Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
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|by Dan Goldwasser
on October 7th, 2009
In 1937, Walt Disney changed the course of cinema when he released the world's first feature-length animated film. Initially dubbed "Disney's Folly", people were concerned that the colors in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would be so vibrant that viewers might go blind. Obviously, they were wrong, and for over 70 years, the film has been at the cornerstone of the Walt Disney empire, giving rise to dozens of animated feature films, live action films, television shows, theme parks, and more. If Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had not been a success, who knows what Hollywood would look like today.
Everyone likely knows the story by now, based on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale.The beautiful fair-skinned Snow White (voiced by Adriana Caselotti) is the source of jealousy by her wicked stepmother, The Queen (voiced by Lucille La Verne), who wants to be the fairest in the land. When the assassin hired by the Queen cannot bear to kill her, Snow White escapes into the forest where she encounters a group of miner dwarfs - who eventually accept her into their household, and she cares for them as a mother would, cooking and cleaning for them. When the Queen discovers that Snow White is still alive, she concocts a spell to disguise herself as a hag, and gives a poisoned apple that curses her into a deep sleep.
Will the dwarfs defeat the Queen and save Snow White? What of love's true kiss, which is the only thing that can break the spell? Obviously we know how it turns out, but Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a classic for many reasons. It's an uplifting and exciting film, funny and emotional, with great classic characters enhanced with wonderful hand-drawn animation and delightful music - including some timeless songs. Led by music director and composer Frank Churchill, along with Leigh Harline and Paul Smith, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs features the now timeless "Whistle While You Work", "Heigh-Ho" and "Some Day My Prince Will Come", among others.
Re-issued into theaters eight times over the ensuing decades, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had its first VHS release in 1994, and subsequent 2-disc "Platinum Series" DVD release. Now, as the inaugural film in the new "Diamond Collection", Snow White has been given the full high definition restoration treatment, and includes a treasure chest of extras, both new and old.
From a visual standpoint, the new HD transfer of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a masterpiece. It was impressive enough when 1940's Pinocchio was released on Blu-ray earlier this year, but this film is older and looks - dare I say - even better! The 1080p image is windowboxed into the original theatrical aspect ratio, with vibrant colors that burst off the screen, and nary a hint of film grain or edge enhancement. Like Pinocchio before it, you can see the texture from the original painted backgrounds and animation cells. Audio is presented in a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio English track, and it's not the most immersive film, given the source material, but it does sound pretty good. Music especially benefits from the enhanced audio, and purists will be pleased to know that the original mono track is included as well.
The main menus, hosted by the Magic Mirror, know what you've been watching, where you left off, what extras you might have missed, and courtesy of some BD-Live functionality, even what time it is, and even what the weather is like! Some of the extras from the original 2001 2-disc DVD release are ported over, as well as a stunning array of new material. Before I dig into that, I want to point out the "DisneyView" method of watching the film, ala Pinocchio, whereby artist Toby Bluth created new artwork to fill in the black bars on the sides of the image, matched to the color palette and vibe of the scenes.
First up is the commentary track, hosted by film historian John Canemaker. It's a thorough and in-depth exploration of the film, supplemented with audio interviews by Walt Disney himself, and is a track that is definitely worth your time. In "Backstage Disney", we first get a new look at the unproduced sequel, "Snow White Returns" (HD, 8.5-minutes) whose outline is presented in storyboard form, and utilizes a few deleted concepts from the original film. Two of these deleted concepts are included in nearly fully animated pencil-sketch form in the "Deleted Scenes" section. The "Soup Eating Sequence" (HD, 4-minutes) and "Bed Building Sequence" (HD, 6.5-minutes) are superfluous in that they wouldn't quite make the film any better, but are still quite enjoyable - and well animated - sequences nonetheless. I can see why they would have wanted to repurpose them in "Snow White Returns".
Under the "Music & More" section, we have a music video of a teeny-pop version of "Some Day My Prince Will Come", performed by Disney Records artist Tiffany Thornton. (HD, 3.5-minutes). The "Family Play: Games & Activities" section includes a few interactive bits, powered by BD-Live. "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall" is a personality quiz that lets you find your "Inner Princess"; in "What Do You See?", you try to identify an increasingly clear blurred image before the timer runs out; "Jewel Jumble" is a Tetris-type of game, where you try to match up different jewels to gain points; "Scene Stealer" is a BD-Live activity where you can upload a photo and put yourself in a Snow White music video. (The music is a bizarre hip-hop track, and the video edited to match. Eeks!)
Finally, the first disc also includes a sneak-peek at the upcoming Disney animated feature The Princess and the Frog, and ten "Sneak Peek" commercials/trailers are also included, as well as a quick look at the new upcoming "Diamond Edition" of Beauty and the Beast.To get to the meat of the extras on Disc 2, you can actually choose the feature you want, and then - miracle of miracles - you will be prompted to eject the first disc and insert Disc 2 - all without quitting the menu! Very impressive functionality.
Disc 2 might appear to only have a few extras, but don't be fooled. First up are a bunch of the previously released DVD extras. "Animation Voice Talent" (SD, 6.5-minutes) is a look at the voice cast for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. "Disney Through the Decades" (SD, 37.5-minutes) is a look at all the events that Disney had over the years, including the various re-issues of Snow White - including the trailers. "Dopey's Wild Mine Ride" is an interactive trivia game, and a "Heigh-Ho Karaoke Sing-Along" (HD, 3-minutes) lets you either sing along with the classic song, or sign solo in your own karaoke version.
In the "Backstage Disney: Diamond Edition" section, we're only presented two options, so I'll start with the easier one first. "The One That Started It All" (HD, 17-minutes) is a look at the influence that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had on Hollywood, and how the success it had helped build the Disney empire. Composer (and major Disney fan) Michael Giacchino is included among the many different folks who appear in this featurette. The rest of the extras are all found under the "Hyperion Studios" section. This was the original studio where Walt Disney and his team created Snow White, and serves as an interactive springboard for a staggering amount of material, all broken up by "production room".
First we start outside of the Hyperion Studios, and can choose to watch "The One That Started It All" (see above), "Where it All Began" (HD, 12-minutes) is a short overview of the studios origins and the team that came together to make the world's first feature-length animated film. "Family Business" (HD, 2-minutes) shows how working at Disney was like having a second family. In The Story Room, we are treated to a few featurettes about the story process. "Stories from the Story Room" (HD, 1-minute) is a quick audio recollection of one of the lighter moments working in the room. "Five Bucks a Gag" (HD, 2-minutes) describes the incentive plan that the studio had to get people from all over the company to pitch in on a story idea. "In Walt's Words: The Huntsman" (HD, 3.5-minutes) recreates a story meeting that Walt had with his team, based on actual transcripts, with voice actors playing the roles and storyboards used to make the points. "Walt's Night Prowls" (HD, 1-minute) discusses Walt's penchant for digging through the artists trash to find discarded story ideas. "Gabby, Blabby, and Flabby" (HD, 1-minute) looks at the long list of names considered for the dwarfs. "Babes in the Wood" (HD, 8-minutes) is the 1932 Disney animated short film based on the Grimm's "Hansel and Gretel". Finally, we get a "Storyboard Art Gallery" (135 slides), and "Abandoned Concepts Gallery" (63 slides).
From there we go to the Music Room, where the timing for the animation - and the music track - were all planned out. "David Hand's Dirty Trick" (HD, 1.5-minutes) talks about an incident where the supervising director confronted Walt about a timing issue. "The Music in Snow White" (HD, 6-minutes) talks about the ground-breaking use of music in the film. Finally, the 1929 animated short film, "The Skeleton Dance" (HD, 6-minutes) is included, showcasing the combination of music and animation.
The Art Department is where the visual look and style of the film is established. "The Idea Man" (HD, 1.5-minutes) looks at the work of Albert Hunter, and his involvement on the film. "Creating the World of Snow White" (HD, 7-minutes) looks at the influences on the film's visual style. The 1935 animated short film "Music Land" (HD, 10-minutes) is presented, as well as "In Walt's Words: Cleaning the Cottage" (HD, 7-minutes), which provides a recreation of a meeting regarding the "Whistle While You Work" sequence. Finally, we have the "Visual Development Gallery" (146 slides) and "Gustav Tenggren Art Gallery" (16 slides) rounding out the section.
Character Design just has one featurette, "In Walt's Words: The Dwarfs" (HD, 6-minutes), recreating a meeting that Walt had regarding the "Heigh-Ho" sequence. A whole slew of character galleries are also included here, with over 100-slides. Background and Layout brings us "Setting the Stage" (HD, 4-minutes), discussing the way the background artwork was created to enhance the camera work. Two art galleries ("Backgrounds" and "Layout") round out the section.
The Animation Department starts out with "The Animators' Favorite Animators" (HD, 2-minutes), which looks back at the original animation team and their works. "Blowing Off Steam" (HD, 2.5-minutes) is a lighthearted look at the practical jokes that the animators would play on each other. The 1934 animated short "Goddess of Spring" (HD, 10-minutes) is included to showcase the attempt to recreate realistic human animation, and "Playful Pluto" (HD, 8-minutes) from the same year provides the contrast, with an emphasis on personality animation. "Bringing Snow White to Life" (HD, 11.5-minutes) looks at the way the lead animators imprinted their personalities into the main characters, and finally an "Animation Art Gallery" finishes out the section.
Heading over to Live Action Reference looks at use of rotoscoping footage of actors in "Drawing on Real Life" (HD, 1.5-minutes) and how it changed the working process at Disney. "Giving Voice to Snow White" (HD, 3-minutes) looks at the particular casting of actress Adriana Caselotti in the title role. Finally, a "Live Action Reference Gallery" provides a handful of photos of the reference actors. In the Sweatbox, memories of the stressful presentations made to Walt are recollected in "Sweating It Out" (HD, 1-minute), and a deleted scene, "Deleted Bedroom Fight" (HD, 2.5-minutes) is a prime example of a scene that was cut, likely after such a sweatbox screening.
Ink and Paint is where color and detail are added to the animation cells. Here we have a quick look at the difficulties faced in "The Challenges of Ink and Paint" (HD, 1.5-minutes), and then an interesting glimpse into the gender-segregated work environment in "Life in the Nunnery" (HD, 2-minutes). A 1932 short film, "Flowers and Trees" (HD, 8.5-minutes) was the first color cartoon, and is included here as well as a short "Painted Cells Gallery" (14 slides).
From there we go into the Camera Department, where the problems facing the camera crew - especially the multiplane camera - are briefly discussed in "Stories from the Camera Department" (HD, 2-minutes). The archival 1937 animated short film "The Old Mill" (HD, 9-minutes) is included, and features significant usage of the multiplane camera. Finally, we get a pretty detailed breakdown analysis of the complicated document used to guide everyone's job in "Decoding the Exposure Sheet" (HD, 7-minutes).
The Sound Stage is short, but highly notable. "Walt's Early Masters of Sound" (HD, 2-minutes) takes an all-too brief look at the inventive ways that sound designers were coming up with new effects back in the day, and one of the gems of this release is a new HD presentation of Walt Disney's first synchronized-sound animated short film: "Steamboat Willie" (HD, 8-minutes). We end our tour in Walt's Office, where a few crew members reminisce about working with the legend in "Working With Walt" (HD, 2-minutes), and are provided two galleries ("Publicity Gallery", "Production Photo Gallery"). In short, the "Hyperion Studios" segment contains a monumental wealth of material, with some true gems in the short films. For those who want quick and easy access to any part of it, there is a very handy index - it even keeps track of what you have or have not yet seen!
Unfortunately, as much stuff as there is here - and there's a lot - there is still a lot of previously released DVD material that didn't make the set. Barbra Streisand's 2001 music video "Some Day My Prince Will Come" is missing, as well as storyboard-to-film comparisons, camera tests, live-action reference footage, more deleted and alternate scenes, archival audio, premiere footage, promotional films, and even the 40-minute long Angela Lansbury-hosted documentary, "Still the Fairest of Them All: The Making of Snow White" would have been a nice inclusion. Also missing is any discussion of the new restoration efforts for the film, let alone the older 2001 featurette on the restoration work done at that time. A missed opportunity, since it puts a flaw in the "Diamond".
However, with the best ever presentation of the film, and a stellar selection of extras (both new and old), this is still an excellent release. It even comes with a 3rd disc, a standard DVD of the film, so you can be sure to watch the movie even if your friends don't have a Blu-ray player (yet). While you won't save on shelf space, since you need to keep your old 2001 DVD release of the film for all the extras, there are some current deals online that make this release a no-brainer, so stop dilly-dallying and go buy it right now!
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