Vintage But Timeless — SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs released on Signature Collection Blu-ray on Feb 2.

When Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs released in 1937, there was literally nothing else like it. There was considerable risk of audience acceptance to the concept of a full-length animated feature, and the expensive production was famously derided as “Disney’s Folly”.

Of course, the naysayers were proven wrong and the film turned out to be a major hit, providing the cornerstone for Disney’s animated features which have become the core of their identity. Walt Disney bet everything on Snow White and won, and the rest is history.

With the film so ingrained in our culture and in my own mind, I was surprised to realize that I had perhaps never actually watched the entire film from beginning to end — and if so, certainly not since childhood. So it was with both fresh and familiar eyes that took in the new Signature edition of the film.

As the first Disney animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs occupies a unique visual plane. The animation pioneered the new Disney aesthetic, but still retains a vintage appearance. It’s much more elaborate than, but still visibly influenced by, the identifiable style of older animation. Consider, for example, the lack of facial expression on Snow White and her Prince, or the Huntsman, who looks like he stepped out of an Ub Iwerks cartoon.

Still, the advancement is undeniable. The film is often strikingly beautiful, thanks in part to a multiplane camera system which could capture elaborate foreground and background elements for a more immersive and detailed scope, or create a parallax effect to scale movement within an environment. Another impressive visual feat is the advanced renderings of realistic water effects, something I’d never noticed before.

What surprised me most was just how well the story holds up. Unlike Disney’s closest comparison of Sleeping Beauty, which is a stunning artistic achievement saddled with a stale narrative, Snow White is all heart. When the exiled girl befriends the roly-poly Dwarfs, their interactions are humorous and endearing. Each of the Dwarfs has some memorable moments, and for many the childlike mute Dopey steals the show, but I latched onto Grumpy, who has a particularly great arc in which he slowly warms up to their new friend.

Returning to the film as an adult, I’m no longer concerned with the perception that the film is “girly”, simply appreciating a fairy tale told with great artistry. So I find in Grumpy something of a personal audience surrogate. I was amused by his antics and those of the other Dwarfs and chuckled often, and yet when the film reached its darkest (just before the dawn), my heart went out to the Dwarfs as they held their mournful vigil for their fallen Princess.

The film has a number of memorable songs which are so ubiquitous and recognizable that one almost forgets how just enjoyable earworms like “Someday My Prince Will Come”, “Heigh-Ho”, and “Whistle While You Work” actually are, not to mention the goofy yodeling of “The Silly Song” that accompanies the Dwarfs’ celebratory dance-off.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs may feel a bit old fashioned, but it’s completely timeless all the same. I’m so glad that I took the time to revisit it after all these years, and if it’s been awhile — maybe you should, too. Go on, take a bite.

The Package

Disney’s cornerstone animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs makes its Blu-ray return as the first entry under the new “Walt Disney: The Signature Collection” series. This combo pack additionally comes with DVD and Digital HD, and an attractive embossed slipcover. (Retailer exclusive versions also include a Digibook from Target and lenticular slipcover at Best Buy).

Note there are a few instances in which the picture softens considerably. It seems characteristic of a focus issue inherent to the source rather than a flaw in this specific presentation.

Special Features and Extras

On startup, the disc plays an ad for Digital Copies (1:02) followed by trailers for Zootopia (1:38) and The Good Dinosaur (1:38). The trailers are also available from the menu.

Playback Options:

The Feature’s 4:3 presentation is augmented by watercolor borders to fill out 16:9 screens. I was skeptical, but the presentation is tastefully done. This option offers a quick blurb about artist Toby Bluth, and a “Message From Toby Bluth”, a video introduction (0:44) from the artist in which he describes how Disney classics influenced and inspired his work.

Audio Commentary
With Roy E. Disney, historian John Canemaker, and vintage recordings of Walt Disney. Weirdly, this is buried at the tail end of the bonus features instead of its proper place in setup options.

Bonus Features:

Disney Classics have notoriously awful menu design, as I’ve noted before (as in my review of Sleeping Beauty). While still deeply flawed, this one is actually an improvement, grouping the bonus features under a single banner instead of nonsensical new and old categories. It still has issues, though: Rather than providing a nice list of features (consider, for example, a Warner Bros Harry Potter disc), the design forces you to blindly scroll horizontally through the extras seeing only one or two at a time — a considerable effort since there are some 18 different options. The list order also favors fluffy Disney Channel style trashola over the absolutely wonderful making-of features (the commentary is tragically the very last feature on this Sisyphean journey). Perhaps a delineation of “Kids’ Features” and “Standard Features” would eliminate this problem. Enough about the poor interface. On to the features!

In Walt’s Words: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (4:22)
 This featurette incorporates a vintage audio interview (with the hindsight of almost 20 years after the film’s release) in which Walt describes the process and making of the film.

Iconography (7:16)
 Some artists describe their Disney inspirations and create their own works in the media of Lego, papercraft, and fashion to honor their favorite Snow White iconography. It’s fluff, but inoffensively so.

@DisneyAnimation: Designing Disney’s First Princess (5:16)
 Disney artists Mark Henn, Michael Giaimo, Bill Schwab, and Lorelay Bove discuss the time period, influences, and design process that would have directed the early Disney artists in their creation of Snow White and the “Disney aesthetic”.

The Fairest Facts Of Them All: 7 things You May Not Know About Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (4:37)
 Essentially a Buzzfeed article hosted by Sofia Carson with lots of sound effects and motion graphics. In terms of content, this might actually be pretty great if it wasn’t presented in the most obnoxious way possible.

Snow White in 70 Seconds (1:12)
 The story recapped in a short rap video. What have I gotten into? Are all the rest of the features like this? Kill me now.

Alternate Sequence: The Prince Meets Snow White (3:39)
 Ok, this is more like it. Using production art and storyboards, we’re presented with the expanded version of how the Prince and Snow White originally meet and fall in love. It’s nice to see this included here.

Disney’s First Feature: The Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (33:15)
 The gem of the disc. A wonderfully meaty half-hour making-of feature!

Bringing Snow White To Life (11:35)

Hyperion Studios Tour (30:36)
 Another half hour feature, this one focuses on the studio aspect of the era, discussing the relaxed company culture. Audio includes lots of workplace remembrances from many different Disney employees of office pranks and the like. My favorite part is the description of the operation of the multiplane camera which was so integral to the film’s iconic look.

Decoding The Exposure Sheet (6:49)
 Here’s another fascinating aspect of the film’s making that will appeal to animation enthusiasts. A rundown of an exposure sheet, or frame by frame camera operator’s guide, used to set up a shot. Even a simple shot has a ton of work and pre-consideration that’s reflected on the sheet.

Snow White Returns (8:44)
 One of the most fascinating features is this discovery of art assets for a sequel short. Had it been produced, the short would have incorporated two unused (but largely completed) scenes from the film, tying them together into a new narrative in which Snow White returns to the Dwarfs’ home for a visit. (Note the two scenes in question are also features on the disc).

Story Meetings: The Dwarfs (5:51) and The Huntsman (3:55)
 Abbreviated re-enactments of conversations about the characters, culled from transcriptions of real meetings.

Deleted Scenes: Soup Eating Sequence (4:07) and Bed Building Sequence (6:28)

Animation Voice Talent (6:20)
 Short featurette on the film’s talented voice actors

Sneak Peaks:

The aforementioned Trailers for Zootopia and The Good Dinosaur are offered here, preceded by a trio of annoying ads for Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), The Disney Store (0:32), and Disney Parks (0:32).

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 [Blu-ray] | [Instant]

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