The 7D: First Impressions

Disney reboots it’s oldest movie. How did they do? (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)

     Correct me if I’m wrong, but the phrase “better than the sum of its parts” is used to refer to pieces of work where the individual components aren’t all that good, but they complement each other in such a way that the final product is actually pretty remarkable. Whatever the opposite of this phrase is (worse than the difference of the whole, I suppose?), it’d be a pretty accurate description for The 7D, Disney’s attempt at re-imagining Snow White and The Seven Dwarves (sans Snow White). Here’s a show that has plenty of elements for it to succeed: its writing team features Warner Bros. animation veterans Tom Ruegger and Paul Rugg (Animaniacs, Freakazoid!, Tiny Toon Adventures, Pinky and the Brain), the production is overlooked by Tom Warburton(Codename: Kids Next Door, Beavis and Butt-Head), and the cast includes a cavalcade of reliable voice-over actors such as Maurice LaMarche, Dee Bradley Baker, Kevin Michael Richardson, Bob Farmer, Billy West, and Jess Harnell. So it’s gotta be good, right?

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     Let’s talk about the source material for a bit. There’s no denying that the original 1937 film is one of the biggest landmarks in cinematic history and the first big push toward making feature-length animated features. The fact that it came out as good as it did is kind of a miracle. However, it seems to be remembered today mostly for being that first big push rather than by the merits of the film. Much has been said about how the character of Snow White was the genesis of Disney (the company) permeating the stereotypical princess archetype (generally sweet and not much development outside of traditionally feminine roles) and the overblown, corporatized fairy tale stories that would become a staple of their image and marketing in the future. However, I still think the movie holds up. It’s by no means untouchable and very much feels like a product of its time, but it’s emotionally satisfying and still pretty fun.

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     Of course, what most people remember the movie for are the dwarves. Even Walt himself said at one point that the purpose of making the movie was to create these characters and unleash them onto the world. They were all uniquely designed, they had distinct personalities (or quirks, rather), and their marketability would live on until today.

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I hear you can get these at Disneyland.

They may not be the most fleshed out characters, but they were the most compelling characters of their movie outside of the Evil Queen. So, it makes sense that if Disney was going to breathe new life into this franchise, focusing on the dwarves would be a good idea. At least on paper.

     So, what’s our premise for this series? It takes place in the fictional kingdom of Jollywood where the dwarves live out their lives as miners, but also double as a special task force serving Queen Delightful, ruler of the kingdom. They’re at her beck and call, taking up anything she demands of them whether it’s a mission to save the kingdom or just the darndest things possible. The biggest threat to Jollywood is a duo of wizards/lovers named Grim and Hilda Gloom.

     It’s important to point out that it becomes apparent very quickly that the show is targeting a very young demographic (rated TV Y). Having watched the first 20 or so episodes of Season 1, the stories have been overall very simplistic, the characters very broad, and the humor leaning heavily on puns, slapstick, and visual gags. This feels a bit anachronistic, especially when you compare it to the other shows currently airing on Disney X.D. (where it made its debut), so it would make more sense if this was a series on Disney Junior. However, just because it’s aimed at children shouldn’t be an excuse for why this show just doesn’t work very well.

DOC, GRUMPY, SNEEZY, QUEEN DELIGHTFUL, SIR YIPSALOT, SLEEPY, BASHFUL, HAPPY, DOPEY

You’re now stuck with these guys. Have fun.

     It all begins with the characters. It’s easy to accept that the dwarves (same basic personalities as in the movie) have a namesake that they have to live up to, and it’s the most important trait of who they are, but it’s another thing entirely to not let them branch out from that starting point. Doc is the leader and likes to invent things, Happy is always upbeat and frequently breaks out into song, Bashful is always hiding (and covering his face with his hat), Dopey communicates mostly through whistling and animal noises, Sleepy is always sleepy, Sneezy is always sneezy, and Grumpy reacts to things in a snarky manner and is also around to have jokes be made at his expense. The show already has a pretty big cast (more on the supporting cast later), so it’s already pretty hard to balance the dynamics of such a group. There’s very little chance for all characters to get enough time to develop. For obvious reasons, Happy and Grumpy are among the most prominently spotlighted characters because of their obvious odd couple routine (Happy is exuberant, Grumpy is irritated, rinse and repeat). We do get occasional displays of banter that show off how these two work as friends, but their interactions has been largely unchallenged so far. Still, I will say that casting Kevin Michael Richardson as Happy and having Maurice LaMarche channel a weird mixture of Danny DeVito and Jason Alexander into Grumpy  works fairly well.

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They’re already shipped, aren’t they?

     Strangely enough, the show hasn’t taken the opportunity to use Dopey as the comic relief. Instead, he’s shown to be on a very similar intellectual level as the rest of the dwarves (although it is implied that he is far more capable of critical thinking at some times) despite his aforementioned speech impediment. So far, the only real development he’s received is in the episode “The Eight D”, where were shown that he likes to adopt woodland creatures as pets and goes to great lengths to protect a baby elephant by disguising him as a dwarf (just go with it). As for Doc, while not having an episode of his own so far, his biggest contribution to the series is inventing all manner of machines with varying degrees of success. Sneezy, while having one episode to his name, has no real character outside of “he sneezes a lot”. How bad is it? His biggest input so far is that he’s very knowledgeable on hankies.

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     So far, the only dwarves that have succeeded into making me care about them are Sleepy and Bashful. They’ve both had episodes that let them either grow as characters or do something novel or enjoyable.

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Bashful’s episodes have revolved around his own meekness and his crush on Queen Delightful. In “The Big Bash”, he accidentally develops an alternate persona that makes him feel heroic and allows him to do good around town. In “Bathtub Bashful”, we discover he has a terrific singing voice (a lovely baritone), but he only sings in the shower due to (obviously) stage fright. At the request of the Queen, he’s asked to be the main attraction at a concert.  The solution is to have him sing behind a shower curtain. However, when he hears how well received his singing was, he gets over himself and belts out a show-stopping performance in front of the audience. Insecure characters and stage fright are certainly nothing new, but Billy West is able to inject much empathy into his performance and makes the character work. I felt for Bashful when he cowers from the spotlight, and felt glad for him when he realized that he had nothing to fear.

Sleepy, while also relegated to plots that revolve around his “talent”, has also grown on me by sheer force. In the episode “Gnome Alone”, the dwarves are tricked by the Glooms to leave on vacation so they can steal a magic gemstone from their mine. However, Sleepy was asleep at the time and was left behind. When he wakes up, he gets to face the Glooms head-on and actually dispatches them singlehandedly. In “Sleepytime”, the Glooms cast a spell that makes all of Jollywood fall asleep, except for Sleepy, who was asleep when the spell was cast so it had the opposite effect on him. He’s now the only one who can save the kingdom, and he must do so before sundown or else the spell will be permanent. Of all the dwarves, he’s the one who’s shown to be the most reliable on his own, already proving himself a hero on two separate occasions so far. While he did receive minor help from the other dwarves, his successes are largely his own. I don’t know what is it about the concept of sleep that I find inherently funny, but so far it’s been the source for some of the show’s better sight gags. It’s also pretty impressive how he can draw investment from me out of such little things, like talking to his stuffed animal, when other characters try to go bigger yet don’t get to be as effective.

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I also like that his casual clothes are also his pajamas.

                This brings us to the supporting cast, and if the show was already on thin ice with a less than stellar core group of protagonists, here’s where things get even messier. Queen Delightful is characterized by being quirky and airheaded. While these tropes can be used to make a character genuinely endearing and charming, here they’re used for the exact opposite effect. She borders on irritating and is treated as a machine for non-sequiturs and running gags. For example, she frequently seems unable to understand figures of speech and interprets them literally. Let’s just say that what works for some characters doesn’t work for others.  Sometimes,  her crown turns into a police light and makes siren noises when there’s trouble. Also, she tends to call the 7D to solve menial tasks when there’s a larger emergency that needs to be addressed. (For example, cleaning spilled juice when there’s a dragon attacking the town). She has a pet dog named Sir Yipsalot, who’s entire shtick revolves around his love for pickles and his bizarre, high-pitched barking (it sounds like he’s saying “yip”. Hur hur hur), which is an easy contender for the most obnoxious thing I’ve heard on TV in a long time. The Queen has shown that she’s willing to sacrifice anything, even her title, to protect her puppy, but it’s hard to care for either character when they’re both treated constantly as a bad joke.

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Misleading name, if you ask me.

     Then there’s the Queen’s right hand man, Lord Starchbottom. His thing is that he constantly wants to prove his worth to her (despite being something of a coward), but is frustrated that she keeps defaulting to the 7D to fix everything. There’s potential for something interesting to be done here, but the show doesn’t seem interested in it.  It’s implied that he resents the dwarves, yet he never seems motivated enough to do something about it. Instead,  the show never lets him rise above being a target for repetitive slapstick. Already, two episodes have had “Starchhbottom falls off X” as a running joke. Ruegger and Rugg have said that they’ve drawn inspiration from Jerry Lewis for this character, but whatever comedy could come from that, it’s not here.

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This is kind of a downer. Have a context-free screenshot.

      Moving on to our villains, Grim and Hilda Gloom play like a bizarre mixture of Gomez and Morticia Addams with Jessie and James from Team Rocket. Their “joke” is that they’re evil yet they’re occasionally shown to be very “lovey-dovey”. When they’re not, we see that it’s Hilda, played by Kelly Osbourne (daughter of Ozzy), is the one wearing the pants in this relationship, while Grim, played by Jess Harnell, is a henpecked wimp and constantly gets bullied by his wife(?) to get her what  she wants.

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The make-up sex must be amazing.

     Not a bad idea for villains, but unfortunately, they present a massive flaw to this series: they are not threatening at all. More often than not, their downfall is spelled not by the actions of our heroes, but by their own impatience or incompetence. It’s hard to take them seriously as a menace when they keep shooting themselves in the foot. For example, one of their plans to take over their kingdom fails because they didn’t prepare well enough to get by a castle’s security system, or another time when they’re plan to sabotage the Queen’s pipe organ (and replace with one that turns people to stone with its music) goes wrong because they refused a more practical solution to get their organ inside the castle. When a villain is a bigger threat to his/herself than to the heroes, something has gone very wrong. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with a comedic villain. Compare them to, say, Dr. Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb, who’s comedic yet it’s been proving several times that if it weren’t for his archenemy Perry the Platypus, he WOULD succeed in his evil plans.

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Now, THIS is what a comedy villain looks like.

     The only time in which the Glooms have proven themselves to be competent was the very first episode, where they nearly succeeded in covering Jollywood in eternal winter (Short version: they kidnap a magic chicken who’s clucking melts the snow).

     Both the heroes and villains get occasional assistance from talking magical artifacts. In Queen Delightful’s case, there’s a magic mirror voiced by Whoopi Goldberg that really has nothing to do save for one episode where she gets kidnapped and another where she judges a competition to see who’s the fairest in the kingdom. In the Gloom’s case, there’s a crystal ball played by Jay Leno who informs them about magical artifacts and also makes terrible puns.

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He’s a “laugh at my own jokes so they’ll be funny, maybe” type of comedian.

                A series like this can survive sketchy characters if it can still be funny. Unfortunately, the show is found lacking, and downright struggling, in the comedy department. If bad puns, bad slapstick, and forced jokes aren’t enough, the real downfall of the show is repetition (you may have picked up on this while reading this article). It’s commonplace for an episode to milk a single joke for all its possible worth, even when the joke isn’t very funny to begin with. Perfect example:  in the episode “Grim the Dragon”, there’s a running gag where a character yells “NURSE!”, a nurse (basically, dwarf Hello Nurse) shows up to give them a lollipop, and the character makes a comment about the lollipop’s flavor. In “Knick Knack Paddy Whack”, every time the word “knick-knack” is said out loud, Lord Starchbottom is forced to roll down a hill because reasons. This happens at least five times over the course of 11 minutes.  I do wanna give the show credit for not diving into Shrek-esque levels of fairy tale skewering and pop culture references, but that’s more a requirement than a bonus.

     However, the biggest running gag in the show, one that probably breaks the entire show for me, is that from time to time, the show goes into a sort-of reality show segment, in which a character talks directly at a camera and explains whatever is currently going on, how they feel about it, and what they’re gonna do about it. This happens not just with the heroes, but also the villains. There’s no explanation for this, and it puts a veil of artificiality on the whole series. If it’s already hard to care for badly conceived characters, it’s even harder to do so when they seem to be aware that they’re part of a staged story.

                All in all, the best thing I can say about The 7D is that while it’s not good, I don’t think it’s doing any harm by existing. The original movie is not going to disappear and its version of the dwarves will still exist when this show is through. There’s a germ of a good idea in here, but any hope for a good series is being squandered right now. It’s always sad when something has the potential to be good yet it never fulfills it, regardless of the kind of audience it’s aiming for. When all the pieces are in place for success, there’s really no excuse for a show with every right to be where it needs to be fumbling like this. The reason why this is called a “first impressions” is because Season 1 isn’t over yet and there’s still a slim chance that things may pick up in the future. I will keep watching it (though probably not write about it again), mostly for the sake of completion (and also masochism). I like to think that I’m willing to give anything a chance to impress me, and I haven’t given up on this show yet, even though I may regret it down the line.

HAPPY, BASHFUL, SLEEPY, GRUMPY, DOPEY, SNEEZY, DOC

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