Time is the ultimate critic.
What makes a classic? What makes people want to watch the same movie over and over, even makes people from one generation to the next want to watch it again and again? A timeless story no doubt helps, timeless characters, timeless dialogue, timeless music. Throw in timeless animation and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" becomes the very definition of a classic, having survived now over six decades as possibly the most-beloved movie cartoon of all time. Despite what you hear from Hollywood's PR mills, classics are not made overnight. They take time to ripen and mature, to bear up under the test and scrutiny of time. "Snow White" succeeds on all counts.
Walt Disney's 1937 production of "Snow White" has the distinction of being the world's very first full-length animated feature and the first one in color. (Disney had publicly introduced Technicolor in their 1932 short, "Flowers and Trees," so they were no strangers to the system.) But "Snow White" has more distinctions than that. It was not only the first of its kind, it's still among the best of its kind, one of the finest cartoons the screen has ever seen. Although we had to wait longer than we might have liked to see its arrival on DVD, it's good to note that the Disney folks did their best to beautifully remaster its picture and sound and to package it in a special two-disc edition that fully does it justice.
The film has a lot more going for it than most other animations, which probably accounts for its continued popularity among adults as well as children. Included in its favor is the glorious art work, still a standard of the industry. Notice not just the crispness and contours of the main figures and the fluidity with which they move but the detail of the background work as well. By the 1950s Disney artists had pretty much abandoned the kind of ultra-realistic scenic backdrops they had used in earlier productions, possibly because of the cost involved, a pity. Each cell in "Snow White" is a work of art unto itself.
Then there are the characters, so vivid in imagination: The beautiful, innocent, young girl, Snow White (voiced by eighteen-year-old Adriana Caselotti); the handsome and dashing Prince Charming; Snow White's evil stepmother, the Queen; and, last but not least, the delightful dwarfs. Could you name them all for a trivia contest? If you need reminding, they're Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Bashful, Happy, and Doc.
Then, there's the story itself, adapted from the old fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. It combines comedy, romance, adventure, terror, and thrills. And, I might add, it's more grisly than it first appears. I mean, we have a wicked villainess here who orders her huntsman to murder Snow White and cut out her heart! Finally, there are the immortal songs: "I'm Wishing," "With a Smile and a Song," "Whistle While You Work," "Heigh-Ho," "The Dwarf's Yodel Song," and, of course, "Some Day My Prince Will Come." It all adds up to a brief (only eighty-four minutes) but totally enchanting movie experience.
Needless to say, it wouldn't be half so unforgettable if it weren't for the gorgeous artwork, and the newly restored, THX-mastered DVD transfer is breathtaking. It was restored several times before, but never like this. Thanks to modern digital technology and high-definition video, every one of the over 118,000 frames in the movie has been cleaned and color corrected to its original, pristine purity. I daresay the picture quality is better today than it has ever been, including during its premiere projection in 1937. There isn't a smidgen of grain, a speck, a fleck, a line, or a flutter to be seen. This movie could have been made yesterday, and given the cleaning, brightening, and adjusting process it went through, it might just as well have been made yesterday.
Pressing on, there's the audio, which has also been cleaned and processed and is presented in both its original monaural and in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound remix. My wife thought it seemed a bit lean, bright, and rough, and she's right; it still isn't a twenty-first century sonic production. But it is among the best sound of its vintage I've ever heard. There is absolutely no background noise, the voices are clear, and the music, while lacking the last degree of realism in bass and dynamics, is nevertheless quite robust and natural. What's more, the DD 5.1 track provides more fullness than the original monaural by spreading the sound across the three front speakers and even directing a small amount of information to the rear channels, something a few recent films made in 5.1 haven't done as effectively.
The Disney folks tell us that there are literally thousands of images and countless pieces of artwork from "Snow White" floating around the studios that never made it into the finished product. So, what better place after all these years to display all this grand peripheral material than in a two-disc DVD set? Somewhat unfortunately for impatient users like me, however, the Disney engineers made the experience so "immersive," as they call it, it can be a chore to navigate through all the stuff. They finally resort to using to a twelve-page booklet insert to try to straighten things out. I didn't get through everything, but here's a brief rundown on what to expect.
Disc one contains the film itself, plus twenty-seven scene selections and the choice of English or French spoken languages. As bonuses, the first disc also contains a 1934 animated short "Goddess of Spring," which hints of "Snow White" and portions of "Fantasia" to come; a thirty-nine-minute documentary on the making of the film, "Still the Fairest of Them All," hosted by Angela Lansbury; a "Heigh-Ho" sing-along; and a cute set-top adventure game, "Dopey's Wild Mine Ride." But there are two other items of even greater distinction: a newly rendered version of "Some Day My Prince Will Come" by Barbra Streisand (in surround sound that's a bit overpowering); and, most important of all, a full-feature audio commentary by none other than Uncle Walt himself. How'd they do that? The Disney magicians pieced together recorded comments Walt had made about "Snow White" over the years, and together with more-recent narration they inserted these comments into the appropriate places in the film. Amazing.
Disc two is where it's really happening, though. It continues the animated menu format of the first disc, putting you into the Queen's castle and letting you choose from the Magic Mirror one or another of five general destinations. As an anxious adult, however, I favored the more straightforward navigation system the disc provides as an alternative, with just a single page of content to click on. The more interactive approach, I suppose, is the Disney people's way of never forgetting that kids are their bread and butter. Anyway, on disc two you'll find a wide assortment and many hours of goodies. The first area is "The Queen's Castle," wherein you'll find art design, visual development, layouts and backgrounds, camera work and tests, and voluminous notes on actual animation. The second area is "Snow White's Wishing Well," where you'll enjoy storyboard-to-film comparisons, biographical timelines for the movie's production and Walt Disney's life, plus the entire Grimm's fairy tale upon which the movie is based. The third area is "The Queen's Dungeon," where you'll learn about some abandoned concepts and hear about the film's restoration to DVD. The fourth area, "The Dwarf's Mine," was my favorite. It contains five deleted scenes in various stages of completion, including a delightful deleted song, "Music in Your Soup." The "Mine" also contains the original RKO opening and closing credits, and another historical section called "Disney Through the Decades." Finally, area five is called "The Dwarf's Cottage," and it includes most of the publicity and promotional work for the film, eight trailers through the years, premiere footage, radio broadcasts, and yet another deleted song, "You're Never Too Old To Be Young." All said, it's a grand assortment of bonus items befitting a grand motion-picture experience.
In closing, let me just remind you of what Snow White said as she waited patiently for the snapshots of her boyfriend to be developed: "Some day my prints will come." Sorta chokes you up, you know? Gad, I love this movie!