Given the enormous success of America’s first animated feature, it’s hard to imagine that during its three-and-a-half-year development, the press dubbed it “Disney’s folly.” Despite the popularity of the studio’s cartoons featuring animals and fantasy characters, from Mickey Mouse to Donald Duck and Goofy, few believed audiences could be persuaded to sit through a feature-length animation, much less one with a human at its heart. Walt Disney himself was sceptical of his animators’ ability to render lifelike humans, choosing to employ the ‘Rotoscope’ technique, in which animators painted over live action footage of the human actors. Walt’s belief in the medium of animation to convey credible human emotions was unshakable, however, and his faith was rewarded when Snow White became a huge international success, the first true blockbuster of the sound age, and the first in colour – and, in terms of pioneering techniques, influence and the elevation of a medium into an art form, arguably animation’s Birth of a Nation.
Now, a decade and a half after Snow White’s first digital restoration, Walt Disney’s ground-breaking labour of love has been given an extraordinary new high-definition makeover, with colours richer than ever before, and an equally stunning, digitally restored 7.1 soundtrack. (For those watching in widescreen, there’s even an optional ‘DisneyView’ feature, by which painted panels fill in the black bars at the sides of the 4:3 image – it sounds awful, but works surprisingly well.) Every frame of its 86-minute running time pops with never-before-seen colour and detail, thanks to a restoration that somehow manages to both preserve and enhance its original brilliance. At the ripe age of 73, Snow White remains the fairest of them all.
EXTRAS: Anticipating the film’s 75th anniversary, the Diamond Edition is a 3-disc set comprising two Blu-rays packed with bonus material, and a handy DVD copy of the film, presumably for the kids’ room. Some of the extras, neatly guided by the magic mirror, are also aimed squarely at the kids: a brand new music video of “Some Day My Prince Will Come” by Sonny With A Chance’s Tiffany Thornton, a karaoke version of “Heigh Ho”, and several remote control-driven games. A more thorough exploration of the history and legacy of Snow White is provided by a series of enjoyable mini-featurettes covering such diverse topics as the history of Disney’s original Hyperion Studios, the actors behind the characters (including an archival interview with Snow White herself, Adriana Caseloti), a ‘what if?’ look at Snow White Returns, a newly-discovered putative sequel to Snow White, two lengthy deleted scenes rendered in original drawings with the original soundtrack in place, and Disney Through the Decades, a fascinating 40-minute documentary, hosted by an assortment of famous faces, establishing Snow White’s place in the studio’s history. Finally, there’s a cleverly-crafted audio commentary, intercutting scene-setting and fact-finding from animation historian John Canemaker with crystal-clear archival interviews with Uncle Walt himself. The entire enterprise exudes a love not just for Snow White, but for animation as an art form. If this is a sign of things to come from The Walt Disney Company under the stewardship of Pixar’s John Lasseter, it bodes extremely well for future releases.