Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on February 3rd, 2016
“Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”
Years ago a news magazine, I don’t remember which, conducted a survey. They discovered that more adults knew the names of the Seven Dwarfs than could name seven figures in the federal government, including President, Vice-President, Senate, House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court. They say our educations begin very young. Well, since 1938 our youths have been entertained by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Uncle Walt knew he had an artistic talent early in his life. He was originally determined to become a commercial artist. But one fateful day he saw a newspaper ad in a Kansas City paper for a company then called The Kansas City Slide Company. Walt got the job. The marketing firm was making theater ads that consisted mostly of stop-motion films. It was there, at just 18 years old, that Walt Disney heard his true calling. He soon formed his own company, which was called Laugh-O-Grams. It was there that he developed his first fairy tale short on Cinderella. By 1923 Walt had developed a method of combining live-action shots with his animation. This first effort, Alice’s Fishy Story, would be a breakthrough release. Later, a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit would lead to the creation of an American icon… Mickey Mouse. The mouse would appear in the very first film ever to feature fully synchronized sound, Steamboat Willie. From that point on, Walt and his stable of elite animators and technicians would revolutionize animation and the motion picture industry time and time again for decades, until his death. The studio that bears his name continues the tradition today. Now let’s go back to some of those roots.
“Over the seven jeweled hills, beyond the seventh fall, in the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs, dwells Snow White, fairest of them all.”
The legacy of Walt Disney and the studio he created requires little explanation. The studio invented the idea of a feature length cartoon and has been on the cutting edge of animation since the 1930’s. No other studio can claim ownership of as many animated classics as Disney. From Mickey Mouse to Pixar, the studio has churned out one masterpiece after another for over 60 years. What tends to get lost in this great body of feature-length classics is that the studio was also producing some very high-quality shorts over these years. Whether it’s Disney favorites like Mickey, Donald, Minnie, or Goofy, or it’s strictly one-off characters gathered to tell a wonderfully animated story, Disney has a record that simply hasn’t and likely will never be matched.
Over the last year or so it has been my pleasure to revisit so many of the Disney classics as they make their way to high definition and Blu-ray releases. I’ll admit that Snow White has not been one of my favorites of the Disney classics. It’s a romantic story at its core and much more suited for the young girls than the young boys. As a child I can’t recall being all that entertained by the story. But isn’t it funny that even though I never much cared for and certainly couldn’t relate to the story, there is so much of the film that is as much a part of my memory as it is ingrained in our pop culture. Everything from the dwarfs themselves to the poisoned apple and the phrase recounted above has its roots deeply imbedded in our collective consciousness. Not a bad trick for what many critics at the time thought would be a boondoggle and nothing more than an over-ambitious children’s cartoon. Of course, not many people were saying that once the film was released.
“Now, a formula to transform my beauty into ugliness. Change my queenly raiment to a peddler’s cloak. Mummy dust, to make me old. To shroud my clothes, the black of night. To age my voice, an old hag’s cackle. To whiten my hair, a scream of fright. A blast of wind to fan my hate. A thunderbolt to mix it well. Now, begin thy magic spell.”
When you think about it, Uncle Walt put the world under a spell with his own concoction of celluloid, ink, and pixie dust. Snow White was the very first full length animated feature to hit the theaters. It was a risky move for a young fledging studio. Still, Walt Disney believed he was on to something. Today we take such releases for granted, and some have gone on to become major blockbuster successes.
Consider the world of the time:
There were no animated movies. Cartoons were the silly little diversions intended mostly for children and social commentary. The world was slowly recovering from the worst economic depression in modern times. Europe was reeling from the war machine that was Nazi Germany. And Uncle Walt decided the time was ripe for a full-length animated feature. He knew that the film had to have a familiarity right from the start, and so the Disney tradition of using well known tales had begun. The project that was in circles dubbed “Walt’s Gamble”/ “Walt’s Folly” paid off big-time. It was the highest grossing film of the year. It pulled in an astonishing $66 million, which was the most any film had made in a year to that date. The profits were enough alone for Disney to build the current Disney Studios in Burbank. There can be little doubt that Snow White is one of the industry’s most important films of all time. It was also the first film to release a separate soundtrack recording.
I feel like I would be insulting your intelligence to recount the tale. Truth be told, I couldn’t do it any better than Uncle Walt did it 70 years ago. Whether you know the story or not, whether you like the story or not, it is part of the modern human experience to see it at least once. Now Disney has given you no more excuses. In just one release you can own the film in either DVD or Blu-ray. I highly recommend the Blu-ray, but whatever technology your home currently possesses, let Snow White and her musical Seven Dwarfs possess your home’s technology … at least once (upon a time).
Snow White is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. On the surface it might be hard for you to accept a high definition release in full frame. Disney has anticipated your reluctance. Some of you don’t like the black bars on the sides. Some of you have monitors that are susceptible to screen burn, so you don’t like having them there. You now have something called Disney View, which fills that space with paintings that perfectly frame the center action. I thought they would be distracting, and in a couple of rare occasions they were. Once or twice center movement pointed out the obviously stationary side panels. Most of the time they were invisible as I watched the film. Once in a while they actually enhanced the experience. Some reviewers might wish to cast insult upon you for using them. I say use them if you wish. I did. As for the picture itself: You’re going to be amazed at the quality of this 80-year-old image. It’s presented in full 1080p through a solid AVC/MPEG-4 codec. I was astonished at the depth and brilliance of this picture. Colors are simply outstanding and bright. Detail is at a level I still find hard to believe when you consider the age, because you don’t have to consider the age. This stands up to modern image specs completely. You will be hard pressed to find a flaw in the print or the transfer.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track does everything you could ask it to do. If you’re a purist, the original Mono track is available here as well. I loved the Master Audio track, however. While it doesn’t provide a ton of surrounds, because it shouldn’t, the film feels bigger than it used to. I could sense a great response from my subs. The crew here managed to bring in a fullness without screwing around with the audio placement. Dialog is very clear at all times. Thunderous sounds exist without covering up other important elements. It’s a perfect balance of maintaining the original experience and making it feel bigger. Job well done.
There is an Audio Commentary with Roy Disney and adds interview clips from Walt himself that are scene specific.
Happy to report that Disney has abandoned the use of the complicated bonus feature menu and features without timecode that don’t allow for going forward or back. This is the best reason of all to pick up this Signature Collection version to add to your collection.
In Walt’s Words – Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs: (4:22) Walt’s words are taken from a series of 1956 interviews where he spoke about the film. It begins with a 1936 announcement clip with RKO, who distributed the film. The audio is complimented by conceptual art, vintage footage, and stills and promotional materials from the film’s release.
Iconography: (7:16) A look at the influence of the film on modern artists who find their own way to bring classic characters or images to life.
@ Disney Animation – Designing Disney’s First Princess: (5:16) This is part of an ongoing series where current staff members at Disney Animation Studios look over some vintage production pieces from the movie and give some brief history on what they are looking at.
The Fairest Facts Of Them All: (4:37) Sofia Carson hosts a piece that delivers seven bits of trivia from Snow White.
Snow White in 70 Seconds: (1.13) This is a very bad attempt at a rap version of the story.
Disney’s First Feature – The Making Of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs: (33:16) This is indeed a gem worthy of the Dwarfs’ mine. Everything you ever wanted to know about the production can be found here. Vintage stills and footage provide a detailed look into the 1930’s production. There’s a good bit more than seven pieces of trivia to be found. You hear from many of the men and women involved in that ground-breaking experiment.
Bringing Snow White To Life: (11:35) A look at the film’s animators who were the mentors to the legendary Nine Old Men. One by one we learn who they were and what they specifically contributed to the movie.
Hyperion Studio Tour: (30:36) Another wonderful gem takes us to the studios where the production of Snow White came to life. Audio clips offer wonderful stories and anecdotes that focus less on the production and more what daily life was like there. The stories are often amusing and emotional. The audio is accompanied by more vintage stills and footage from the era.
Decoding The Exposure Sheet: (6:49) Don Hahn takes us through all of the notations and markings on an actual camera document of the film’s production. He explains what it all means and how the document was used during production. It’s like a treasure map that leads to the goodies if you know how to read it.
Snow White Returns: (8:44) HD Take a trip to the Disney archives where you never know what you’ll turn up. This time you’ll find evidence that Uncle Walt was considering a Snow White sequel entitled Snow White Returns. The feature shows you storyboards and a title card. There is also evidence that two deleted sequences from the original film were planned for the follow-up project. Pretty cool stuff.
Deleted Scenes: There are two scenes cut from the original film. One involved a musical number while the dwarfs ate their soup. The second involved a bed-making project. The first scene is fully animated, but only through crude sketches. The second incorporates storyboards.
Animation Voice Talent: (6:18) This feature looks at how the voices were cast.
Story Meetings: Two meetings that were transcribed and reproduced with voice actors provide the audio while we look at concept art and other aspects of the film’s production. One is on The Dwarfs while the other looks at The Huntsman.
Blu-ray and high definition have done more than just deliver quality films in much better detail. Walt Disney has taken the next logical step in the evolution of home entertainment. They are using the Signature Edition releases as a way to build a common archive system that allows the average person to watch their childhood memories like they’ve never been able to before. But you also get to have that precious piece of Disney history to keep as well. Just think of all of the innovations that came out of such a small studio at the time. Soundtrack recordings, feature animation, storyboard process, traveling mattes, and the integration of live action and animation which was the first step toward sophisticated special f/x processes. And it’s all yours to own and access at any time, if you have the PhD education required to crack the menu code, that is. This is a very important release and should be required for anyone who claims to be a videophile. Let’s just hope Disney fixes the menu problem and we’ll all “live happily ever after”.