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|Kevin Krock, editor|
"The one that started it all."
That is how the Walt Disney Company currently describes Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but it could also be called, "The one that might have ended it all." While Snow White was probably one of Walt Disney’s greatest accomplishments and personal triumphs, but it was also one of his greatest gambles.
In 1937, the very idea of a 90-minute cartoon was laughable by most critics of the time and many called Snow White "Disney’s folly." Contrarily, Walt insisted that he knew his public, and he expected that, done correctly, people would sit, watch, and emotionally relate to the moving drawings on the screen. Walt literally bet the studio and everything he had on the movie’s success, and upon its debut in December of 1937, the public and critics duly rewarded Walt and his stable of brilliant artists.
Snow White was the highest grossing box-office draw in 1938, and it proved that animation could successfully be used as a forceful storytelling tool. The critical and monetary success not only saved the studio but also fueled a family entertainment legacy.
For over sixty years, this movie has delighted both young and old, and it is the perfect choice for the premier Platinum Edition DVD release. I will not belabor the story of Snow White, since I am pretty certain you have seen the movie or read the story at some point in your life. Instead, I will focus my attention on the astounding collection of supplemental material that puts this landmark film into the historical context it deserves.
In early 2000, Disney announced their Platinum Edition DVD program, but it was a bit of an unknown entity because no details were given. Essentially, Disney selected ten classic movies, of which Snow White was the first, and over the next ten years, one title will be released annually on DVD as a very special edition.
Each Platinum DVD was initially expected to include a definitive collection of artwork, featurettes, commentaries, etc., but accurate estimates of content were reserved until earlier in 2001 when Disney formally announced the Snow White DVD. At the time, the vague list of features looked encouraging, but as you can see from the final feature list in the sidebar, the combination of the extensive bonus material and the "immersive" user experience make for an impressive and ambitious benchmark for all future Platinum Edition DVDs.
Because of the sheer volume of bonus material between the two discs, I only have the space to highlight the more significant items.
The Guided Tour – It is a handy and quick summary of all of the features on the disc. It makes for good introductory material for those folks who are unfamiliar with the possibilities of DVD. If you are an old DVD pro, it may not be of too much interest, especially if you like to explore a disc on your own.
"Some Day My Prince Will Come" sung by Barbra Streisand – I have never been a big fan of Barbra’s music, and the remake of this song did not change my mind. I know that there are a lot of Streisand fans out there, and you may enjoy this more than me. However, if for some reason I get the urge to listen to "Some Day..." outside of the context of the movie, I would rather just chapter skip through the movie to watch and listen to the original.
"Still The Fairest of Them All: The Making Of Snow White" – This 40-minute documentary is a wonderful resource for animation fans. I ended up being totally sucked into this documentary, and there is a lot of fascinating background information that I had never heard before. The show covers everything from Walt’s original story sessions to the extraordinary efforts of the restoration team, and some of the clips and photos have never been released before.
"Dopey’s Wild Mine Ride" Game – I am not usually a big fan of set-top DVD games, but I found this one reasonably interesting. Essentially, you help Dopey through a series of tasks and challenges in order to save Snow White from the Wicked Queen. The environments are completely 3D rendered, much like the set-top game on the Dinosaur DVD.
Audio Commentary – I am a pretty big audio commentary fan, and over the past couple of years I have heard a bunch of them – some good, some bad. When the Fantasia DVD was released in late 2000, I was fascinated by the audio commentary by none other than Walt Disney himself. Culled and assembled from hours of archive recordings, the commentary provided a wonderfully unique look at how Walt conceived and developed Fantasia.
Since that time, I have always hoped that Disney would put together similar commentaries for other classic films that Walt personally touched, and my wish was granted on the Snow White DVD. This commentary is very similar to the Fantasia one, including the informative contextual comments by film historian John Canemaker, and I found listening to Walt talk about Snow White equally, if not more, informative and fascinating. There were a couple of spots that seemed a bit slow or disconnected from a particular scene, but these are few and far between and do not detract from the overall experience.
THE QUEEN’S CASTLE – VIRTUAL GALLERIES & MORE
On most DVDs, development art is usually displayed as a series of thumbnail pictures that can be selected to view the full image. It is functional, but kind of boring. Additionally, most of the art is displayed without any explanation of its significance or context. In a fun departure from the norm, the development galleries for Snow White are placed in a 3-D rendered model of the Queen’s castle, and you move around the castle and view the artwork on the walls. Some of the artwork even has a brief narration that can be played. The contents of the galleries are similar to all others, but the presentation is very cool and different.
A couple of other additions of note to this area are a pair of excerpts from two Disney television shows, "The Story Of The Silly Symphony" and "Tricks of Our Trade." Both clips focus on the "Multiplane Camera," the breakthrough animation instrument developed the Disney Studio. The special camera allowed for far more depth perception in animation than was previously available. The clips are nice, but I really wish Disney had just put both of the shows on the disc in their entirety, but maybe they have plans to do that in one of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD collections. I certainly hope so, because it is a pity that these classic behind-the-scenes television shows have been chopped up into short chunks that disrupt the interesting continuity developed within the individual shows. I guess we will have to wait and see.
THE QUEEN’S DUNGEON – ABANDONED CONCEPTS
With Walt in command of the film’s story helm, he had very specific ideas about how the story should be constructed to keep it moving along. Along the way, the story team developed ideas that simply did not fit into the direction Walt wanted to take the film, so they were dropped. Several of those, including an alternate version of how Snow White meets the Prince and a "fantasy" version of "Some Day My Prince Will Come," have been reconstructed from their original storyboards. They are interesting to watch and to see how they would definitely not fit in with the final version of the story.
In addition to the abandoned concepts, this section boasts a nice featurette on the extensive restoration that was undertaken to return Snow White to its original condition. The effort involved not only cleaning up scratch and dust marks but also dealing with years of discoloration. The digital restoration has been an ongoing project for several years, and it has even involved consultations with studio veterans who worked on the original film. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who animated Snow White, were brought in to ensure the restored images were as close to the original as possible. Seeing what was involved will make you appreciate just how challenging this effort was and how wonderful the end result looks.
THE DWARFS’ MINE – RARE TREASURES
Every movie has at least a few deleted scenes, but animated movies are usually very tightly constructed before any animation takes place. While is generally true with Snow White, there were a few scenes which had progressed fairly far along before Walt decided that the needed to be pulled. Fortunately, these scenes have been preserved, and now we can watch these partially to fully animated scenes, including "The Witch At The Cauldron," "Music In Your Soup," "The Dwarfs’ Bedroom Argument," and "Building A Bed For Snow White."
One of my absolute favorite bonuses on this disc is a section called "Disney Through the Decades." This program presents an overview of the Walt Disney Studios from the 1930’s to the present in decade chunks, and it provides a fairly engrossing insight into the events that have helped shaped The Walt Disney Studios. Here is a rundown of the various sections, as provided in the press kit:
While I enjoyed the segments a lot, some of them just seemed too short. Granted, they had to keep things brief to get all of them to fit on the disc, but there were several video clips that I would have loved to see more of, such as early development footage of the PeopleMover. Maybe someday Disney will expand on the idea and produce a full DVD with a more comprehensive overview of the company’s history. For now, though, this will do just fine.
THE DWARFS’ COTTAGE – WONDER OF AN ERA GONE BY
This section contains a huge amount of archive material, most from the original theatrical release. There are a couple of newsreel clips of the Hollywood premiere at the Carthay Circle Theater, and there are a number of still art galleries with photographs of original Snow White merchandise, poster art, press kits, premiere photographs, and production photos.
The section also includes a pair of vintage black and white shorts, "A Trip Through the Walt Disney Studios" and "How Disney Cartoons Are Made." The first one is a rarely seen short made exclusively by Disney for RKO exhibitors before Snow White was completed, and the second is a revised edition of the first which was shown publicly as the first trailer for Snow White.
Finally, there are a number of audio-only supplements including interviews, radio spots, and the deleted song "You’re Never Too Old To Be Young. It is a great collection, and it is certainly worth your time to check them out.
As a package, this is a fantastic assemblage of material that provides a comprehensive historical context for one of Walt Disney’s seminal works. There is a little bit of everything, and everyone in the family should be able to find something that interests them. To top it off, all of this stuff is displayed in a very user-friendly fashion that is perfect for folks new to the format but not too simplistic for old pros.
The Video, Audio and Interface
With the movie completely remastered for DVD, the movie transfer is pretty amazing when compared to previous versions. Tens of thousands of frames were digitally cleaned to remove the scratches and dirt that had accumulated over the years, and then the digital files were passed through a film grain elimination process that removed almost all the of grain artifacts that have been obvious on previous releases. The transfer to DVD was performed using the original digital files, so the image you see at home is about the best you are going to see.
The audio has also been completely restored. Utilizing patented noise reduction technology, the audio tracks were meticulously restored to levels unheard of since the original recordings. Then, the tracks were remastered to create a 5.1 channel mix, but steps were taken to ensure that the original integrity of the soundtrack remained. The end result is a very clean and well-balanced sound that should sound great on any system.
To round out this impressive collection of audio and video, Disney has produced a user interface that ought to please just about everyone. Upon putting either disc in your player, the Magic Mirror will great you and describe your options. This animated host concept is unique and a boon to new DVD users, and fortunately, it does not usually get in the way of more advanced viewers.
The Final Evaluation
I am going to keep this very simple: You can find this DVD for $20 - $25 at a number of outlets, and at that price you should not miss this. The movie is an absolute classic of film and animation. The audio and video transfers are better than they have ever been, the user interface is unique and fun for all levels of viewers, and the bonus material is extensive and right on the mark.
As I mentioned previously, this package sets an ambitious benchmark for all future Disney Platinum DVD releases, and I look forward the Fall of 2002 when Beauty and the Beast is due to hit the streets.
A 3-D animated map initially displays five lands to explore. The Mirror will reveal the contents of each land as you navigate over them with your remote, orr you can simply view a standard menu listing of the entire contents of Disc Two. The five lands are:
SNOW WHITE’S WISHING WELL (HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT)
THE QUEEN’S CASTLE (VIRTUAL GALLERIES & MORE)
THE QUEEN’S DUNGEON (ABANDONED CONCEPTS)
THE DWARFS’ MINE (RARE TREASURES)
THE DWARFS’ COTTAGE (WONDER OF AN ERA GONE BY)
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