In terms of historical impact and cultural importance, it’s hard to find an animated film as significant as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” It was the first feature-length cel-animated film and began Disney’s priceless collection of animated classics, which has gone on to spawn a multitude of masterpieces and beloved films that still resonate strongly with audiences to this very day. However, as we take a look at Disney’s first animated feature, does it really deserve the massive praise that’s been heaped upon it, or do we mainly remember and celebrate it for its important place in history?
The story, based on the popular Brothers Grimm fairy tale, is a rather simple one. The young Snow White (Voice of Adriana Caselotti) lives with her stepmother, a wicked Queen (Voice of Lucille La Verne), who is completely obsessed with being the fairest woman in all the land. When her magic mirror tells her that Snow White is now the fairest, she orders a huntsman (Voice of Stuart Buchanan) to kill her in a secluded place. However, he doesn’t have the heart to do it, telling the princess to run away and never come back. After a frightful trip through the forest, the local wildlife brings her to the house of the seven dwarfs, who are startled when they first find her in their home. Fortunately, they soon become friends and allow Snow White to stay. However, the wicked Queen learns from her mirror that the young girl is still alive, causing her to hatch an evil scheme that could mean the end of the princess.
Sitting down to watch “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” this week was an incredibly surreal experience, as I haven’t seen it in about 20 years. Before watching, I couldn’t remember much in the way of specifics about it, other than the very basic plot points involving the princess, the Queen, the dwarfs, the poison apple, the prince, and the “happily ever after” ending. Yet, as I was watching, certain parts started to come back as though I had just seen it recently, but on the other hand, it became a little clearer as to why I hadn’t remembered much about it.
Before I go any further, it needs to be said that Disney’s first animated feature is a good film. Nothing can take away from that, but that doesn’t stop it from having one or two issues that hold it back from reaching greatness. It would appear that the main reason most of the film had slipped my mind was because of its very light plotting and lax pacing. The film itself is only 83 minutes, so there’s not a lot of time to dilly-dally, but even then, it takes about 15 minutes or so to finally get started, with much of that taken up with random musical numbers. Even when the plot does finally seem to kick in, much of the rest of the film is taken up by hanging out and singing with the dwarfs before the Queen finally gets word of where Snow White is.
However, with all of that negativity being said, there’s still so much to enjoy about the film. The animation is gorgeous (especially for being just shy of 80 years old), the characters are memorable and amusing, with the filmmakers amazingly finding time to develop a personality for each and every dwarf, and much of the music is fantastic and timeless. After all, this is the film that gave us such songs as “Heigh-Ho,” “Whistle While You Work,” and “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” among others, and that’s not even to mention the fact that the score was nominated for an Oscar.
With all of this, there’s plenty to make up for the somewhat sagging storyline and pacing. Besides, this was the very first animated feature that Disney made, so trying to come up with a story for a much longer cartoon was something they were new at. Luckily, it’s something they would vastly improve upon as the years went on, starting with their very next animated production, “Pinocchio.” Again, I’m not saying the story here is bad at all (it remains a classic), just that it could have used a little tweaking here and there so that it didn’t feel like a series of short cartoons. Even so, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” remains a monumentally important film that kids and adults have enjoyed for decades, and will continue to do so for many more to come. It may not be Disney’s best effort, but there’s no denying that it’s one of their most endearing and enduring accomplishments.
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” comes to Blu-ray for the second time in a 1.33:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. As mentioned before, the film is nearly 80 years old, but the picture looks better than ever, bringing out the stunning beauty of the animation and doing great justice to all of the hard work that went into it back in 1937. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally amazing, giving you the dialogue and unforgettable music in excellent quality. Overall, the film has received exceptional treatment, ensuring that it will continue to be passed down for many more generations to come.
In Walt’s Words: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (4 Minutes): Archival recordings of Walt Disney discussing the film.
Iconography (7 Minutes): A discussion of the different icons that have spawned from the film.
@DisneyAnimation: Designing Disney’s First Princess (5 Minutes): A discussion of how Snow White’s look came about.
The Fairest Facts of Them All: 7 Things You May Not Know About Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs (4 Minutes): A collection of interesting trivia about the film.
Snow White in 70 Seconds (1 Minute): An obnoxious rap that tells the story of Snow White. Easily skippable.
Alternate Sequence: The Prince Meets Snow White (4 Minutes): An interesting look at how this scene was originally envisioned.
Disney’s First Feature: The Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (33 Minutes): A fantastic look at the making of the film, including interviews with animators who worked on it, current Disney staff, and historians of film and Walt Disney.
Bringing Snow White to Life (11 Minutes): An intriguing featurette that explores the animators behind the film.
Hyperion Studios Tour (30 Minutes): A look at the studio where the work on the film was done, including archival recordings of some of the staff who worked there.
Decoding the Exposure Sheet (7 Minutes): A fascinating look at how to read an exposure sheet, which contains all of the information that was needed for each individual scene.
Snow White Returns (9 Minutes): A look at what was supposedly going to be an animated short that would have featured the return of Snow White and the dwarfs.
Story Meeting: The Dwarfs (6 Minutes): An audio reenactment of a meeting held about the dwarfs.
Story Meeting: The Huntsman (4 Minutes): Another audio reenactment of meetings held about the film, this time about the sequences involving Snow White and The Huntsman and Snow White’s flight through the woods
Deleted Scenes (10 Minutes): Two deleted sequences, shown here in storyboards with the original audio.
Animation Voice Talent (6 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at the voice actors from the film.
Audio Commentary by Roy E. Disney and Historian John Canemaker, and Recordings by Walt Disney: An excellent commentary that takes you through the origins of the film and its making.
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” may not be the best example of a Disney classic, thanks mainly to its lightly-plotted story, but with great animation, memorable characters, and beautiful music, it still remains one of their most endearing films. This re-release of the Blu-ray is as gorgeous as ever, and comes packed full of fascinating special features, so if you don’t already own the previous release, it’s well-worth picking up and adding to your own Disney Blu-ray collection.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic and be sure to subscribe for the latest updates.