If Walt Disney hadn't nixed it, the Seven Dwarfs might have had names like Stubby, Sniffy, Wheezy or Puffy. Wouldn't you know it, the guy who played Goofy came up with the gnomenclature.
Friday, the dwarfs and their fair friend Snow White will reemerge from their deep sleep to awaken a new generation to the evils of narcissism and that "mirror, mirror on the wall." Their rerelease celebrates the 50th anniversary of the classic, Disney's first full-length animated feature.
"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," then known among Hollywood skeptics as "Disney's Folly," premiered to sniffling, cheering crowds on Dec. 21, 1937. Carole Lombard and Clark Gable emerged from the Carthay Circle red-eyed. Of course, by then Wheezy had become Sneezy and the guy who was Goofy, Pinto Colvig, was also playing Sleepy and Grumpy to Adriana Caselotti's Snow White.
"If we could all be like Grumpy, there'd be world peace," says Caselotti, now 71, who mixes characters and actors like ordinary folk toss salads. "Grumpy never got grumpy," she says of the days she and Colvig traveled together to promote the film.
So when Caselotti found herself feeling put-upon, she asked Colvig his secret. And he said, "Every morning I get up and look in the bathroom mirror and say, 'I'm not mad at anybody.' "
Like everything else, mirrors can be used for good or evil, just as "Snow White" teaches.
Walt Disney based his landmark film on the Brothers Grimm's version of a centuries-old European folk tale, which Freudian child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim interprets ad infinitum in his book, "The Uses of Enchantment." The story deals primarily with Oedipal conflicts between mother and daughter (Snow White and her regal stepmother), childhood and sexual maturity. The dwarfs, conflict-free adolescents, make perfect companions for the prepubescent princess.
The dwarfs, "with their stunted bodies and their mining occupation -- they skillfully penetrate dark holes -- all suggest phallic connotations," he writes, but "have no desire to move beyond their phallic existence to intimate relations."
Alas, Disney has mucked the dwarf business all up, writes Bettelheim. "Giving each dwarf a separate name and a distinctive personality -- in the fairytale they are all identical ... seriously interferes with the unconscious understanding that they symbolize an immature pre-individual form of existence which Snow White must transcend." For that, you need "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."
Other psychologists say that the Queen's transformation into the Witch -- as in how mom acts when she won't let you have a candy bar -- scares little viewers silly. It's right up there with the shooting of Bambi's mother and the witch in "The Wizard of Oz," says Peggy Charren of Action for Children's Television. But that's swell. "Good, honest frightening content is not what people should be worried about," says Charren. "The idea of scaring yourself up to the point where you can't control it is kind of healthy ... It's a way of getting mastery over the issues. Good and evil, weak and strong, life and death."
Marc Davis, who began his career as an animator on "Snow White" in 1934, laughingly contrasts movie violence then and now. "The Witch doesn't compare to the killers in these smashing cars and chain-saw movies. She's a sweet little old lady by today's standards."
Caselotti recalls that kids were scared, but they lined up three deep, some 20 million in the first three months of "Snow White's" release. "I hate violence," she says. And she's seen "Snow White" a hundred times, so how bad can it be? "If a movie starts with an explosion, I turn it off and look for a happy situation." All caught up in her alter ego, she believes in living happily ever after.
" 'Snow White' offers the ultimate happy ending," says media watchdog Charren. "It comes from the days when we went to the bookshelves instead of toy shelves for stimulation, used words instead of products. Disney's animators took as much care in creating 'Snow White' as Selznick took in casting Vivien Leigh in 'Gone With the Wind.' "
Disney himself started working on the project one night in 1934, recalls veteran art director Ken Anderson. The staff gathered on the studio's small recording stage and Disney spent the next four hours telling them the story. "It was a shock to all of us because we knew how hard it was to do a cartoon short," and here Walt Disney was proposing a feature. There were formidable technological challenges to conquer, not to mention the public's imagination.
"It took guts to do what Walt did," adds animator Ollie Johnston. "The story is based on the idea that the Queen is going to murder this girl. That's one drawing killing another drawing. Walt convinced us that it would be believable and we all believed him."
"Animation means to bring to life. And Walt was only interested in things you could bring to life," adds Davis. "Walt was interested in believing. Once a reporter asked him, 'Mr. Disney, what is your favorite scene?' and he said, 'I guess it would be where Cinderella got her gown.' It was a scene where something comes out right. That told an awful lot about Walt."
Even when such curmudgeons as W.C. Fields predicted audiences wouldn't sit through a nearly 90-minute cartoon, Disney's team believed. More than 750 artists worked on the film for three years, inking and painting and in-betweening, busy as the diamond-mining dwarfs.
They produced more than a million drawings, with 250,000 of these composing the 83-minute movie. This was set to such musical standards as "Heigh-Ho," "Whistle While You Work," and "Some Day My Prince Will Come." And so it came to pass that the whitest woman in all of cartoondom entered into her highly publicized puberty with a bite from that forbidden fruit, the apple, and then a restorative kiss from her prince.
Pure and driven, Snow White seems as apt a heroine for the AIDS-plagued, overachieving '80s, as she did for the happy-ending starved Depression-era audiences. She's as classic as a Chanel suit, exactly as Disney intended.
"We never used popular slang of the time," says Davis. "You'll never find a gesture that might mean something obscene in South America." One did once and the troops were forced to redraw the segment. The classics "can go on for that reason. Nothing dates a movie like the smart remark of the day."
And then there's the matter of the princess' pipes -- that cartoon coloratura that Caselotti gave to Snow White. It was a lifelong sacrifice. Disney would never allow her to use her voice for any other character, for he knew he had a classic from the start, she says.
Call Caselotti's Los Angeles home and Snow White answers with a perky little solo.
"I'm wishing for the one I love to find me today. I'm hoping and I'm dreaming of the nice things he'll say. Tell me wishing well, will my wish come truuuuue." This is not an answering machine, but the soprano herself. "Hello Washington. This is Snow White," she says, following up with a second chorus of the song.
"Snow White is a way of life with me. All day long I sing the songs. My life has been up in the clouds, sort of fantasy life," says the elfin Caselotti, who first auditioned for the part when she was 18. She beat out Deanna Durbin because Durbin didn't have a smile in her voice. Caselotti demonstrates, singing a chorus of "I'm Wishing" first without and then with a smile. "Walt said I had a lilting quality. I never looked it up in the dictionary. But I think it means lifting, happy, and smiling."
Several years ago, she was asked to rerecord a vocal track for Disneyland, but the humming wasn't coming so easily. "Hummmm. Hummmm," she demonstrates. "After the fifth take I lost my self-confidence," she says. "I closed my eyes and said, 'Walt, if you're anywhere around here, I'm just going to open my mouth. You do the rest.' The next take was perfect. Walt is not dead; he's always with us."
She also believes in a sort of immortality for herself. She figures her voice will last for another 2,000 years. "It will be in a little box. We'll all be gone, but Snow White will never die ... The memory of Walt Disney and my voice will be history."
Though Caselotti has seen "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" at least a hundred times, she always finds something new. She still believes in the movie's message -- "You can have anything you want if you want it badly enough. But just don't step on anyone's toes on your way up or you'll be sorry."
"I believed in Santa till I was 6 or 7, even though I knew he wasn't real. I still believe. Almost every girl gets a Prince Charming if she wants one. Some girls just don't want one."