Critics, animation historians and Disney lovers alike shower Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with praise for being “the film that started it all”. It deserves its accolades because, unless you’re going to be a Steamboat Willy stickler, it’s the one that put Walt Disney on the map. The rich colors and the fairytale-simple story make it an engaging tale that children and adults alike can watch over and over. Revisiting it years later, after being spoiled with Disney’s current Pixar run or the beautifully drawn 2D films of the 90s like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, Snow White retains all its magic and surprises you with how dark some of its imagery actually is.
Snow White and Sleeping Beauty always stood out amongst the other films in Disney’s repertoire. When Snow White debuted in 1937, it was followed by Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella and many more – but all of them kept a very pure aesthetic that never strayed too far from the standard set by Snow White. Sleeping Beauty changed all that in favor of a new style that marked Disney’s first true departure from Snow White’s color template. The departure says as much about Sleeping Beauty as it does the enduring qualities of Snow White.
The first feature-length animated film came with a lot of benchmark achievements and has easily stood the test of time. Each viewing allows the viewer to take something new away from the experience and, I’ll be honest, I never noticed some of the depressing visuals. The venom dripping off the apple? Okay, I’d noticed it before, but it never looked so ghastly until now. Or how about the skeleton reaching for the bucket of water from the dungeon. Don’t ask me how he managed to die and then decompose with the bucket just a few inches out of reach, but the image is just so superbly dark and understated that you can’t believe the level of sadism put into such a small affectation of the film’s background.
Before we jump into the extras, let’s just give a quick summary of the film in case, by some incredible circumstance, someone out there doesn’t know the story. The evil queen discovers, via her magic mirror on the wall, that she no longer qualifies as the “fairest one of all”, a role taken by her step-daughter Snow White. The queen has a woodsman take Snow White into the woods and kill her. The woodsman has a conscience however and warns her to run off into the woods where she befriends seven dwarves whose names have become the subject of numerous memorization contests. For the record, and this is without checking, their names are Grumpy, Sneezy, Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sleepy, and Dopey.
The Blu-ray treatment does in fact help animation contrary to the impressions of a few who think it’s only for big budget blockbusters. Snow White’s colors are enriched in the process and the audio has been cleared to perfection of any scratches or distortion – a common issue for older animated films.
Blu-ray and DVD Bonus Features
As you might have guessed by the topic title, Disney continues its tradition of coupling DVD and Blu-ray copies in one case. However, in splitting the release between a dual format you’re going to find different special features on different discs. The things you find on the DVD include an audio commentary from animation historian John Canemaker and the film itself digitally restored as much as the DVD format will allow. There’s a music video accompanying the film and it really feels like it’s polluting the disc more than complementing it.
Now the dual Blu-ray disc offering is where all the fun is had. Besides the remastered video and audio, which is now in 7.1 surround sound for those so inclined, you’ll find the music video and a gamut of interactive games and other little activities. There’s a picture puzzle game, a matching game and – Facebook quiz fans delight – a “Which Disney Princess you most like?” quiz. For more fun you can test your hand at “Dopey’s Wild Mine Ride” or sate your sing-a-long hankering with the “Heigh Ho” karaoke function. These little fun tidbits are all well and good for the kiddies – and believe me, no one but the kiddies will really indulge therein – but it’s the historical features that will draw in the adults out there.
The historical featurettes are both enlightening and at the same time register like one of those more theoretical History Channel pieces which has fewer answers than it does wild postulations. “Snow White Returns” talks about newly discovered storyboards which, if you trust the little featurette, suggests [read: endorses the future possibility of] a sequel to Snow White which Walt Disney himself planned out. Conceptually it’s an interesting piece up until they start making too many hints at a desire to actually carry through with the designs upon a sequel. Please Disney, don’t do it. Equally fascinating is a look at Experion Studios where Walt created some of the most memorable animated icons of all time. Finally, you have the documentary we all knew just couldn’t be avoided with a new special edition of Snow White: how Snow White changed the world of animation. It did, and so the documentary is not only well-deserved but quite interesting as well.
The extras are quite plentiful when you think about how old it is, so it’s nice that Disney put in the necessary effort to give us more than just a barebones anniversary edition. They gave you a worthy reason to upgrade to a Blu-ray copy of the film.
The one feature offered on the disc that I am completely baffled by is the so-called “DisneyView” which fills in the black border on the left and right (for those of you viewing the film on a widescreen – a format the movie isn’t quite up to) with symmetrical pictures. For example, when the movie is in the dwarves’ house there are carved animated wood totems on the side, and when Snow White is in the forest there are trees drawn onto the side. At some points it works (like in the woods) but at others it’s unforgivably distracting.
"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Diamond Edition" is on sale October 6, 2009 and is rated G. Adventure, Animation, Children & Family, Drama, Fantasy. Directed by David Hand. Written by Wilhelm Grimm & Jacob Grimm (story) and Ted Sears & Richard Creedon (screenplay). Starring Pinto Colvig, Roy Atwell, Stuart Buchanan, Adriana Caselotti, Eddie Collins.