In one of the 1937 film's most memorable songs, Snow White sings I'M WISHING . . . I'm wishing . . . for someone to love. But if you're wanting a High-Def upgrade to love, be careful what you wish for. You can't just put "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray" on your Christmas or birthday list and consider the matter all but settled. That's because the normally market-savvy Disney has muddied the waters a bit with this release, offering Blu-ray and DVD combo packs in both DVD keep-case packaging and the blue jewel cases that Blu-rays come in--though each package contains the same three discs (the film and bonus features on DVD, the feature on Blu-ray, and a third Blu-ray disc full of additional bonus features).
But that's about the only negative associated with this release.
We call it the House of Mouse, but just ask any little Disney Princess who started it all, and they'll tell you: Snow White. In truth, Mickey probably has to share the credit for launching an empire with the Fairest One of All. "Snow White" was a big gamble: the first animated feature film produced in the United States. Though it would become the template for all Disney animated feature films to follow, "Snow White" was a struggle to produce. Even Walt Disney's brother and business partner, Roy, was opposed to the project, and Hollywood gossips called the film "Disney's Folly--in part because Disney had to mortgage his house to fund the production. He wagered everything he owned on the idea that animation could be more than an amusing cartoon short, and that done right it would appeal to both adults and children. He was betting that audiences could become emotionally involved with cartoon characters whose lives were threatened and whose love lives blossomed.
Of course, the gamble paid off. "Snow White" received a special Oscar consisting of one regular sized one and seven smaller statues, and it became the first American film to have a soundtrack simultaneously released. Until "Gone with the Wind" came along two years later, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" held the crown of top-grossing film. And it still holds up well. In 1989 it became the first animated film to make it into the National Film Registry, while in 1997 it was named one of the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest American Films and topped that organization's list of animated films in 2008. It's enduring popularity was reinforced when more than a million copies were sold the first day that it was available on a Platinum Edition DVD back in 2001.
Now it's on Blu-ray, and considering the age of the film, the old girl doesn't look a day over 20. That's what a little fairytale magic and a 1080p facial can do for a character's vitality. While the DVD looks marvelous, the Blu-ray is close to flawless, considering the film's age and source elements. Some of he colors look as if they came from a storybook with watercolor illustrations, while others have the warmth of the forest scenes or dazzle like the diamond-mining scene. And the songs? Before Mary Poppins sang about making work fun, here was beautiful Snow White and her animal helpers tidying up the Dwarfs' filthy cabin and singing "Whistle While You Work," or the Dwarfs themselves displaying a lunch-bucket work ethic as they sing "Heigh-Ho." But for sheer romance it's hard to top "Some Day My Prince Will Come," or the wishing well song, "I'm Wishing." Of course, in this day and age of locked doors and stranger avoidance, the Prince seems a little like a stalker hearing her sing, scaling the wall into her private castle garden, and then peering over her shoulder as he sings along with her . . . then has the nerve to ask if he startled her. A few elements like that seem comically dated, but the heart and soul of this production remains the heart and soul of the Disney brand and message: believing in miracles, dreaming of a better life, and working hard in the meantime with an attitude that out-glads Pollyanna. The world may have changed, but little would-be princesses still dream of meeting that special prince some day. Heck, who am I kidding? Guys have that fantasy too, only they're too busy doing the manly one-armed hug and raising a beer mug with the other to admit it.
It's fascinating to see, too, how the Disney formula quickly evolved with this very first production, offering audiences a film that had romance, comedy, moments of terror, a strong villain (and the Wicked Queen becomes as creepy as any villain when she turns into that warty-old hunchbacked apple-peddler), a tear for every smile, and a happy ending to give viewers a satisfying pay-off. From the very beginning Disney's belief in intricate details was also evident, and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" has all the craftsmanship of the period in which its set--a time when every village the Brothers Grimm wrote about seemed to look like a Christmas village. In Blu-ray you start to notice details that you might have missed in other versions, and that's all part of the fun.
When "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was first released, censors were worried that the forest scene in which the huntsman raises his knife to kill Snow White and also the spooky forest and final chase scene with the animals, Dwarfs, and witch might be too scary for young viewers. And children under seven may still instinctively cover their eyes. But a little parental reassurance can go a long way.
Disney based his film on the Brothers Grimm version, which was the first too feature the magic mirror and the seven dwarfs, but of course he took a few liberties with Schneewittchen, as the German text was called. The most noticeable is that Disney named the Dwarfs and gave them each personalities to match. And instead of having the Queen punished by making her dance in a pair of heated iron shoes until she drops dead (which seems a lot like torture), Disney opted for a less cruel ending, one in which the Queen herself has a hand. And, of course, once the Queen takes matters into her own hands when she realizes, courtesy of that mirror, that the fairest of them all still lives in the woods, and gets Snow White to take a bite from a poisoned apple, not nearly as much time passes as in the fairytale before Prince Charming shows up. Maybe the censors took all of that into consideration, because compared to those Grimm's Fairy Tales, the Disney version is much kinder and gentler. And it remains one of the fairest animated films of all.
Interior and dark forest scenes really come to life with rich color intensity, while long shots of the forest and brighter garden scenes have the airiness of watercolors, with black levels not quite as strong. But the constants throughout are the level of detail and an ultra-thin layer of film grain that adds texture rather than distraction, because there's no noise to speak of in the backgrounds or negative space. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer appears to be a good one, as I saw no ghosts (well, the forest was spooky, but . . .), no halos, and no artifacting.
There are two ways to watch in 1080p: the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, or DisneyView, which is Disney's very clever solution to the problem of presenting "full screen" titles for a widescreen market. As with "Pinocchio," the original 1.37:1 film is framed by columnar illustrations that, for a title like this, produce the same sensation as one feels watching a puppet show or seeing a movie in a particularly ornate theater. I really like DisneyView because visually we've all grown so accustomed to watching movies in widescreen, and this solution pleases both the purists who want no stretched images and the casual viewers who want the visual continuity of images sprawling across the entire screen.
The audio presentation also offers choices for the purist and home theater enthusiast. You can choose to watch the DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio with its full use of surround-sound speakers, or stick with a cleaned-up and restored original Mono. Both tracks are pleasing, but rear-channel fans should be warned that while there is constant activity, the effects are muted so that the sonic focal point remains the center action. It's also not as dynamic as some of the better contemporary soundtracks, but here too I have to conclude that it was an aesthetic decision rather than a shortcoming. Though it may look fantastic, "Snow White" remains a product of 1937, and to tinker too much with the soundtrack may well have created an incongruity, given what we see on the screen--the style of animation, the beautifully restored but still dated-looking visuals. I think that whoever put together the sound mixes made the right call. An additional audio option is the Spanish 5.1 DEHT restored original theatrical soundtrack, which is in itself an artifact, with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Call me old-fashioned, but it gives me a chill (and a pleasant one, I might add) to hear Walt Disney's voice on the old DVD commentary track with John Canemaker handling the bulk of the narration. This is history. And I have to say that I also truly enjoyed the opening six minutes from The Princess and the Frog which was introduced by directors Ron Clements and John Musker, who work from a script that still can't hide their enthusiasm for the film or their decision to return to hand-drawn and inked cells. This is history-in-the-making, with Disney offering the first African-American princess at a time when the first African-American princess-wannabes are in the White House. The only other bonus feature on the DVD is a music video ("Some Day My Prince Will Come") by Tiffany Thornton ("Sonny with a Chance").
On the Blu-ray with the feature film, there's an HD version of Thornton's music video, three new games ("Jewel Jumble," ""What Do You See," and "Mirror Mirror on the Wall") that kids will warm to, and roughly 10 minutes of deleted scenes that are actually quite fascinating to see, given the iconic nature of the film. There's also an HD version of "The Princess and the Frog" preview, an under 10-minute explanation of why there was no sequel, and, if you're into BD-Live, a thing called "Scene Stealer.
On the second Blu-ray disc there's a new feature, "The One That Started It All," that gives the back story on "Snow White" and explores its legacy. That feature runs roughly 17 minutes, and is a pretty nice summation of the movie's power. Also on this disc is a "Disney through the Decades" round-up that appeared on an earlier DVD and runs just a little over a half-hour. Though it feels self-gratifying, there's some nice footage of the voice actress who handles the Snow White part (Adriana Caselotti). A carry-over from the DVD is the "Dopey's Wild Mine Ride" game that makes you choose which tunnel to careen through, and a karaoke for "Heigh Ho." But the best feature (though one of the most frustrating, at first) is "Hyperion Studios," which collectively runs just under an hour. Personally, I'd rather watch the features concurrently, but Disney has broken them up into 13 "rooms" into which you must go to fetch snippets of narrative. I suppose it's supposed to be more "interactive" than pressing a button and watching all the features, but come on, aren't we getting a little carried away with the notion and definition of "interactivity"?
Great movie, great treatment, but if you're particular about your collection, know that the combo pack is available in both DVD and Blu-ray packaging.