Note – a review copy was provided by the studio.
Anyone with an interest in comics and animation needs to see Snow White at least once. Released in 1937, Snow White was the first full-length animated movie ever produced. The field of animation was still new, and still dominated by funny animal shorts at the time. Releasing a full-length animated movie was outrageous enough, but having it star a realistic human character, a subject the artists had absolutely no experience animating, was simply unthinkable. Animating the movie took around four years, and the budget went well over three times the amount Walt Disney predicted. If the movie had failed, it’s hard to imagine what exactly would’ve happened to the fledgling animation industry. Luckily, it went on to become one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Aside from being the first animated movie, Snow White was also the first film to have its soundtrack released as an album, the first movie to be rereleased on a regular schedule (a practice Disney started a few years later when WWII severely cut into the company's cashflow), and the first film to be scanned digitally and returned to film in the early ‘90s. The success of the movie also gave MGM the confidence to produce the Wizard of Oz, and the innovative cinematography directly influenced Citizen Kane a few years later.
Disney, for obvious reasons, wants you to know that this movie is historic, which is why the new “Diamond Edition” DVD/Blu-ray is filled with documentaries and featurettes on the production. The audio commentary comes from the 2001 DVD release, which features annotations from animation historian John Canemaker, and clips from various Walt Disney interviews conducted over the course of thirty years. Disney’s comments are surprisingly candid, even though he maintains a cheerful demeanor regardless of the subject (he blithely claims that he only has $3,000 in his bank account during one recording, because he’s put so much of his money into the Disney empire). Aside from revealing little tidbits, such as the fact that Snow White’s makeup is real rouge that was actually painted on to the cells, Disney divulges that he grew to hate (and he uses that word more than once) Snow White, because critics set it up as an impossible standard for his other films to meet.
Watching the movie, it’s hard to believe that something made during the Great Depression could look so vivid and spotless. The restored colors are fairly bright, which is ironic considering that Disney wanted the movie to have a muted color palate because he didn’t know if the audience would accept over an hour of bright colors. The story moves along extremely fast, and rarely tries to oversell a joke or visual gimmick. The character of the Prince is barely even in the film, because Disney and the animators realized early on the guy was basically deadweight. You might not find the story of an exiled princess befriending seven wacky dwarfs particularly inspired, but the striking visuals and overall sincerity of the production are engaging. Aside from its historic significance, the movie’s strong enough to compare to any modern animation project, which is remarkable. One hundred years after its release, people will still be watching this movie.