Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) remains one of the studio's most iconic animated films for two obvious reasons: (1) it's the first full-length production of its kind, and (2) it's still a lot of fun after almost 80 years. Though considered a huge gamble during its three-year development (enough so that Walt had to mortgage his house to help pay for ballooning production costs), the end result was a critical and commercial smash hit that cemented the studio's success for years to come. Serving up stunning hand-drawn animation with a European flair, effective use of the studio's new multi-plane camera technology, memorable music cues, and an accessible story for fans of all ages, Snow White is both a "total package" picture and and one of the studio's purest efforts. Not many films can be called an inspiration for MGM's later adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, but this is one of them.
There probably aren't many new to this production (or at least the characters in it), but first-time viewers---and those returning to Snow White for the first time in decades, of course---will immediately be struck by how incredibly simple the plot is, not to mention the slow but deliberate pacing that emphasizes visual gags and character interactions over quick cuts and non-stop action. Anyone can summarize Snow White in 50 words and leave nothing of consequence out; after all, we're talking about a film that devotes more than 10% of its 83-minute running time to depict the dwarfs washing up for dinner. Yet it's the film's visual prowess and memorable characters that make Snow White such a purely enjoyable experience, and not nearly as boring or sterile as I'm probably making it sound.
Being the first animated film---princess-driven or otherwise----in its now formidable back catalog, Snow White also kicked off a number of promotional tie-ins and traditions now considered commonplace for most big-screen productions, especially those aimed at children. The excellent music cues, both sung (penned by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey) and instrumental (penned by Paul Smith and Leigh Harline), birthed the first genuine "soundtrack album" and a handful of Top 10 hits. Other avenues of merchandising were also explored---including figurines that sold enormously well, even during the middle of a financial recession. It didn't end as the decade drew to a close, either: the studio re-released Snow White in theaters on eight separate occasions (the most recent being 1987), often during times of financial instability or to celebrate anniversary landmarks. Whether the practices it birthed are a boon or a blemish, Snow White is inarguably a landmark slice of American animation and a truly enjoyably work of art.
Like a few other titles in Disney's back catalog, Snow White was the recipient of a lavish Diamond Edition Blu-ray more than six years ago; in fact, it was so good that they haven't added much of interest to this new "Signature Edition". In fact, they've even taken away almost an entire disc's worth of bonus features, replacing them with a handful of mostly trivial curiosities. There's still some quality stuff here (and the A/V presentation is still mighty impressive, that's how good it was six years ago), but make no mistake about it: if you already have the Platinum Edition or can find a second-hand copy on the cheap, there's no compelling reason to pick this up. If you can live without the missing supplements, however, this is still a decent package for those who missed it the first time around.
Disney's previously issued Diamond Edition Blu-ray was one of the first of its classic titles to get the high definition treatment, and it met or exceeded the expectations of most fans. So don't get too upset that this appears to be the exact same transfer as that one, albeit one that's be re-encoded and compressed with slightly more content on a single disc. It's pretty much a toss-up as far as quality goes but, without question, this is a terrific looking disc that fans of all ages should enjoy looking at. The earthy color palette is deep and rich, image detail is strong and, most importantly, flagrant digital imperfections don't seem to be an issue here (its only "flaws", for lack of a better word, are inherent to the original production and aren't distracting at all). Also as before, viewers have the option of watching the film in "DisneyView" mode, which adds tasteful sidebar art by the late Toby Bluth that offers a more colorful experience while retaining the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. A nice touch, but I'm glad it's optional.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
Also identical to the last release, audio options include separate DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio and Dolby Digital 1.0 tracks, along with French and Spanish dubs. The 7.1 option might seem like overkill for a 1937 film, animated or otherwise, but this is a tasteful and effective remix that adds strong channel separation, light rear effects, and a nice amount of low end when the situation demands it. Don't get me wrong: I'd probably pick the original 1.0 mix if forced to choose (even though it's not lossless for whatever reason), but it's certainly nice to have both options. Purists will flock to the original 1.0 mix too, and for good reason: it's still clear as a bell, with crisp dialogue and music cues to boot. Either way, this is a fine sonic presentation that fans should really appreciate. Optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are included during the main feature and all appropriate extras, which is always welcome.
The stylish interface is cleanly designed and easy to use, providing separate options for chapter selection, setup and bonus features. This two-disc (BD+DVD) set is housed in a standard dual-hubbed keepcase with attractive cover art and a matching slipcover. In what must be a microcosm for this release in general, we get a handful of ad inserts but no actual booklet like last time. Oh, and there's also a Digital Copy redemption slip, if that floats your boat.
Here's where things go a little downhill. The Diamond Edition Blu-ray served up two discs stuffed with extras...but much like the re-issue of Sleeping Beauty, some of the best ones have not been included here.
Recycled extras: a full Audio Commentary with Roy E. Disney, historian John Canemaker, and Walt Disney himself (via original audio interviews, of course), an abridged version of the exhaustive interactive Hyperion Studios Tour (now just a 30-minute highlight reel), a Snow White Returns featurette, a longer version of "The One That Started It All" (re-titled "Disney's First Feature", and now 33 minutes instead of 16), a pair of Deleted Scenes and Story Meetings, a Voice Talent featurette (6 minutes), and "Bringing Snow White to Life" (11 minutes).
New to this release: mostly a handful of good to not-so-good Featurettes about the film's production and legacy. The most prominent is "In Walt's Words" (4 minutes), a short collection of audio interview clips about the film paired with vintage photographs. "Disney Animation: Designing Disney's First Princess" (5 minutes) speaks with artists Mark Henn, Lorelay Bove, Michael Giaimo, and Bill Schwab as they break down the film's unique visuals, while the like-minded "Iconography" offers a broader examination of the film's lasting popularity. "The Fairest Facts of Them All: 7 Things You May Not Know About Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (5 minutes) is a brief and somewhat interesting trivia session with actress Sofia Carson, while the much less interesting "Snow White In Seventy Seconds" is an obnoxious rap recap of the film (yes, really). Finally, "The Prince Meets Snow White" is a new alternate sequence featuring a deleted meeting between the two characters, with new vocal dubs and original sketches.
Missing in action: A good chunk of the previously mentioned interactive "Hyperion Studios" Tour, which included a handful of Storyboard-to-Screen Comparisons, Camera Tests and other pre-production material, "Disney Through the Decades", a Scrapbook of memorabilia, vintage RKO Promotional Items, Trailers and Radio Commercials, and much more, some of which dated back to the 2001 Special Edition DVD. Some of the lesser vintage extras (Music Videos, Games & Activities, etc.) aren't missed...but most of this material was fantastic, and the loss of it greatly reduces this release's appeal. Luckily, used copies of the Diamond Edition are a little easier to find now.
Overall, this is a well-stocked release...but if you already own the superior Diamond Edition, there's really nothing to get too excited about here (especially considering Disney's usual price point). For collectors and new viewers only.
Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a milestone in American animation and holds up very well more than 75 years after its original release. Featuring jaw-dropping visuals, memorable songs, and a story that favors little details and interactions over non-stop action, it's still great entertainment for fans of all ages (including my five-year old, who had never seen it and enjoyed herself). This new "Signature Edition" Blu-ray, on the other hand, represents a half-step backwards for the film's considerable legacy. Much like Disney's re-issue of Sleeping Beauty, we're left with the shell of an already-great release: the same great A/V presentation has been preserved, but the total package of extras is much more fluffy than historical. If you already own the exhaustive Diamond Edition Blu-ray, there's very little reason to pick this one up; it's for die-hard collectors and new fans only. Mildly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.