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SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
Platinum Edition

Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Adriana Caselotti, Harry Stockwell, Lucille La Verne, Moroni Olsen, Billy Gilbert, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw, Roy Atwell
Director:  David Hand
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1(English and French), Dolby 1.0
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Subtitles:  English
Studio:  Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Features:  See Review
Length:  84 minutes
Release Date:  October 9th, 2001

“Magic Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

Film ****

Before magic lamps (Aladdin), enchanted roses (Beauty and the Beast), and flying elephants (Dumbo), there was a magic apple (Snow White). 

Before its Christmas 1937 release, it’s hard to believe that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was viewed as such an absurd gamble that many in the media as “Disney’s Folly.” 

Until that time, cartoon shorts (along with movie trailers and newsreels) had been simply precursors to films.  When Disney decided to change that in the early thirties, many in the industry balked, claiming that the expense would be enormous, that people would tire of seeing a cartoon for that long a period of time, and that even if they didn’t, the bright colors would hurt their eyes. 

As I’m sure almost everyone knows, Disney would have the last laugh: his “folly” would go on to completely revolutionize the film industry, creating both a new art medium and benchmark of quality for it, as well as opening up a new financial market for “family films” that his company would dominate until recently.  Snow White also became the most watched film up to that point (and is still one of the most significant films even today, ranking number 49 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Best Films of all Time”), winning Walt Disney two Oscars out of the 32 he would receive before he died.  Moreover, Snow White would be, shortly after its American release, translated into countless languages throughout the world, and become the film the animation empire was built upon. 

So what makes Snow White so dramatically different from the other “cartoons” of the time?  For one, Disney breathes credibility into the medium by making it less about trying to just make people laugh at gags (which is what cartoons at that time were geared towards), and more about making a respectable feature film, but using ink instead of cameras.  As Disney himself said, huge amounts of attention were focused on making sure the film had elements of suspense, comedy, romance, and tragedy that would evoke the same emotion as one would feel watching any feature film. 

Moreover, the staggering budget at that time of 1.5 million allowed for the pioneering and innovating of many techniques, such as the “multiplane” camera, that made the animation of Snow White more lifelike and realistic than ever before. 

Overall, despite being almost sixty-four years old, Snow White is truly timeless, and I’d challenge anyone to not see the power of the film (or just realize how cool those damn dwarfs are), even if it’s geared more towards children.  This is a great classic finally brought to the digital medium that should charm the next generation of kids just as much as it did their parents and grandparents (especially with the stuff they watch now like “Teletubbies” and “’Barney”…shudder). 

Video **** (based on the restoration)

When popping in the disc, one might expect a somewhat lackluster transfer in both the video/audio department.  Thankfully, on the film’s 50th anniversary in 1987, Disney worked on restoring Snow White from the original 1937 negative to brighten the colors and remove any blemishes.  Five years later for the film’s premiere on home video, a further effort was undertaken to restore the print and improve on the work done previously.  For this release, Disney teams once again returned to the restoration process (as you’ll see in some of the ample supplements ahead) and repaired the thousands of cells through a computer.  So how does it look?

The first thing the viewer will notice is how new everything looks.  Colors shine, with black levels that are deep, rich, and spooky.  The wonderfully in-depth landscapes look incredibly realistic and the dwarfs themselves look fresh again.  But perhaps the biggest change is the look of the title star herself; her cheeks are beautifully pale, only marked by a slight pinkish color breathing life into them, her blue and red outfit is bright and there are no are no problems with bleeding.  This is presentation worthy of accolades.  One of the best restorations I’ve seen in a while (and if you don’t believe me, go look at what it looked like before).     

Audio **** (based on the restoration)

Disney has assembled two audio tracks in English and French 5.1 sound, as well as the original mono track in English.  While most of the sound during the film comes from the front soundstage, this is a magnificent job by Disney as well. 

Dialogue is clear from the center channel and I didn’t notice problems with distortion of any kind.  The track is somewhat lively, sending music from the right to left front speakers, making this track’s sound more full than any other offered previously.   All in all, while certainly not a full blown 5.1 mix, it’s still a very worthy entry nonetheless. 

Supplements  ****

In the past, Disney has been quite hit and miss on DVD.  Sometimes they’d release great titles for fair prices, with a good transfer and some decent supplements.  More often though, “Di$ney,” as it was referred to by many colleagues on the internet, was more inclined to release the less important entries in their line, leaving many to wonder what had happened to the bigger guns like Aladdin, Beauty and The Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Lion King, shoddy transfers, very little if informative supplements, and overpriced discs that made one cringe.   

Thankfully, when the recent Disney “Platinum Edition” was announced, Disney promised two things: that one of their important catalogue titles would be released on DVD each year for the next ten years (starting with Snow White, and continuing with Beauty and the Beast and so on), and that they would be reference quality discs in all respects.  As Snow White is the first disc in this “Platinum Edition” line, it is considered a sign of what is to come in the rest of the series.

If this disc is any indication, I wish I could move a little faster through time.  These discs are hands down some of the best I’ve seen for not just the year, but in the history of DVD (the supplements just take forever to get through!). 

Beginning on disc one, you’re greeted by a computer generated magic mirror which will be your guide throughout both discs, helping you with whatever questions you might have about the DVD. 

Choosing the “bonus materials” feature will bring you to a menu that begins with something called “Guided Tours.”  Hosted by Roy Disney, this will help those less knowledgeable in the area of DVD (or those who might later get lost like myself through the enormity of trying to tackle the five hours of supplements at once) by breaking down which features do what on each particular disc. 

Located after that on the menu is a screen specific audio commentary with Walt Disney and animation historian John Canemaker.  Hosted by Canemaker (as Disney has been dead since for almost forty-five years and his comments were from library files prerecorded), this is a delightful and informative track.  Canemaker’s comments are both insightful and telling, and Disney’s comments are a good listen also (Also somewhat amusing is that the Disney corporation is so PC that they have a warning screen saying that the above commentary does not necessarily represent the views of any of the employees of Buena Vista.  It’s about Snow White, not a debate on social issues).   

Following is a behind the scenes look at Snow White, “Still the Fairest of Them All.”  This retrospective, hosted by Angela Lansbury, chronicles the beginnings of Disney’s success as an animator with such projects as “Steamboat Willy” (famous not only for being the first Mickey Mouse cartoon but also for being the first cartoon with synchronized sound) to the beginning of Disney’s involvement with Snow White and the multiplane camera.  Good interviews with historian John Canemaker, the animators involved with the project, Disney himself, and others.  At a little over 37 minutes, this is a thorough and well-done discourse.

Prior to Snow White, Disney achieved a great deal of progress to making animated figures move more fluidly.  One such cartoon that emphasizes movement and flow for animation, “The Goddess of Spring Animated Short,” is included here.

Two things included for the kids are after that.  The cute “Heigh-Ho” Sing Along, which breaks into either a sing along version or a karaoke version, and “Dopey’s Wild Ride Mind Game,” which is an interactive game that quizzes the kids on some Snow White related trivia.  

Rounding out disc one is the “Someday my Prince will Come,” sung by Barbara Striesand herself (gag…).  Tragically, this came on after I finished the film (and I couldn’t find the remote to kill the sound in time), with an introduction by Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

Disc two once again displays our friendly host, the CGI Magic Mirror.  He explains that the special features are broken down into five locations on the disc: “Skull and Cauldron,” “Snow White’s Wishing Well,” “The Castle,” “The Dwarf’s Mine,” and “The Dwarf’s Cottage,” or you can select the moving apple on the bottom center of the screen to view a list of all of them at once.

Starting at the “Skull and Cauldron” brings you to the “Abandoned Concepts/Restoration” area.  Under “Abandon Concepts” there is an introduction by John Canemaker who explains the reason Disney decided to make the deletions.  The deleted scenes, “Snow White meets the Prince,” “Fantasy scene with the Prince,” and finally “Witch Captures the Prince,” are all told using a few drawings and sound.  In the end, while it’s nice to see the deleted scenes for completeness’ sake, I can understand why Disney discarded the scenes.

Under “Restoration,” there is a five-minute program on the refurbishment Snow White underwent for its 50-year anniversary in 1987, and the subsequent refurbishment five years later in 1993 for its first time release on home video.

Moving on to “Snow White’s Wishing Well,” the feature breaks down into two parts: “History” and “Storyboard to Film Comparisons.”  Under “History” are the “Walt Disney Biographical Timeline,” which is a good written documentation of Walt Disney’s life leading up to his first feature film, as well as the “Snow White Production Timeline” and “The Original Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale.”

Under “Storyboard to Film Comparisons,” there is an introduction explaining how storyboards were used early on in Snow White, and how much they impacted the final product.  In this feature, you can also choose between the storyboard version, the final version, or a split screen that lets the two play at once.  This was one of my personal favorites.   Scenes included for your perusal include “The Forest Chase,” “Cleaning House,” “The Dwarfs chase the witch,” and finally “The Queen’s Order.”

The Queen’s Castle, loaded with supplements, comes next.  First is “Art and Design,” a brief explanation by Canemaker of how Disney incorporated European artists and designers to give Snow White its look.  Following that, “Visual Development” brings you into the CGI castle to three halls worth of drawings that were used initially in the development of the film, but not in the final product.  “Layouts and Backgrounds” is a detailed explanation of how the film’s backgrounds were managed and completed.  “Cameras and Tests,” explains the multiplane camera through two Walt Disney excerpts from his TV program “Disneyland” called “The Story of Silly Symphony” and “Tricks of our Trade.”  The third option is “Camera Tests,” a twelve-minute program that explains how filters were used throughout Snow White.  

Next is “Animation,” which breaks down into the categories of “voice talent,” “live action reference,” another excerpt from the Disneyland show “Tricks of our Trade,” and finally “Character Designs.”  In voice talent it explains how Walt Disney chose his stars, including Andrea Caselotti as the princess Snow White, Lucille La Verne as the Queen/Witch, and Harry Stockwell as the Prince, as well as the voices of six of the seven dwarfs.  This is followed by “Live Action Reference,” which explains how Disney artists were able to replicate movement better than any others had done before through taking classes in flow and movement.  “Tricks of the Trade,” explained by Walt himself in a roughly four minute video, emphasizes further the methods that were used for artists to concentrate on the flow and movements of their subjects through watching film.  Rounding out the “Animation” portion was “Character Designs,” which breaks down into drawings of Snow White, the seven dwarfs, The Queen/Witch, the huntsman, the prince, and the animals.

Leaving the “Queen’s Castle” you’ll encounter “The Dwarfs Mine.”  In this section you’ll find “Deleted Scenes,” the “Original RKO opening and credits,” and the feature “Disney Through the Decades.”

Starting with the “deleted scenes,” there is once again a short introduction by historian John Canemaker who explains that Disney was a ruthless editor even with his favorite project, and found these scenes not necessary to the flow of the story.  Included are the deleted scenes “The Witch at the Cauldron,” “The Bedroom Argument,” “Music in your Soup,” “The Lodge Meeting,” and “Building a Bed.”

After that is the “Original RKO opening and end credits,” which were changed later on when the contract with RKO ran out in the early 50’s.  While this is a nice inclusion, it is probably one of the least necessary items on the disc. 

Rounding out the “Dwarfs Mine” is the feature “Disney Through The Decades.”  Hosted by D.B. Sweeny, as well as other Disney related actors, it is a look at Disney from the 1930’s to this millennium and beyond.  Overall, this is a thorough history of Disney and his projects, as well as eight trailers for Snow White throughout the century. 

Continuing on (if you’re still actually reading this), we hit “The Dwarfs Cottage,” which contains “The Premiere,” “Trailers,” “Publicity,” and “Vintage Audio.”  Under the “Premiere” option, you have two choices: one, the television premiere on December 21st, 1937 in Los Angeles, or the thirty minute radio broadcast from the premiere.  “Trailers” consists of the same eight trailers from the “Disney Through The Decades” feature. 

“Publicity” breaks down into three parts: “Scrapbook,” “A Trip through Walt Disney,” and “How Disney Cartoons are made.”  “Scrapbook” allows the viewer to see pictures of the premieres in Los Angeles in New York City, the press book, production photos, merchandise and posters. 

“A Trip Through Walt Disney,” a roughly 11 minute film, is something that was made by Disney right before Snow White came about as a response to many RKO top brass wondering exactly how cartoons were made.  This film explains and reviews the editing process, the multiplane camera, and working with animation cells.  Rounding out “Publicity” is the film “How Disney Cartoons are Made,” essentially a featurette to get people excited for Snow White.

Ending the supplements on the disc is “Vintage Audio,” which offers three radio broadcasts of premieres, seven radio spots, and two songs: “The Silly Song,” and the deleted “You’re Never Too Old to Be Young.”

Phew!  No more…Snow White…please… 

Summary:

An indelibly great film has finally come to DVD that features one of the best restorations I’ve seen, countless hours of supplements, and a twenty-dollar price tag to boot!  This one is a complete steal and a must have for any collector.  HIGHLY Recommended.