember is that I was a little kid and they were a cool older person.

This game looked amazing. There was a dense amount of crazy stuff happening in a complex 3D environment. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. It seemed to young me that this game before me was video gaming sophistication. This was the sort of complex, high-level video game I would aspire to play as a grown up.

Now, years later, I am a grown up. I have the wisdom that comes with age. With that wisdom, if I had the power to go back in time with a message from Future Isaac to Past Isaac, that message would be this: “Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll is not as cool as it looks.”

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

106. Rollerball

Rollerball
Nintendo Entertainment System
Hal Laboratory
1988

We hear the organ and rumble of the crowd. James Caan is not a man, he is a berollerskated god, his leather pants glistening in the harsh, artificial light. The chanting from the crowd gets louder and louder. “JON-A-THAN JON-A-THAN JON-A-THAN.” They have tasted blood and they demand more. Bones break. Lives shatter. Moon Pie won’t be alone in hell for much longer.

Rollerball is a competent-but-unremarkable pinball simulator. That is fine. However, when compared to the overwrought 1975 sci fi sports film classic of the same name, it’s got nothing. Frankly, I’d rather rewatch the 2002 remake than play this game. And that movie stars Chris Klein. Let that sink in. This game is less interesting than watching Chris Klein act.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

105. Rad Racer

Rad Racer
Nintendo Entertainment System
Square
1987

I like racers. I love things that are rad. So it goes without saying, I was totally pumped to play Rad Racer.

Things fell apart when I actually tried to play it. The first thing I noticed was that I could not get my car to move very fast. For those of you not familiar with the racing genre, making cars go fast is a crucial strategic element. In most games this is achieved with a “gas” button and maybe a “gear shift” button. This game has a gas button but application of said button failed to produce speeds comparable to those of the AI cars. The other button was a “brake” button, which is certainly a useful tool in the world of racing simulation, but not what you need when “faster” is your goal.

After several frustrating races, I finally discovered that to make my car go fast I had to not only press down the A button to simulate pressing down on the accelerator, but I also had to press the up button on the directional pad.. Presumably, this simulates looking out of the windshield? I don’t know, but I do know that this is a terribly unwieldy and unintuitive game.

Not very rad at all.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.