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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animation > Fairy Tale > Storybook > Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs (1938/Disney Blu-ray w/DVD and Digital Copy/3-Disc Combo Pack)

Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs (1938/Disney Blu-ray w/DVD and Digital Copy/3-Disc Combo Pack)


Picture: B+/B-     Sound: B/B-     Extras: B     Film: B+



Before 1937/38, animation moved from a gimmick to an adult entertainment (an era not much discussed these days) to a full-fledged art form.  The once simple black and white shorts were now being produced in the many competing color formats of the time and studios like Disney and Fleischer were coming up with innovations whose visual effects implications moved beyond the art form.  However, the idea of a full-length animated feature film was considered impractical, unsustainable and far too expensive for anyone to undertake.  That is until Walt Disney himself bet his entire studio and future on the concept.


Only a producer being distributed by smaller companies (Columbia, United Artists, RKO) at the time, his competition at the time was fierce in the animation field and it was only by adding sound to his Grade-A animation that he pulled ahead, but the idea was to stay ahead.  Many in the industry thought it was too high-risk to make Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs (1938) with many thinking it would be the end of the Disney Studios.  Walt could work for other companies and make a living, plus several animation studios had already folded, in part because of The Great Depression.


Like Rotoscoping at The Fleischer Studios, Disney had already created the Multi-Plane, which allows you to set up three animation cells with spaces to create a 3-D illusion of depth.  He also had some of the best animators around and pulled out all the stops (minus showy gimmicks) to make the film work.  Like Wizard Of Oz, just because it was great did not mean it would be a hit.  Unlike Wizard Of Oz, I was a huge blockbuster hit upon first release and the Disney Kingdom was assured for decades to come.


The songs remain classics, the film more imitated and referenced than you might first realize and it is one of the most imitated films of all time on a visual level, especially since the recent explosion of Fantasy genre films in the digital era.  The story is simple, but done so richly and effectively that it has never been duplicated and like so many classic tales to come, Disney would create the definitive versions, happy endings notwithstanding.


Our title character (Adriana Caselotti, whose voice is one of the most immortalized voices in animation history) is fancied by a young prince (Harry Stockwell) and loathed by an evil, vain Queen (Lucille La Verne, whose work is cleverer than it might seem at first) who has been notified by her Magic Mirror (Moroni Olsen) that she is no longer the most beautiful woman around.  She wants Snow White dead and plans to do what she has to do to regain her “beauty” title in a world and contest where she is the only winner and only she and the Mirror are the only palpable audience.


Snow White is a happy young lady and besides her belief in getting work done, has an uncanny connection with nature, which pays off later, but the new group of friends who will really pull through will be The Seven Dwarfs (Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Happy, Bashful, Doc and Dopey; memorize them all!) that she meets inadvertently during this ordeal.


Based on a darker story in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for all the talk of the story being lightened, there are still plenty of dark moments that remain terrifying due to a combination of suspense, the brilliant art work and context even if you are an adult, so the film does not betray the original material as much as some have said.  In addition, attempts to remake the story and do a “darker” version have always become (and always will be I believe) muddled because the writers and Walt Disney himself still told the tale very thoroughly, faithfully just enough and in such a way that only reading the original story can compare.


Every moment is interesting and in this age of rich digital animation from the likes of Pixar, it is remarkable now more than ever that all of this was actually drawn by hand.  Digital features would not be possible without the success of this film.  It also shows that then as now, hand drawn is the only form of animation (even when you include the likes of stop motion) that convey certain ideas and concepts (including concepts of emotional involvement) that the others just cannot do.  That is why the Disney name is so connected with the tale and is why it remains one of the most important moments in cinema history.



The 1080p 1.33 X 1 image digital High Definition image is very impressive for its age with color that is worthy of a film produced in three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor even if it may not have the total range of such a print.  It is still often close and except for some instances of softness and places where the three separately shot strips fringe slightly, this is a stunning presentation that will renew its classic status, the status of real Technicolor and show why the film is so important.  The DVD version looks as good as it can in the format, with the limits showing just how dated the low-def format has become, but at least it is superior to all other low-def presentations.  The condition could full you into thinking this was a film from the 1950s if you did not recognize the 1930s style.


For the record, the process used by Disney and Technicolor for animation is called Successive Exposure, something Walt Disney first used when he moved to RKO for distribution on his 1932 short Flowers & Trees, the first full-color Disney work.  Each frame is exposed one on top of the other with the three filters that make the color, then the cel is changed and that process goes on until the whole film is finished.  Then they take that record and print on a blank strip all three color images until a full color version results.  Snow White is up there with Wizard Of Oz as one of the most protected and worked on films for restoration and upkeep ever made.  That work certainly pays off here.


The DTS-HD Master Audio 48/24 (MA) lossless 7.1 mix is good, but also is stretching the sound out a little more than I would have liked, so the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix may not be as good, but the margin is not shockingly different.  The studio did do a better job of expanding the original mono sound to 7.1 better than say, CBS/Paramount on the monophonic, 1960s Star Trek episodes reviewed elsewhere on this site.


Extras include BD Live interactive features, the DVD with Digital Copy for PC and PC portable devices, Blu-ray one includes an audio commentary track using archival recordings of Walt Disney himself (also on the DVD), Princess & The Frog sneak peak and many others to describe the making of the classic, Backstage Disney with 2 Deleted Scenes & Snow White Returns, a Music Video for Someday My Prince Will Come and Disney Family Play, while the Bonus Disc/Blu-ray 2 adds two more Backstage Disney installments and four Classic Bonus Features: Animation Voice Talents, Disney Through The Decades, Disney’s Wild Mine Ride and a Karaoke version of “High-Ho”.



The only Blu-ray we can compare it to on the market right now is Disney’s upgraded release of Pinocchio, which you can read more about at this link:





While Walt Disney made sure to limit the range of color throughout Snow White because no one was sure if too much would be too intense for audiences, Pinocchio was bolder, yet I did not think the color was up to what is here on Snow White.  The pencil detail and general animation is a step forward, but my point on the color stands, despite so many who did not notice, comment or even admitted they did not know while giving recommendation to the Blu-ray.


As far as three-strip Technicolor is concerned, there is much misinformation on the subject, including among an increasingly cinematic illiterate film critic pool whose experience with actual film is more and more limited.  Some complain about color being too saturated (even outside of the Technicolor format) while others show their ignorance by mocking terms like vibrant because of personal issues and as substitute for being out of their depth.  With Snow White, one of the best representations of the classic color format can be seen (add the 1938 Adventures Of Robin Hood Blu-ray to some extent and more so Wizard Of Oz Blu-ray) as intended, which is great, because any title that is not color accurate is not fulfilling the total vision of the filmmakers and artists.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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