Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs [Blu-ray]

Disney just purchased Marvel for something in the neighborhood of 11 jillion dollars. How do they come up with that much money if they aren’t some sort of meth dealer? They go into their special “vault” and re-release an old-timey movie like, oh, I dunno, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for what must be the 38th time. This time they call it a “Diamond Edition” (since they already did a “Platinum Edition” a few years ago) and they do the whole Blu-ray, HD, digital-restoration thing and add a bunch of new extras, plus a few recycled gems. The most annoying thing is that it all works like a charm. This is a great release…dammit. For many years, I’ve been operating under the assumption that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is overrated. It was at the top of a list of the greatest animated films of all time by the American Film Institute, for example. Ahead of Beauty and the Beast, Iron Giant, The Incredibles, etc., etc., etc. I’ve always liked it, but figured it was more the fact that it was the first full-length animated film more than it’s actual greatness that would put it on top of lists like that. While I still don’t see it as the greatest of all time, after re-watching it, I realize that I’ve been misjudging it; it’s awesome.

The plot is both pretty simple and very well known. In a fairy-tale kingdom, a truly bad-ass Wicked Queen (voiced by Lucille La Verne) wants to be the “fairest of them all.” Her magic mirror lets on that Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) is going to claim this mythical title. She, naturally, orders her death, so Snow White flees to the forest, where she comes across the cottage of seven mining dwarfs, each with their personality wrapped up in their name. Snow White bonds with Doc, Grumpy, Dopey, Sneezy, and the rest, and when the Queen shows up with a poisoned apple, the boys come to her rescue. There’s also a personality-challenged prince and a happy ending.

Prior to this, cartoons were just short, slapstick-heavy affairs to generate laughs. There are laughs aplenty in this movie, courtesy of the Dwarfs and some of Snow White’s animal friends helping with her cleaning (a scene I can’t watch anymore without humming the “Happy Working Song” from Enchanted.) Beyond the laughs, though, is a scary story with a lot of tension. The Hunter is supposed to cut out Snow White’s heart with a knife; that’s pretty hard core. As the disguised Queen offers Snow White the apple with the Dwarfs racing to stop her, you’ll still hope they get there in time.

Of course, there is also beautiful, hand-drawn animation that is, seen in remastered high definition, stunning to behold. Yes, technical advances have a way of making older films seem “quaint,” but in Snow White’s case, the “quaint” look is still top level and contains a high level of depth, scope, and detail. Most of the animators who went on to animate Disney’s “golden age” of films were involved in this first effort. The style matches perfectly with the voice work and music, which, not surprisingly, is in keeping with Nelson Eddy/Jeanette McDonald musicals of the era.

I usually hate to go along with marketing material, but this is advertised as “the one that started it all,” and truer words were never spoken. It’s beautiful, magical, fun – really everything an animated film should be. Not as good as The Incredibles or Beauty and the Beast, mind you, but pretty damn good. There is no other way to characterize the Blu-ray Diamond Edition release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs besides…wow! I mean, wow! You get everything a Disney nut or Disney nut-in-training could possibly want. Although it’s diminished by some dumb games and the like, most of the extras are the kind that will entrance parents while still being somewhat interesting to the kiddos.

Although this is a two-disc Blu-ray release, the collection comes with a DVD version of the film on the third disc, as well. Oddly, the Blu-ray version is available in both a Blu-ray box and a DVD box. Perhaps people want uniform boxes even after switching over to Blu-ray for their collection. Or maybe it’s a way of getting unsuspecting purchasers to grab a Blu-ray-DVD combo rather than the DVD-only set. Of course, maybe I’m being a little cynical there.

The picture and sound quality of this release is superb. I really have nothing bad to say about either, and while a 70-year-old film can only look so good, it looks very, very good. The film was released in a 4-to-3 aspect ratio so on a widescreen television, so there are black bars on each side of the screen. If that bothers you, you can watch the film in “DisneyVision,” which adds hand painted borders to the screen, filling up the whole screen without having to stretch the picture. The borders blend pretty well with each scene, but they aren’t perfect, and you do notice them. I prefer the black borders.

The special commentary on the disc is from Walt Disney himself. That’s right, he’s risen from the dead to watch the movie and comment upon it. Actually, old recordings of Walt are interspersed and “beefed up” by commentary from animation historian John Canemaker. Walt’s comments are obviously not directed at specific scenes from the film, so you get more general information from him with more specific information from Canemaker. Altogether it works well, it doesn’t take the place of people who worked on the film watching and commenting on it. But since that’s a practical impossibility until time travel is perfected next year, this is the next best thing.

The feature disc also includes a music video of a current Disney Channel prodigy massacring an execrable version of “Some Day My Prince Will Come.” It is the worst thing in the entire package. Less said the better. There are also four games that primarily will appeal to the younger fans in the household. One allows them to answer questions in order to be identified as a Disney princess. Can’t I already do this on Facebook? The others are a picture-guessing game, a way to upload your face into the actual movie, and a jewel-movement game.

After the commentary, the most interesting things on the feature disc are two deleted scenes. Both are partially animated, with the vocal/music track included. One is soup-eating with the dwarfs, and the other is them building a bed. Together they last about 11 minutes. The disc also includes some sketches and the deleted scenes cobbled together for a possible sequel short planned (and then shelved) by Walt Disney called Snow White Returns. It’s interesting to see the sketches and hear the general plot, but when the sketches and rough animation are put together with narration, it’s pretty boring. The completed product would have been better, but it doesn’t have much zip when it’s being narrated in such a matter-of-fact way.

The centerpiece of the release is on the bonus disc and is titled “Hyperion Studios.” The “studio” houses about 50 interviews, short clips, picture galleries, mini-documentaries, and cartoon shorts all related to Snow White or early animation development. It’s a real treasure trove. Although it can be tough to navigate, there are some helpful menus if moving from room to room in the “Studio” gets too tiresome. Each “room” is titled “Story Room,” “Music Room,” “Ink and Paint,” “Walt’s Office,” etc. Once you enter the room, there are four or five specific items to watch that relate to that general theme. Included are classic cartoons like “Steamboat Mickey” and “Skeleton Dance,” among others. You can literally spend hours and hours with the material. It’s really amazing the amount of stuff in there. The capstone is a featurette called “The One that Started it All,” which spends 17 minutes on the place of Snow White in Disney and animation history. This short film can also be accessed separately from the “Hyperion Studios” material.

The bonus disc supplements the “Hyperion Studios” information with “Classic DVD Bonus Content,” or, more accurately, “Recycled Bonus Content.” This material was apparently also part of the “Platinum Edition” release in 2001. It includes the 36-minute “Disney Through the Decades,” which includes all of the trailers for the many Snow White theatrical releases. Also included is a six-minute documentary on the voice talent used in the movie, a game, and the ability to do karaoke to “High Ho.”

Although the usual handful of trailers for upcoming movies are included, the set also provides the first six minutes of the next Disney release, The Princess and the Frog, with an introduction that emphasizes its hand-drawn animation. The first three minutes are finished product, while the final three minutes are rough animation. Overall, the style looks like Lady and the Tramp, and there isn’t enough in the first six minutes to get a sense of either the tone or quality of the movie.

This is a disc any Disney animation fan will want to own. The quality of the picture and sound, combined with the extras, means even a smart-ass like me is left with little to criticize. Pick it up.