Disney Diaries – 1930s

Lockdown number four has hit Melbourne, and to be honest, I’m taking it kind of hard. Most of the worst restrictions are in place, save for the curfew and the one-hour limit of going outside your home. For the record, I am 100% supportive of this lockdown, but that doesn’t mean it’s not tough.

So, to cheer myself up, I’ve decided to do a Disney marathon and share my thoughts as I re-watch these classic films. What better time to fill my days with warmth and nostalgia?

Much like many 90s kids, Disney shaped my childhood. Most of my memories are watching these movies on VHS on our family’s square TV in the corner TV unit. My sister and I used to duet the songs (with me, the younger sister, always being relegated to the boy’s part).

A week before the lockdown, when everything seemed fine and fancy free, I finally made my way to ACMI. Somewhat fortuitously, the Walt Disney Animation Research Library were having an exhibition, loaning ACMI several original character sketches, exclusive behind the scenes footage of the animation process, and even original models used by the animators. This exhibit reignited my love affair for the Disney movies, and so I’ll be focussing mostly on the films featured in the collection (with a few extras thrown in at my discretion), in chronological order.

ACMI ‘Frame’ brochure, April 2021


Snow White (1937, directed by David Hand (supervising), William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen)

As a child, this wasn’t my favourite. Snow White herself was kind of boring, the queen terrified me, and the prince was barely a character.

I can’t deny that the hand-drawn animation is beautiful. You can even see the rouge on Snow White’s cheeks shift with each frame.

The queen’s appearance at the cottage is still terrifying, but now that I’m older, I can see why. The animators invoke point of view, perhaps for the first time ever in animation, given Snow White was the first animated feature film. The queen isn’t speaking to Snow White; she’s speaking to you. They also fill the frame with her, making the scene feel almost claustrophobic, her hands halfway into the cottage, infiltrating Snow White’s ‘safe space’. This shattering of the fourth wall would be ground-breaking for live action at the time, let alone animation.

As far as strong independent heroines go, Snow White is probably at the bottom of the list. Yes, the film is a product of its time, however it’s hard not to scream in frustration at the TV after Snow White apologises to the forest creatures for ‘making a fuss’. … YOU WERE JUST ABOUT TO BE KILLED. YOU RAN AWAY. THAT’S NOT MAKING A FUSS!

Disney also follows the ‘as soon as a resolution is reached, finish the story immediately’ rule. Snow White is barely resuscitated before the end cards roll.

As a film, there’s no doubting this film completely changed history. Fairytales as musicals marketed to children is probably one of the most influential shifts in cinema history. It’s definitely the lowest on my list in terms of the princess films, however still there.  


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