“You want this cartoon to be how long?!” -John Smith, Disney animator from 1933-1934
What is even left to be said about Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs? Walt Disney’s groundbreaking feature must have seemed like a potential grand folly at the time. Sure, cartoons had proven successful, but a feature length animated film? That’s insane Walt! No one will care, it’s kids stuff and will take you years to produce, possibly even bankrupting your studio! As you may have noticed, that didn’t happen. From the moment it was released, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was considered a masterpiece and met with tremendous and richly deserved success. It didn’t just establish Disney as a studio specializing in animated features, but created a genre that remains tremendously successful to this very day (whether you like it or not). The film also remains an incredible artistic achievement that continues to impress and radiate with that special brand of Disney magic. It looks wonderful on Blu-ray, where the blood, sweat, and tears of an army of animators can glow on an HD screen. Thankfully it’s also been rescued from those dastardly Disney vaults once more, so a new generation of children can appreciate it…at least for a little while.
So…plot summary. Come on. You know it already. There’s a kindly princess named Snow White whose mere presence causes nature to burst into song. An evil queen watches over Snow White and is distressed by her intoxicating presence. Eventually Snow White can’t take her stepmother’s abuse anymore, so she flees into the forest. There she is discovered by seven dwarves who tend to her every need. Of course they are all short and ugly (as defined by their one-note name/personalities: Sleepy, Sneezy, Happy, Bashful, Grumpy, Dopey, and Doc), so there’s no chance of any love. Nope, Snow White needs a generic charming prince because it’s important to have standards. He’s out there too! He’s even named Prince Charming to avoid confusion. But before the two of them can ‘happily ever after,’ the evil Queen pops up in disguise and casts Snow White in a sleep spell. Oh no! How is she going to get out of this one?!
Ok, so perhaps Walt Disney’s loose adaptation of an old Grimm fairy tale isn’t the most progressive or accepting tale. Hey, it was the 30s. What can you do? Time and place, etc. In fact, Snow White herself and Prince Charming are incredibly boring characters. Thankfully, the Disney team seemed to realize this. They are really just there to advance a traditional fairy tale narrative. The good stuff is in the details. The characters of the evil queen and the seven dwarfs were instantly iconic. Alive, defined, and endlessly amusing in ways that elevate the tale to a magical space that continues to resonate to this day. The songs, set pieces, slapstick, and character beats are wonderful, while the emotional pull of the classical fairy tale narrative elicits all the right tingles. Snow White might be dull, but thankfully Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs is far from it.
Besides, what makes the film such an enduring cinematic creation is the artistry and craft. The film was meticulously produced through absolutely gorgeous hand-painted frames, enlivened by a groundbreaking multiplane animation technique. Delicately combining a variety of layers of evocative backgrounds and carefully designed characters, the film remains a visual marvel. There’s a level of detail and craft to Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs that’s never been matched (and likely never will be given the almost absurd levels of labor involved in creating the endlessly array of single frame paintings). As snarky as I might have been about the simplistic characters and narrative, there’s no denying that old Uncle Walt did manage to tap into the primal appeal of fairy tales and used his innovative animated artistry to breath fresh life into old conventions. It’s one of those rare old Hollywood features like The Wizard Of Oz that can still captivate new audiences with its ancient brand of movie magic. Proof that the old tricks still work and in an age when blockbuster animated family fare emerges monthly, undeniably one of the most influential films ever made in Hollywood. Snow White is a masterpiece, there’s no other word to describe it. A special achievement that’s been matched many times, yet never quite equaled.
Above all else, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs is worth owning on Blu-ray for the remarkable technical presentation. The 79-year-old feature was transferred to HD masterfully, where the scrutiny of 1080p allows viewers to see the brushstrokes in each lavishly created frame. Details are deep and colors pop in rich detail. The added definition gives animation buffs a chance to really scrutinize remarkable imagery and it doesn’t disappoint. Viewers can choose between watching the Academy ratio film with black bars on the side, or special created frames featuring images like theatre curtains or tree trunks drawn in the old Disney style that look rather wonderful for those who hate windowboxing old features. The soundtrack is also excellent, remastered in 7.1 to flesh out the old recordings without feeling like the original mono-work has been needlessly tampered with. It’s all curated with respect, yet updated for the best possibly home theater experience. Simply stunning.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Snow White has been released on Blu-ray. It’s just making up for the old edition going out of print. So tech specs are identical, while the special features are different. Sadly many of the longer documentaries and extensive vintage storyboard and still galleries from the old version are long gone. In their place is a more slight collection featurettes. The big new edition is a long lost deleted scene recreated with contemporary voice artists and old sketches that’s intriguing. The rest are merely an endless stream five minute talking head featurettes discussing the importance of the film, an old audio clip of Walt discussing the project, a baffling hip-hop rendition of Snow White, as well as a handful of archival sketches and voice tests. The best feature is a 30 minute doc about the creation of the studio that produced the film and the challenges involved in tackling an animated project of this scale in the 30s. That featurette offers wonderful insights to old Hollywood history that the rest of the featurettes only touch on. So unfortunately, this disc isn’t exactly overwhelming with special features discussing the vastly influential production of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. You’ll have to hunt down the previous edition of the film on ebay for a deeper disc. However, given how vastly overpriced that old set is, this new Blu-ray is a welcome release. This disc boasts the best possible technical presentation of the film, finally back in print and comes with a spattering of interesting special features. That’ll do just fine for now.
Does This Deserve a Spot on Your Dork Shelf?
If you’re an animation dork who missed on the Blu-ray release of Snow White before Disney locked it away then carpe diem. If you already have the out of print version there aren’t a whole lot of reasons of to double dip, and if money isn’t an issue we’d recommend digging up the previous version.