Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)


Some of the rejected dwarf names included Gloomy, Shifty and Awful. Sneezy was a last-minute replacement for a dwarf named Deefy.

First out of the Disney canon is, of course, Snow White. The Brothers Grimm story of the beautiful young princess whose only offence was being considered more beautiful than the Queen reportedly resonated with a young Walt, who was determined to use the tale to showcase the beauty of animation.

Production began in 1934. Walt estimated the film could be made for $250,000. Costs quickly ballooned to almost $1.5-million by the time it was released in December, 1937 — a staggering price for a film made in the midst of deep depression. But, as we all now know, the film was hailed as a technical and commercial success, proving animated films could be beautiful art and launching a string of some of the most beloved cinematic achievements in film history. According to Box Office Mojo, the film’s run grossed over $66-million, which has since grown to a lifetime gross of more than $184-million. In 1938, the film was awarded an Oscar for its technical achievements despite the Academy’s lack of a category for animation. Famously, the film was given one regular-sized statuette and seven miniature ones to mark the special occasion.

Walt Disney was not unlike what we know of the late-Apple CEO Steve Jobs: obsessed with perfection and able to use the latest technology to push the limits of his art. When the technology to achieve his vision wasn’t available, Walt created it. It’s no surprise, then, that Jobs’s Pixar — the modern film company doing the same thing — makes direct reference to Snow White in its corporate mission statement.

The way the film looks is equally important to sound, plot and character, something Walt understood well. Films prior to Snow White had a flat look. The entire scene moved past the camera at the same speed. It reduced the sense of depth and the immersion a film can provide all at the expense of the audience’s experience.

Disney’s solution was to invent the multiplane camera. It allowed animators to create four different layers within the shot of a film and move them past the camera at different speeds. It created an effect of depth that no other film in the world could boast.

Walt was an innovator in many ways. This is something we were lucky enough to witness first hand while visiting Epcot in Walt Disney World this past September.

The story remains one of the simplest in the canon. The art is quietly beautiful, the animals don’t talk, the songs are straight forward and even the titular character’s face is more a splash of water colour than any of the princesses that would become part of the company’s post-1985 renaissance. But despite the apparent simplicity of its surface, the deep technological contributions keep Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs among one of Disney’s — both the company and the man — crowning achievements.

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8 thoughts on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

  1. […] The New York Times said that while the film doesn’t stack up to the greats like Bambi or Snow White, The Rescuers is ”a reminder of a kind of slickly cheerful, animated entertainment that has […]

  2. […] mashup compares scenes from “The Phoney King of England” sequence with scenes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Jungle Book and The […]

  3. […] Walt didn’t know the meaning of failure or setback, and for those reasons became an iconic vision of the American industrialist. Indeed, Walt’s beloved Mickey Mouse wasn’t born overnight. First came Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1927, whose shorts were distributed through Universal Pictures. While Oswald starred in 26 cartoons over the years, copyright complications led Walt to part ways with the rabbit. (Oswald, of course, has been welcomed back into the Disney fold in 2006 after the company bought the rights to the character from NBC and he was re-introduced to fans in the 2010 Disney video game Epic Mickey.) Not deterred by his loss, Walt and his longtime friend Ub Iwerks immediately began work on a new character. In 1928, Mickey Mouse and his girlfriend Minnie made their public debut in the animated short Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon to feature synchronized sound. Mickey became a smashing success leading to the Silly Symphonies series and eventually Walt pushed the boundaries of innovation again with his first full-length animated feature: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. […]

  4. […] of the film was almost universally positive. Audiences couldn’t help but compare it to Snow White. After all, how many times can a beautiful young princess draw the ire of a fearsome witch, fall in […]

  5. […] story development was, to say the least, complicated. In 1937, after Snow White‘s smashing success and while Walt was ramping up production on his next efforts, he was […]

  6. […] It’s a simple tale; a girl who, after the death of her father, is forced to serve her new stepmother and sisters, attends a ball, meets a prince and falls in love. While many assume Cinderella is the story of a girl who can’t stop dreaming of a prince coming to her rescue, it’s really not. What struck me most during this particular viewing is how much it is simply the story of a girl whose greatest dream is to be happy. That famous lyric — “A dream is a wish your heart makes” — never once mentions a prince or a husband. For a film maker who was utterly obsessed with the American Dream (see: Disney World’s Carousel of Progress for further proof) and for a film released amidst the rising prevalence of the term ‘nuclear family,’ this is actually quite a breath of progressive fresh air. Walt (and those who would run the company after him) never had a problem altering a classic story to fit their own definition of family entertainment (Ariel lives at the end of The Little Mermaid; Bambi’s species was changed from a roe deer to a white-tailed deer), making this plot point all the more extraordinary. And while she does meet and fall in love with a prince, it’s a prince who remains nameless because this isn’t a man’s story. It’s a refreshing contrast to Walt’s first princess, someday-my-prince-will-come Snow White. […]

  7. […] It’s a simple tale; a girl who, after the death of her father, is forced to serve her new stepmother and sisters, attends a ball, meets a prince and falls in love. While many assume Cinderella is the story of a girl who can’t stop dreaming of a prince coming to her rescue, it’s really not. What struck me most during this particular viewing is how much it is simply the story of a girl whose greatest dream is to be happy. That famous lyric — “A dream is a wish your heart makes” — never once mentions a prince or a husband. For a man who was utterly obsessed with the American Dream (see: Disney World’s Carousel of Progress for further proof) and for a film released amidst the rising prevalence of the term ‘nuclear family,’ this is actually quite a breath of progressive fresh air. Walt (and those who would run the company after him) never had a problem altering a classic story to fit their own definition of family entertainment (Ariel lives at the end of The Little Mermaid; Bambi’s species was changed from a roe deer to a white-tailed deer), making this plot point all the more extraordinary. And while she does meet and fall in love with a prince, it’s a prince who remains nameless because this isn’t a man’s story. It’s a refreshing contrast to Walt’s first princess, someday-my-prince-will-come Snow White. […]

  8. Ryan W Isenor says:

    A huge undertaking guys, but something that will be very rewarding. The technical achievements alone will provide a wealth of information to your posts. Sleeping Beauty being the first animated feature to use technirama 70 widescreen, the reissue of musical scores between Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, needless to say, I could go on!

    Excited for the next posts and happy to hear you are sticking to official cannon.

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