Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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: The Signature Collection Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital HD
Snow White and the Seven DwarfsBefore 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 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 Charles 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 expanding 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 the deaths, 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), are the Queen’s doing. 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. Althouh 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 toward 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 and helped establish 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: The Signature Collection Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD

Aspect Ratio1.33:1
Audio
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • English DTS-HD 2.0 monaural
  • French DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
    Supplements
  • “In Walt’s Words: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” featurette
  • “Iconography” featurette
  • “@DisneyAnimation: Designing Disney’s First Princess” featurette
  • “The Fairest Facts of Them All: 7 Facts You May Now Know About Snow White” featurette
  • Snow White in Seventy Seconds” featurette
  • Alternate Sequence: “The Prince Meets Snow White”
  • Disney’s First Feature: The Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • “Bringing Snow White to Life” featurette
  • “Hyperion Studios Tour” featurette
  • Decoding the Exposure Sheet” featurette
  • “Snow White Returns” featurette
  • Story Meeting: The Dwarfs
  • Story Meeting: The Huntsman
  • Deleted Scene: “Soup Eating Sequence”
  • Deleted Scene: “Bed Building Sequence”
  • “Animation Voice Talent” featurette
  • Audio commentary by Roy E Disney and historian John Canemaker, and recordings by Walt Disney
  • DistributorWalt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
    SRP$39.99
    Release DateFebruary 2, 2016

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the new “Signature Collection” Blu-ray is the same one that we saw on the 2009 “Diamond Edition” Blu-ray. And why not? It’s a superb transfer. 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 its high-definition presentation 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 DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround soundtrack is also excellent, taking the original mono track (which is also included) 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.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    The supplements on this new Blu-ray edition are a mixed bag. There are some new additions and many of the supplements from the Diamond Edition have been included, but quite a bit has been left out, as well, meaning that, despite kicking off a new Blu-ray series, this is not at all a comprehensive release. You will definitely want to hold onto the 2009 Blu-ray for the supplements.

    The new stuff begins with “Walt’s Words: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” a four-minute audio excerpt from a 1956 interview with Disney in which he talks about the film’s inspirations and production. “Iconography” is a 7-minute featurette that explores the film’s iconic status and how it has influenced different aspects of popular culture. In the 5-minute featurette “@DisneyAnimation: Designing Disney’s First Princess,” current Disney artists talk about the design evolution of Snow White and the character’s influence on subsequent Disney characters. “The Fairest Facts of Them All: 7 Facts You May Now Know About Snow White” is a 5-minute featurette in which Disney Channel star Sofia Carson (Descendants) excitedly shares with us seven intriguing facts about the film and its history. “Snow White in Seventy Seconds” is exactly what it sounds like: a highly condensed, hip-hop rendition of the story by a teen girl in 70 seconds. And finally, there is a never-before-scene alternate sequence that depicts the Prince first meeting Snow White, which we see via story sketches preserved by the Walt Disney Animation Research Library and voice recreations based on transcripts of story meetings from the Walt Disney Archives.

    A number of the supplements that appeared on the “Diamond Edition” Blu-ray also show up, albeit sometimes in altered form. The best of the bunch is the 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. There is also a 33-minute documentary Disney’s First Feature: The Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which is essentially an expanded version of the 17-minute featurette “The One That Started It All” from the 2009 disc. It offers a fairly comprehensive retrospective overview of Snow White’s production, reception, and legacy. Also from the earlier disc we get “Snow White Returns” (9 min.), which presents storyboards for a sequel that was never made, as well as several other featurettes: “Bringing Snow White to Life” (11 min.); “Decoding the Exposure Sheet” (7 min.); and “Animation Voice Talent” (6 min.). There are also re-enactments of transcribed story meetings about the dwarfs and the huntsman, and two deleted scenes, both of which were cut very early in the animation process.

    Probably the most controversial aspect of this new Blu-ray is the decision to include a half-hour featurette titled “Hyperion Studios Tour,” which cherry-picks bits and pieces from the infinitely more comprehensive “Hyperion Studios” section of the 2009 Blu-ray. The previous disc had nine interactive subsections that allowed you to view various featurettes, stills galleries, audio recordings of Disney artists and technicians, pioneering short films, and other materials that together created a mosaic portrait of Disney in the 1930s and how Snow White came to be. The 30 minutes included here is just a fraction of what was on the 2009 disc, and it also eliminates the interactivity. This also means that this disc lacks 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. The condensed “Hyperion Studios Tour” contained here is really no substitute.

    This Blu-ray completely drops a few other, less essential things from the 2009 disc. Gone are the “Magic Mirror” customized viewing experience, “DisneyView” viewing option (which I never liked anyway), “About Toby Bluth” featurette, “Mirror, Mirror On The Wall” BD-Live, “Someday My Prince Will Come” Tiffany Thornton music video, and two interactive games, “What Do You See?” and “Jewel Jumble.” Also, it does not include all of the “Classic DVD Bonus Features” that were included on the earlier Blu-ray, such as “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.

    Copyright ©2016 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (4)



    James Kendrick

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