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Blu-ray Review: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Diamond Edition (1937)

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Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a landmark in cinema history for a number of reasons, most notably being the first feature-length animated film. It retells the Brothers Grimm fairytale about the princess Snow White and her wicked stepmother, known only as the Queen, who is so vain her desires to be the “fairest of them all” drive her to have Snow White killed. When the Huntsman given the task cannot bring himself to do it, he allows Snow White to run away into the woods and fools the Queen by giving her a pig’s heart.

Making her way through the scary-looking forest, Snow White stumbles upon the empty home of the Seven Dwarfs while they are off working in their diamond mine. With the help of animals, she spruces the place up and then falls asleep across a few beds. The Dwarfs return to find her asleep like Goldilocks. Although Grumpy is suspicious, they decide to let her stay. It seems the ideal arrangement until the Magic Mirror reveals the Huntsman’s ruse and the Queen decides to go after Snow White herself.

Snow White is a masterwork on mainly levels filled with iconic moments of animation and song that will forever endure. The Queen’s transformation into an old hag remains impressive. So is the chase sequence of the Dwarfs after the Queen, as exciting as any live-action film. Songs like “Heigh-Ho,” “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” and “Whistle While You Work” were so popular Snow White became the first film to release a soundtrack album. Many techniques used to create this film went on to become standards in the industry, such as the multiplane cameras to provide depth and animation techniques to create realistic-looking humans.

The Blu-ray does a great job presenting the film, although at times the high definition reveals limitations and there are some video issues with my copy that don’t appear to be widespread, so I may have gotten one from a bad batch.

From the opening storybook pages, the colors and sharp delineations of letters look fantastic as they pop off the white pages. The animation portion continues the strong representation of the images in the same, well-rendered manner. Reds and blacks are rich and vibrant throughout. The first scene in the Dwarfs’ diamond mine sparkles and the rain is palpable. The high definition brings out the depth in the shots created by the multiplane cameras. Textures drawn can be seen, but the high definition also reveals their absence, such as in the backgrounds from the use of watercolors.

I was surprised to see many flaws in the images. When first entering the diamond mine, Bashful and Sneezy briefly get double exposed in two different positions. Also, when the Queen asks the Hunter to provide Snow White’s heart, her eyes are out of focus, an issue that happens a number of other times throughout, including when the dwarfs first return home to find Snow White.

The audio is presented in 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and a restored original theatrical track. Other than the storm during the film’s climax, I didn’t notice much in the way of subwoofer. The surround doesn’t offer much in the way of ambiance and is mainly engaged for the music sequences, so there’s not much lost in choosing the original mono to recreate the 1937 experience.

The Diamond Edition offers a whole slew of features. An informed audio commentary by film historian John Canemaker is augmented by interviews with Walt Disney. The film can be watched in DisneyView, which compensates for the film’s 1.33:1 aspect ratio by filling in the screen with artwork by Tony Bluth that matches the scenes backgrounds.

Two deleted scenes from the film that may have been repurposed for a sequel that never materialized can be seen in “Snow White Returns” or on their own. The obligatory music video by one of their Disney Channel rugrats covering a classic song stars Tiffany Thorton with "Some Day My Prince Will Come." There are games for the kids. "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall" provides question to see what princess you are. Turns out I am most like Belle. "Jewel Jumble" is basically a version of Tetris and "What Do You See" provides obscured images from the film. Since their potential audience is at hand, Disney offers a sneak peek at their upcoming The Princess and the Frog.

Disc 2 continues the bounty of behind-the-scenes materials sure to drive amateur film historians and Disneyphiles wild. Not only does it cover the history of the film and its influence, but examines many aspects of the production, including the writers, music, art department, animation department, live action reference, ink and paint, camera department, and the sound stage. There is an extensive amount of galleries that look at storyboards, visual development, abandoned concepts, background, layout, animation art, live action reference, publicity, and production photos.

Many fans, if they don’t have them in their collection already, will be glad to discover the following Disney shorts in different sections on the disc: “Babes in the Woods,” “The Skeleton Dance,” “Music Land,” “Goddess of Spring,” “Playful Pluto,” “Flowers and Trees,” “The Old Mill,” and “Steamboat Willie.” Some of the work in these early shorts assisted in Snow White’s creation.

While many in Hollywood at the time called Snow White “Disney’s Folly” during its lengthy production, I would like to offer, as Walt does in the film’s credits, “my sincere appreciation to the members of [his] staff whose loyalty and creative endeavor made possible this production.” That also extends to the people who now continue to watch over its legacy.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS