Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Favorites - Snow White (#37)


The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Snow White (1933/USA/ani. Roland Crandall) appeared at #37 on my original list.

What it is • Not the Snow White you were expecting to see here? True, Betty Boop's version of the Grimm tale isn't exactly identical to the Disney feature, but there really are quite a lot of similarities! Both display the Evil Queen's jealousy when she discovers that Betty, er, Snow White is the "fairest in the land" by honing in on her face, with its wide eyes and bulbous nose, as it morphs into a frying pan with two sizzling eggs. The two Snow Whites also depict our heroine's escape from execution in similar fashion: the queen's knights destroy their weapons before brawling with the tree stump on which they were going to chop off her head, punching and kicking the scowling block of wood as it wraps its roots around them like tentacles. Most memorable of all is the music these films share - hallmarks of Sing-A-Long Song videotapes cherished by millennial children, in which the bouncing ball struggles to keep up with Cab Calloway in clown/ghost drag, lamenting his dead lover while his head detaches and becomes a giant bottle of "boooooze."

On second thought, maybe these two films are pretty different. Packing one hell of a punch at seven minutes and seven seconds (one for each dwarf), the 1933 Snow White beat its more famous companion by four years. Produced by the Fleischer brothers, it was largely the work of animator Roland Crandall who, according to Wikipedia, was given free reign to create this stream-of-consciousness cartoon by his own hand (which took half a year). The result is remarkable, every frame stuffed with hilariously random invention.

Why I like it •
There's incredible verve and wit to all the early Betty Boop cartoons (the Code killed the Boop magic, although the series limped on for another five years). Classics like Minnie the Moocher and Bimbo's Initiation ("Wanna be a member? Wanna be a member?") are also worth shouting out, but pound-for-pound this may be the masterpiece. I love how it reinvents a well-known fable while just barely hitting each story point (Snow White's encounter with the dwarfs is compressed into a few seconds, as her ice-entombed form slides through their hut and they carry her out the back). I adore all the details that fly by so fast you have to watch the film several times to catch them all - Snow White has the spontaneous energy and dazzling brilliance of an in-the-moment jazz improvisation, even though we know Crandall probably labored endlessly over each image. And "St. James" is such a fantastic Calloway performance. I don't just mean vocal performance either; Calloway's memorable dance was rotoscoped so that every move we see is his own, giving this loose, rubbery cartoon an uncanny sense of weight at its center. I discovered Snow White on August 20, 2009 - I can confirm the date because I commented under the great Acidemic blog post by Erich Kuersten and registered my immediate astonishment: "that just may be the best cartoon I've ever seen." Then I immediately watched it again.

More from me • I paid visual tribute to Snow White in 2010, with a series of screen-caps followed by the video on YouTube. However, if you haven't seen the film before skip that upload and check out...

How you can see it • A sharp HD transfer was finally uploaded to YouTube a year ago, befitting its bustling compositions. The film is also available on various Betty Boop collections, though at the moment Netflix DVD seems to have reverted them all to the dreaded "Saved" category. Track down the blu-ray if you want more; it looks superb.

What do you think? • Is Snow White the quintessential/best/your favorite Betty Boop cartoon, or would you give that honor to another? What's your favorite gag from the film? What other "fractured fairy tales" would you put in the same class (I have one more coming up on this list myself...)?

• • •

Yesterday: Scarface (#38)

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