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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Director: David Hand
Screenplay: Ted Sears & Richard Creedon & Otto Englander & Dick Rickard & Earl Hurd & Merrill De Maris & Dorothy Ann Blank & Webb Smith (based on the fairy tale by Wilhelm Grimm & Jacob Grimm)
Voices: Adriana Caselotti (Snow White), Lucille La Verne (Queen / Witch), Harry Stockwell (Prince), Stuart Buchanan (Huntsman), Moroni Olsen (Magic Mirror), Roy Atwell (Doc), Eddie Collins (Dopey), Pinto Colvig (Sleepy / Grumpy), Billy Gilbert (Sneezy), Otis Harlan (Happy), Scotty Mattraw (Bashful), Marion Darlington (Bird Sounds and Warbling), James MacDonald (Yodeling Man)
MPAA Rating: G
Year of Release: 1937
Country: U.S.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Diamond Edition Blu-Ray/DVD Combo
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Before it became a huge commercial and critical hit, thus establishing the viability of the feature-length color animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was labeled “Disney’s Folly.” The idea of Walt Disney investing the vast majority of his studio’s workforce and finances into the production of a single animated film--one that cost a then-staggering $1.5 million to produce (a snarky New York Times writer noted that Disney’s animators were “gayly [sic] and obliviously running up an expense of $20,000 every week”)--seemed ludicrous at the time, and judging by the gossip that preceded its release, most people were expecting the film to perform like the Titanic: an expensive monument to egotism that would sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Alas, quite the opposite happened, and a new popular artform was born. Disney had already established himself as a master of animation, with his “Silly Symphonies” redefining the relationship between sound and image and introducing the viewing audience to the wonders of Technicolor throughout the 1930s. His work was hugely popular with audiences, and he had also attracted doting admirers among other filmmakers and artists, including Charlie Chaplin, who labeled Dopey “one of the greatest comedians of all time,” and the great Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein, who traveled to the U.S. during the 1930s and spent a great deal of time studying Disney (Eisenstein would later use many elements of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in his own films, particularly Ivan the Terrible).

Like most of Disney’s early animated films, Snow White is based on a fairy tale, in this case one of the most well-known of the Brothers Grimm. Yet, it was not the first time that this particular story had been adapted to the screen; in fact, Disney had been inspired to make movies after he saw the 1916 silent version of Snow White starring Marguerite Clark in Kansas City when he was 15 years old . Nevertheless, Disney’s musical take on the ages-old story (there are variations of it in virtually every country in Europe) has become the defining one, and not just because it was the first time that specific names and unique personalities had been assigned to the seven dwarfs. Rather, it is because Disney and his talented team of animators and designers recognized how such a simple story could be used as a framework for expand the evocative beauty of animation. Make no mistake: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of the richest, most beautifully animated films ever made, and Disney spared no expense and tackled every challenge with a mixture of creativity and clever technology (including the multiplane camera, which Disney had experimented with as early as 1933 to create a sense of depth in the animated image). What is most amazing about the film is the leap it represents in the art of animation when compared to the crude illustrations of Steamboat Willie (1927), which introduced both Mickey Mouse and synchronized sound in an animated film a mere 10 years earlier.

What is equally intriguing about Snow White is the breadth of tones it encompasses, everything from broad slapstick comedy (the dwarfs’ bumbling antics), to syrupy sentimentalism (Snow White, voiced by Adriana Caselotti, singing “I’m Wishing” into an echoing wishing well or virtually any scene involving the woodland creatures), to outright horror (which follows in line with Disney’s “Silly Symphony” cartoons, many of which are undeniably creepy in their depictions of cannibalistic witches, reanimated skeletons, and mad doctors). Indeed, it is not accidental that the godfather of Italian horror, director Mario Bava, has cited Snow White as one of his primary influences and recreated its most infamous scary sequence--Snow White’s terrified flight through a forest that grows increasingly threatening with leering eyes and scowling trees ripping at her clothes--in his film Black Sunday (1960). The scare factor in Snow White remains even today, lending credence to the possibly apocryphal story that all the seats in the New York theater that originally screened the film had to be replaced because so many children had wet their pants in fear.

The presence of death is certainly everywhere in Snow White, both directly and indirectly. At the very beginning of the story we are informed of the nefarious intentions of Snow White’s evil stepmother, the Queen (Lucille La Vern), which immediately suggests that death, somewhere off-screen before the story proper begins, of both her mother (hence the existence of a step-mother) and her father, the King (hence the Queen’s unchallenged power). Snow White herself is constantly threatened by death, first by the Huntsman (Stuart Buchanan) who the Queen sends to kill her in the forest, and then by the Queen herself in the guise of an old hag. While the Queen eventually gets her just desserts in a harrowing sequence at the film’s climax that finds her plummeting to her death from a stony ledge and then crushed beneath a falling boulder (all off-screen, of course, but still pretty grisly), it is not just the evil who die in Snow White. While we do not see exactly what happens to the Huntsman when he returns to the castle after having failed to kill Snow White, we get the gist of it when the Queen walks blithely past a skeleton whose his bony arm is stretched out with a cup just beyond its grasp (thus also suggesting torture of the cruelest sort).

Thus, even though we often think of Snow White fondly as a romanticized fairy tale that helped establish the basic template for all cinematic fairy tales to come, it is actually a much more complex achievement that balances more tonal shifts in its brief 84 minutes that most epic films. Some of it has not worn particularly well over time, most notably Snow White’s overly little-girlish voice, which is clearly at odds with her visual presentation as a young woman, thus establishing the rather troubling Disney trend of combining interior girlishness with exterior female sexuality in their heroines. Nevertheless, the film’s overall effect is undeniable, not only on the history of cinema as a whole, but in each new viewing that reveals another dimension or additional detail, the sum total of which is one of the true cinematic masterpieces.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Diamond Edition 3-Disc Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Set
This three-disc set contains the feature film on both Blu-Ray and DVD, as well as a second Blu-Ray disc of supplements.
Aspect Ratio1.33:1
Blu-Ray Audio
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • French 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Spanish 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • DVD Audio
  • English 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix (DEHT)
  • French 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix (DEHT)
  • Spanish 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix (DEHT)
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
    Supplements Blu-Ray Supplements
  • Audio commentary with Walt Disney, hosted by John Canemaker
  • “Magic Mirror” customized viewing experience
  • “DisneyView” viewing option
  • “About Toby Bluth” featurette
  • “Snow White Returns” featurette
  • “Mirror, Mirror On The Wall” BD-Live
  • “Hyperion Studios” featurettes, animator recordings, archival transcripts, and rare footage
  • “The One That Started It All” featurette
  • “Someday My Prince Will Come” Tiffany Thornton music video
  • “What Do You See?” interactive game
  • “Jewel Jumble” interactive game

    DVD Supplements

  • Audio commentary with Walt Disney, hosted by John Canemaker
  • “Snow White Returns” featurette
  • “The One That Started It All” featurette
  • “Someday My Prince Will Come” Tiffany Thornton music video
  • “Dopey’s Wild Mine Ride” interactive game
  • Animation Voice Talent
  • “Disney Through The Decades” featurettes
  • “Heigh-Ho” Karaoke Sing-Along
  • DistributorWalt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
    Release DateOctober 6, 2009

    Snow White has been through more restorations than probably just about any animated film. In fact, in 1993 it became the first animated film to be scanned digitally, restored, and then output back to film. Thus, it is not surprising that the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer on this Blu-Ray is nothing short of spectacular, improving on the previously available 2001 DVD transfer in terms of color, clarity, and detail. The richness of the Technicolor image benefits greatly from the increased resolution, as does the fine detail (you really get a sense of the individual brushstrokes in the animation), but the transfer does not overly smoothen the image, allowing enough grain to remind us that this was a film that originated on celluloid. Colors are bright and beautifully saturated, and the black levels are spot-on. The newly remixed DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround soundtrack is also excellent, taking the original mono track and expanding it to fill the room without pushing it beyond what sounds natural. The music benefits the most from the additional channels, but the soundtrack as a whole takes on additional life, especially in the small atmospheric details, all of which sounds crisp and clean with no artifacts or ambient hiss.
    To complement the improved audio and video of the film’s presentation, Walt Disney Studios has also dug deep into their archives to produce a new spate of supplements that put Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in its historical context and also offers a fascinating backstage look into the inner workings of the Disney studio in the 1930s.

    The feature discs (both the Blu-Ray and the DVD) include an audio commentary by film historian and animation expert John Canemaker, which edits together some three decades of audio interviews and recordings with Walt Disney. The assemblage of the audio is done quite nicely, with Walt supplying significant chunks of background information and anecdotes about the making of the film and Canemaker filling in the gaps and supplying additional historical context.

    The majority of the new supplements on the second Blu-Ray disc are housed in section titled “Hyperion Studios,” which is the name of the Disney studio where Snow White was created. This section, which is hosted by current Disney directors and animators like Andrew Stanton, is an immense catch-all of featurettes, stills galleries, audio recordings of various Disney artists and technicians, pioneering short films, and other bits and pieces that together create a mosaic portrait of Disney in the 1930s and how Snow White came to be. The section is divided into nine subsections: “Story Room,” “Music Room,” “Animation Department,” “Live Action Reference,” “Sweatbox,” “Ink and Paint,” “Camera Department,” “Sound Stage,” and “Walt’s Office.” To go through everything included here would negate some of the enjoyment of discovering it for yourself, so I’ll just mention a couple of highlights. “In Walt’s Words” is a great three-minute featurette that reenacts what story meetings with Disney were like using actual transcripts; the “Abandoned Concepts” gallery gives a few hints as to the different directions the film could have taken, as does the deleted “Bedroom Fight Sequence,” which was fully animated, but not inked and painted, before it was cut; the “Music in Snow White” featurette underscores the innovation of Disney’s integrating the songs into the narrative development; and the numerous galleries include publicity stills, posters, production photos, background, and layouts. The disc is also notable for the inclusion of a number of important Disney short films that paved the way for Snow White, including Steamboat Willie, Flowers and Trees, The Old Mill (which was the first test-drive for the multiplane camera), and the incredibly creepy Babes in the Woods (which is a loose adaptation of Hansel and Gretel).

    The other major new supplements are the 17-minute featurette “The One That Started It All,” which offers a comprehensive retrospective overview of Snow White’s production, reception, and legacy; “Snow White Returns” (9 min.), which presents recently discovered storyboards for a sequel that was never made; and Tiffany Thornton’s music video for “Someday My Prince Will Come.” The rest of the disc is filled with “Classic DVD Bonus Features,” including the “Animation Voice Talent” feaurette (6 min.), which focuses on the life of Adriana Caselotti, and “Disney Through the Decades,” which is composed of multiple short featurettes hosted by familiar Disney faces and voices (Angela Lansbury, Fess Parker, Roy Disney, Robby Benson, Dean Jones, Jodi Benson) that take us through the history of Disney decade by decade. There are also numerous games old and new that little children will enjoy, including “What Do You See?,” “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall,” “Jewel Jumble,” “Dopey’s Wild Ride Mine Ride Game,” and karaoke sing-along to “Heigh-Ho.”

    The disc also takes advantage of Blu-ray technology with the use of the “Magic Mirror” when you first put the disc in. Unlike typical animated menus and introductions, the mirror recognizes viewing patterns, remembers where you left off last time you watched the disc, and even suggests where to navigate. As with the Pinocchio Blu-Ray disc, Snow White also offers the DisneyView viewing option, which fills the otherwise empty black bars on the sides of 1.33:1 image on a 16:9 screen with paintings by Disney artist Toby Bluth. Not really to my taste since I find that this option detracts from the beauty of the film itself, but I still appreciate its inclusion.

    Overall Rating: (4)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

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