Review: ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’

You wear your fingers out pushing all the buttons in exploring Disney's "immersive" two-disc DVD of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Stuffed with extras, the best of which are fascinating and educational and the least of which rep filler that sounds more fun than it is, package ups the bar in terms of variety and depth in a DVD offering.

You wear your fingers out pushing all the buttons it takes to explore the entirety of Disney’s “immersive” two-disc DVD of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Stuffed to its plump white cheeks with extras, the best of which are fascinating and quite educational and the least of which rep filler that sounds more fun than it is, overall package ups the bar in terms of variety and depth in a DVD offering, and thus promises to add countless millions to the $1 billion the world’s first feature-length animated picture is alleged to have generated in various ways since its release 64 years ago. Not bad for an original investment of $1.7 million.

Like a tree overloaded with ripe red apples, this first entry in Disney’s “Platinum Edition” series that will feature restorations — with related bonuses — of its greatest titles (next up is “Beauty and the Beast” a year from now) offers far more than anyone can chew at one or two sittings; the only things still missing, just as they were at the time of the original release, are the names of the writers and vocal performers on the picture.

For animation buffs and even those casually interested in technique, there is a treasure trove of beautifully presented original sketches (the evil queen was originally very dowdy), abandoned scene concepts (the captured prince being shackled in the queen’s dungeon) and storyboard-to-film comparisons strikingly accomplished in split-screen.

Package also does a fantastic job laying out the genesis of the project and its artistic inspirations: how Walt Disney, for his feature debut, originally thought of doing “Alice in Wonderland” with Mary Pickford placed against an animated backdrop; how his memories of one of the first films he ever saw, the 1916 live-action “Snow White” (seen via clips), led him to realize this Grimm fairy tale was “the perfect story;” how he made the Silly Symphony short “The Goddess of Spring” (shown in its entirety) as a test for the feature, and how he ruthlessly made cuts and changes right up to the last minute to eliminate anything, no matter how engaging, that did not advance the story — there were enormous worries that the film “was not going to go over in so many areas.”

Wedded into all aspects of the account of “Snow White’s” making, and nowhere moreso than in the separate feature audio track of archival commentary by Walt Disney himself, is the question of money. Disney successfully paints a picture of himself as a maverick industry outsider, working entirely with his own money and risking everything on an expensive venture widely considered so dicey that it was dubbed “Disney’s Folly.” One of the boss’ more elaborate stories has to do with showing a “hodgepodge” version of the film to a Bank of America exec in order to secure finishing funds.

But then there was the upside; Disney’s gamble paid off enormously. “Snow White” became “the first blockbuster of the sound era” by emerging as the highest grossing film up to that time (bested only by “Gone With the Wind” two years later), and everything Disney did thereafter can be attributed to the success of “Snow White” — the construction of his Burbank studios, his subsequent features beginning with “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia,” and even the first steps toward the creation of Disneyland.

Technically “restored” twice before, for its 1987 theatrical reissue and 1994 homevid release, “Snow White” looks smashing in its DVD incarnation. The extras, drolly hosted by the Magic Mirror, run the gamut. In addition to the feature, disc one includes a fine 39-minute documentary on the making of “Snow White,” a karaoke version of “Heigh-Ho,” a protracted and precious new recording of “Some Day My Prince Will Come” by Barbra Streisand, and a Dopey’s Wild Mine Ride game that’s pretty lame.

Disc two provides the opportunity to dive very deeply into “Snow White” arcania. There are wonderful home movies of dancers creating the movement patterns that would later be followed by animators and of Disney himself “acting” out the story for the benefit of his creative staff, virtual galleries of layout and character designs set within the context of a tour of the queen’s castle, demonstrations of the depth-producing multiplane camera technique, five deleted scenes, the original Grimm Brothers story, a detailing of the restoration, a newsreel of the glamorous premiere at L.A.’s Carthay Circle Theater attended by everyone from Marlene Dietrich to Donald Duck, a history of Disney through the decades, eight different trailers, publicity materials, radio broadcasts and even the original RKO opening and end credits.

Even the most rabid Disney and “Snow White” fan will be sated after gorging on this Ultimate “Snow White.”

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Release: Oct. 9, 2001.


A Buena Vista Home Entertainment release of the 1937 RKO Radio Pictures film from Walt Disney. Supervising director, David Hand.
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