Steven Watts argues a positive view of Disney’s importance in American history, although acknowledges the difficulty of understanding his impact on modern American culture. Many critics believe that Disney’s commercial success and popularity mean that his films cannot have cultural significance. In addition, the strong contradictory opinions of Disney make it difficult to simply look at his impact in order to gain understanding rather than to criticize or admire his work. Watts looks at Walt Disney as an artist of sentimental modernist films and as a promoter of American ideals, qualities that are evident in Disney’s rendering of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
America’s original perception of Disney was of a serious artist, inspired by both modernist art and sentimental realism. These two often contradictory influences show in his work. He blurred the line of reality and imagination by creating worlds where animals could talk, plants were animated, and household objects felt emotion. In Snow White, the forest through which the banished girl flees has trees which try to grab and trip her, but nearby, kind animals prepare to comfort her. In addition, he incorporated dreams often in his work. Walt Disney encouraged naturalism to a degree unheard of in animation and cartoons. He insisted that his animators take evening art classes and he invented the multiplane camera, which created the illusion of depth in Snow White and his other animated feature films.
Disney also used his films to imbue hope and to promote certain virtues to his audience during the depression. His films in the 1930’s remind Americans that they will overcome the hard times through vigor and virtue. Two Disney films in the ‘30s stand out in particular for encouraging the persistence and courage of underdogs. Three Little Pigs (1933) features the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” while the dwarves in Snow White (1937) merrily sing “Heigh Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go.” Snow White, too, exhibits a hard-working demeanor both in her house and the dwarves’. Disney claims that “wisdom and courage is enough to defeat big, bad wolves of every description, and send them slinking away.” Through his films, he encouraged self-reliance, a quality that he had exhibited since his youth.