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

Photo Slideshow

Now Available to Own on DVD & Blu-ray
(In Various Combo Packs & Limited Edition Sets)

Similar to your first day of school, the first time you rode your bike without training wheels and your very first crush-- more than any other studio in history-- it's your experiences and reactions to Walt Disney Studio's animated classics that play a significant part in your development. No matter where or when you were born, what language you speak, or how you may feel about the films or studio today, I truly believe that your relationship to the films from the House of Mouse have not only been ingrained in your memory but have also helped comprise your very personality.

Unlike the other animated cartoons we relished on Saturday mornings with characters who chased after one another in elaborately violent scenarios or the characters in comic books that made us want to develop super powers, the feature-length fairy tale adaptations and children's works served up by Disney hit us harder. For even without it being overt, the films made us ask "moral" questions of ourselves even before that word had entered our vocabulary and often without us even realizing it which aided in their value from a purely entertainment standpoint.

And while Bambi, Dumbo, and Pinocchio instantly come to mind, it's the first animated feature length film in American history-- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs-- which does this better than the rest. No doubt you remember the Evil Queen who wanted to kill the mistreated and beautiful Princess Snow White in her quest to become “the fairest one of all,” but watching it again as an adult makes you realize just how unlike other theoretical children's fare it was and still is to this day.

Admittedly, the plot at its core is simple enough to be summed up in a single sentence as Snow White hides out with the seven little dwarfs to play dead until the Queen poisons her before the handsome prince's kiss can awaken her from her comatose slumber. Yet as an aspiring live action director who became a struggling independent filmmaker and animator in his earliest days in Hollywood, Walt Disney always set his work apart by ensuring that you could apply the same techniques from live action films to animated ones.

It's this fundamental approach he used repeatedly to both the success and longevity of the movies and the way they've been able to reach each successive generation upon their re-release. Animated Disney classics are ageless and despite the fact that the princes and princesses were frequently portrayed as interchangeable one-dimensional types, Walt Disney adamantly believed that emotional character driven conflict and storytelling was the key which Snow White managed to unlock via the misconception that audiences would only be able to view animation in the familiar gag-a-minute short style.

And it was Disney's unwillingness to accept an untested thesis or give up by staying true to his unique vision to make the work that everyone predicted would be a folly into one of history's most beloved treasures. Disney films as a whole and especially Snow White manged to distinguish themselves by invoking empathy, sympathy, fear, delight, and the concepts of good and evil at their most primal, which was usually strengthened through music and humorously likable sidekicks to the same effect that made both live action and literature so popular.

In fact, I'd forgotten just how frightening the tale was as within the opening act, the ruthless Queen hired the Hunter to slay the young woman with a knife and bring back her heart in a box. Likewise, via this spectacular Blu-ray premiere-- even before I realized the visually restored awe of the work in high definition-- I was struck by Disney's daring and sophisticated decision of how to begin relaying the tale with the audacity to open with two full storybook pages that audience members must read aloud to the small children near them.

Basically the children's movie version of subtitles-- it's a technique that I seldom see in contemporary kiddie fare since the favored handling of it occurs via an obligatory voice over of a cartoon character reciting the lines to us or an official narrator to spoon-feed us everything. There's something just as magical as there is about animals helping Snow White clean up the home of the dwarfs as there is about a child seeing the letters onscreen and hoping to read them by themselves as if they were trapped inside a very good book.

While it'd be superfluous to critique the film on its own since it's still deservedly dubbed a masterpiece that was not only the first movie to have an accompanying soundtrack released for fans to purchase but also one of the first titles preserved by the Library of Congress' National Film Registry as well as the first “entirely scanned to digital file, restored and recorded back to film” effort in 1993.

In preparation for the release, I was fortunate enough to have taken part in an online webinar with a historian in the Disney Art Department to catch a glimpse of not only what this multi-disc combo pack Diamond Edition would entail but also some of the original sketches and diary entries archived by the company from the production process. Additionally, I was thrilled that so much of the facts shared in the online press meeting carried over into the extraordinary bonus features.

Yet the main draw for this edition is the beauty of the transfer itself with high definition picture and sound and, like Pinocchio the opportunity to watch it in Disney View which uses new artwork to fill in the sides of the full screen movie to fit your widescreen television since that format hadn't been invented yet. While it's a fun option to explore, much like Pinocchio and likewise every time I view an old film or listen to a mono CD, I always opt for the original source and went with the full screen presentation without Disney View.

The level of quality in the Blu-ray edition is apparent within moments as the intricately detailed static backgrounds remain crisp while the characters, trees or items chosen to animate simply pop to appreciate both the cell “sets” and efforts to humanize the distinct personalities of the cast including everyone's favorite (even screen legend Charlie Chaplin's)-- Dopey the dwarf who inspires pathos and delight in every scene.

Moreover, as it continued, I was amazed by how much work went into the remastered movie which again painstakingly cleaned up hundreds of thousands of individual stills from the source material by using the same color palette and methods to ensure it was a faithful presentation and not one that took advantage of modern technology to enhance it from the original vision just because they could.

While the edition I received for review consisted of 2 Blu-ray discs (one of the feature presentation and the second with copious special features) as well as a DVD copy in the studio's bestselling budget friendly multi-format combo packs, I was admittedly dismayed by the presentation of the extras on the second disc. Using cutting edge technology for the Magic Mirror to speak directly to you, knowing what you'd previously clicked on, I realized that unfortunately the documentary “The One That Started It All” was less than twenty minutes long.

While overall, the idea of the interactive Hyperion Studios Tour, which brought us through every stage and department with old photos, animation, and audio recordings was brilliant in theory, on the disc it's headache inducing and sure to be difficult for older and/or less tech-savvy viewers to navigate as well as those who would've preferred a smoother documentary flavor. Essentially, it's a set-up that would best be employed on a Pixar title and indeed is introduced by veteran Pixar director and animation buff Andrew Stanton.

Yet despite the index of “buildings” to move from, I kept wishing that a traditional behind-the-scenes documentary would've been used in keeping with the sophisticated classic and its time period rather than the “tour” scenario which necessitates you to click endless times with your remote, sometimes only after just one minute of audio.

Luckily, there's plenty of Walt Disney vintage history to soak in throughout including a Walt Disney audio track commentary hosted by John Canemaker plus additional games and BD-Live interactivity to engage the youngest viewers as well who will no doubt remember their experience with the dubbed “fairest one of all” as much as you did when you first saw it however many years ago that may have been.

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