Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a 1937 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and originally released by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on the German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, it is the first full-length cel animated feature film and the earliest Disney animated feature film. The story was adapted by storyboard artists Dorothy Ann Blank, Richard Creedon, Merrill De Maris, Otto Englander, Earl Hurd, Dick Rickard, Ted Sears and Webb Smith. David Hand was the supervising director, while William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, and Ben Sharpsteen directed the film's individual sequences.
Snow White premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre on December 21, 1937, followed by a nationwide release on February 4, 1938. It was a critical and commercial success, and with international earnings of $8 million during its initial release briefly assumed the record of highest-grossing sound film at the time. The popularity of the film has led to it being re-released theatrically many times, until its home video release in the 1990s. Adjusted for inflation, it is one of the top ten performers at the North American box office.
At the 11th Academy Awards, Walt Disney was awarded an honorary Oscar, and the film was nominated for Best Musical Score the year before. In 1989, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry and is ranked in the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest American films, who also named the film as the greatest American animated film of all time in 2008. Disney's take on the fairy tale has had a significant cultural impact, resulting in popular theme park attractions, a video game, and a Broadway musical.
Snow White is a lonely princess living with her stepmother, a vain Queen. The Queen worries that Snow White will look better than her, so she forces Snow White to work as a scullery maid and asks her Magic Mirror daily "who is the fairest one of all". For years the mirror always answers that the Queen is, pleasing her.
One day, the Magic Mirror informs the Queen that Snow White is now "the fairest" in the land. The jealous Queen orders her Huntsman to take Snow White into the forest and kill her. She further demands that the huntsman return with Snow White's heart in a jeweled box as proof of the deed. However, the Huntsman cannot bring himself to kill Snow White. He tearfully begs for her forgiveness, revealing the Queen wants her dead and urges her to flee into the woods and never look back. Lost and frightened, the princess is befriended by woodland creatures who lead her to a cottage deep in the woods. Finding seven small chairs in the cottage's dining room, Snow White assumes the cottage is the untidy home of seven orphaned children.
In reality, the cottage belongs to seven adult dwarfs—named Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey—who work in a nearby mine. Returning home, they are alarmed to find their cottage clean and suspect that an intruder has invaded their home. The dwarfs find Snow White upstairs, asleep across three of their beds. Snow White awakes to find the dwarfs at her bedside and introduces herself, and all of the dwarfs eventually welcome her into their home after they she offers to clean and cook for them. Snow White keeps house for the dwarfs while they mine for jewels during the day, and at night they all sing, play music and dance.
Meanwhile, the Queen discovers that Snow White is still alive when the mirror again answers that Snow White is the fairest in the land and reveals that the heart in the jeweled box is actually that of a pig. Using a potion to disguise herself as an old hag, the Queen creates a poisoned apple that will put whoever eats it into the "Sleeping Death", a curse she learns can only be broken by "love's first kiss", but is certain Snow White will be buried alive. While the Queen goes to the cottage while the dwarfs are away, the animals are wary of her and rush off to find the dwarfs. Faking a potential heart attack, the Queen tricks Snow White into bringing her into the cottage to rest. The Queen fools Snow White into biting into the poisoned apple under the pretense that it is a magic apple that grants wishes. As Snow White falls asleep, the Queen proclaims that she is now the fairest of the land. The dwarfs return with the animals as the Queen leaves the cottage and give chase, trapping her on a cliff. She tries to roll a boulder over them, but before she can do so, lightning strikes the cliff, causing her to fall to her death.
The dwarfs return to their cottage and find Snow White seemingly dead, being kept in a deathlike slumber by the poison. Unwilling to bury her out of sight in the ground, they instead place her in a glass coffin trimmed with gold in a clearing in the forest. Together with the woodland creatures, they keep watch over her. A year later, a prince who had previously met and fallen in love with Snow White learns of her eternal sleep and visits her coffin. Saddened by her apparent death, he kisses her, which breaks the spell and awakens her. The dwarfs and animals all rejoice as the Prince takes Snow White to his castle.
Development on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs began in early 1934, and in June 1934, Walt Disney announced the production of his first feature, to be released under Walt Disney Productions, to The New York Times. One evening that same year, Disney acted out the entire story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to his staff, announcing that the film would be produced as a feature-length film.
Before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Disney studio had been primarily involved in the production of animated short subjects in the Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies series. Disney hoped to expand his studio's prestige and revenues by moving into features, and estimated that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs could be produced for a budget of US$250,000; this was ten times the budget of an average Silly Symphony.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was to be the first full-length cel animated feature in motion picture history, and as such Walt Disney had to fight to get the film produced. Both his brother and business partner Roy Disney and his wife Lillian attempted to talk him out of it, and the Hollywood movie industry referred to the film derisively as "Disney's Folly" while it was in production. He had to mortgage his house to help finance the film's production, which eventually ran up a total cost of $1,488,422.74, a massive sum for a feature film in 1937.
On August 9, 1934, twenty-one pages of notes—entitled "Snowwhite suggestions"—were compiled by staff writer Richard Creedon, suggesting the principal characters, as well as situations and 'gags' for the story. As Disney had stated at the very beginning of the project, the main attraction of the story for him was the Seven Dwarfs, and their possibilities for "screwiness" and "gags"; the three story meetings held in October and attended by Disney, Creedon, Larry Morey, Albert Hurter, Ted Sears and Pinto Colvig were dominated by such subjects. At this point, Disney felt that the story should begin with Snow White's discovery of the Cottage of the Seven Dwarfs. Walt Disney had suggested from the beginning that each of the dwarfs, whose names and personalities are not stated in the original fairy tale, could have individual personalities. The dwarfs names were chosen from a pool of about fifty potentials, including Jumpy, Deafy, Dizzey, Hickey, Wheezy, Baldy, Gabby, Nifty, Sniffy, Swift, Lazy, Puffy, Stuffy, Tubby, Shorty, and Burpy. The seven finalists were chosen through a process of elimination. The leader of the dwarfs, required to be pompous, self-important and bumbling, was named Doc; others were named for their distinguishing character traits. At the end of the October story meetings, however, only Doc, Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy and Happy of the final seven were named; at this point, Sneezy and Dopey were replaced by 'Jumpy' and an unnamed seventh dwarf.
Along with a focus on the characterizations and comedic possibilities of the dwarfs, Creedon's eighteen-page outline of the story written from the October meetings, featured a continuous flow of gags as well as the Queen's attempt to kill Snow White with a poisoned comb, an element taken from the Grimms' original story. After persuading Snow White to use the comb, the disguised Queen would have escaped alive, but the dwarfs would have arrived in time to remove it. After the failure of the comb, the Queen was to have the Prince captured and taken to her dungeon, where she would have come to him (story sketches show this event both with the Queen and the Witch) and used magic to bring the dungeon's skeletons to life, making them dance for him and identifying one skeleton as "Prince Oswald", an example of the more humorous atmosphere of this original story treatment. It is written in story notes that the Queen has such magical power only in her own domain, the castle. With the Prince refusing to marry her, the Queen leaves him to his death (one sketch shows the Prince trapped in a subterranean chamber filling with water) as she makes her way to the dwarfs' cottage with the poisoned apple. The forest animals were to help the Prince escape the Queen's minions and find his horse. The Prince was to ride to the cottage to save Snow White but took the wrong road (despite warnings from the forest animals and his horse, whom he, unlike Snow White, could not understand). He, therefore, would not have arrived in time to save her from the Queen but would have been able to save her with love's first kiss. This plot was not used in the final film, though many sketches of the scene in the dungeon were made by Ferdinand Hovarth.
Other examples of the more comical nature of the story at this point include suggestions for a "fat, batty, cartoon type, self-satisfied" Queen. The Prince was also more of a clown, and was to serenade Snow White in a more comical fashion. Walt Disney encouraged all staff at the studio to contribute to the story, offering five dollars for every 'gag'; such gags included the dwarfs' noses popping over the foot of the bed when they first meet Snow White.
Disney became concerned that such a comical approach would lessen the plausibility of the characters and, sensing that more time was needed for the development of the Queen, advised in an outline circulated on November 6 that attention be paid exclusively to "scenes in which only Snow White, the Dwarfs, and their bird and animal friends appear". The names and personalities of the dwarfs, however, were still "open to change". A meeting of November 16 resulted in another outline entitled 'Dwarfs Discover Snowwhite', which introduced the character of Dopey, who would ultimately prove to be the most successful and popular of the dwarf characterisations. For the rest of 1934 Disney further developed the story by himself, finding a dilemma in the characterization of the Queen, who he felt could no longer be "fat" and "batty", but a "stately beautiful type", a possibility already brought up in previous story meetings. Disney did not focus on the project again until the autumn of 1935. It is thought that he may have doubted his, and his studio's ability, and that his trip to Europe that summer restored his confidence. At this point, Disney and his writers focused on the scenes in which Snow White and the dwarfs are introduced to the audience and each other. He laid out the likely assignments for everyone working on the film in a memorandum of November 25, 1935, and had decided on the personalities of the individual dwarfs.
It had first been thought that the dwarfs would be the main focus of the story, and many sequences were written for the seven characters. However, at a certain point, it was decided that the main thrust of the story was provided by the relationship between the Queen and Snow White. For this reason, several sequences featuring the dwarfs were cut from the film. The first, which was animated in its entirety before being cut, showed Doc and Grumpy arguing about whether Snow White should stay with them. Another, also completely animated, would have shown the dwarfs eating soup noisily and messily; Snow White unsuccessfully attempts to teach them how to eat 'like gentlemen'. A partially animated sequence involved the dwarfs holding a "lodge meeting" in which they try to think of a gift for Snow White; this was to be followed by the elaborate 'bed building sequence', in which the dwarfs and the forest animals construct and carve a bed for the princess. This also was cut, as it was thought to slow down the movement of the story. The soup-eating and bed-building sequences were animated by Ward Kimball, who was sufficiently discouraged by their removal to consider leaving the studio, however Disney persuaded him to stay by promoting him to supervising animator of Jiminy Cricket in his next feature Pinocchio (1940).
The primary authority on the design of the film was concept artist Albert Hurter. All designs used in the film, from characters' appearances to the look of the rocks in the background, had to meet Hurter's approval before being finalized. Two other concept artists — Ferdinand Hovarth and Gustaf Tenggren — also contributed to the visual style of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Hovarth developed a number of dark concepts for the film, although many other designs he developed were ultimately rejected by the Disney team as less easily translated into animation than Hurter's. Tenggren was used as a color stylist and to determine the staging and atmosphere of many of the scenes in the film, as his style borrowed from the likes of Arthur Rackham and John Bauer and thus possessed the European illustration quality that Walt Disney sought. He also designed the posters for the film and illustrated the press book. However, Hovarth didn't receive a credit for the film. Other artists to work on the film included Joe Grant, whose most significant contribution was the design for the Queen's Witch form.
Art Babbit, an animator who joined the Disney studio in 1932, invited seven of his colleagues (who worked in the same room as him) to come with him to an art class that he himself had set up at his home in the Hollywood Hills. Though there was no teacher, Babbit had recruited a model to pose for him and his fellow animators as they drew. These "classes" were held weekly; each week, more animators would come. After three weeks, Walt Disney called Babbit to his office and offered to provide the supplies, working space and models required if the sessions were moved to the studio. Babbit ran the sessions for a month until animator Hardie Gramatky suggested that they recruit Don Graham; the art teacher from the Chouinard Institute taught his first class at the studio on November 15, 1932, and was joined by Phil Dike a few weeks later. These classes were principally concerned with human anatomy and movement, though instruction later included action analysis, animal anatomy and acting.
Though the classes were originally described as a "brutal battle", with neither instructor nor students well-versed in the other's craft, the enthusiasm and energy of both parties made the classes stimulating and beneficial for all involved. Graham often screened Disney shorts and, along with the animators, provided critique featuring both strengths and weaknesses. For example, Graham criticised Babbit's animation of Abner the mouse in The Country Cousin as "taking a few of the obvious actions of a drunk without coordinating the rest of the body", while praising it for maintaining its humour without getting "dirty or mean or vulgar. The country mouse is always having a good time".
Very few of the animators at the Disney studio had had artistic training (most had been newspaper cartoonists); among these few was Grim Natwick, who had trained in Europe. The animator's success in designing and animating Betty Boop for Fleischer Studios showed an understanding of human female anatomy, and when Walt Disney hired Natwick he was given female characters to animate almost exclusively. Attempts to animate Persephone, the female lead of The Goddess of Spring, had proved largely unsuccessful; Natwick's animation of the heroine in Cookie Carnival showed greater promise, and the animator was eventually given the task of animating Snow White herself. Though live action footage of Snow White, the Prince and the Queen was shot as reference for the animators, the artists' animators disapproved of rotoscoping, considering it to hinder the production of effective caricature. None of Babbit's animation of the Queen was rotoscoped; despite Graham and Natwick's objections, however, some scenes of Snow White and the Prince were directly traced from the live-action footage.
The studio's new multiplane camera gave a three-dimensional feeling in many sequences and was also used to give a rotating effect in the scene where the Queen transforms into a witch.
The songs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were composed by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey. Paul J. Smith and Leigh Harline composed the incidental music score. Well-known songs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs include "Heigh-Ho", "Some Day My Prince Will Come", and "Whistle While You Work". Since Disney did not have its own music publishing company at the time, the publishing rights for the music and songs were administered through Bourne Co. Music Publishers, which continues to hold these rights. In later years, the studio was able to acquire back the rights to the music from many of the other films, but not Snow White. Snow White became the first American film to have a soundtrack album, released in conjunction with the feature film. Before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a film soundtrack recording was unheard of and of little value to a movie studio.
At this time, Disney also encouraged his staff to see a variety of films. These ranged from the mainstream, such as MGM's Romeo and Juliet (1936) — to which Disney made direct reference in a story meeting pertaining to the scene in which Snow White lies in her glass coffin — to the more obscure, including European silent cinema. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as well as the two Disney films to follow it, were also influenced by such German expressionist films as Nosferatu (1922) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), both of which were recommended by Disney to his staff. This influence is particularly evident in the scenes of Snow White fleeing through the forest and the Queen's transformation into the Witch. The latter scene was also inspired by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), to which Disney made specific reference in story meetings.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre on December 21, 1937, to a wildly receptive audience, many of whom were the same naysayers who dubbed the film "Disney's Folly". The film received a standing ovation at its completion from an audience that included Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich. Six days later, Walt Disney and the seven dwarfs appeared on the cover of Time magazine. The New York Times said: "Thank you very much, Mr. Disney". Variety suggested that "[so] perfect is the illusion, so tender the romance and fantasy, so emotional are certain portions when the acting of the characters strikes a depth comparable to the sincerity of human players, that the film approaches real greatness."
Following successful exclusive runs at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and a theater in Miami in January 1938, RKO Radio Pictures put the film into general release on February 4. It became a major box-office success, making four times more money than any other motion picture released in 1938. In its original release, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs grossed $3.5 million in the United States and Canada, and by May 1939 its total international gross of $6.5 million made it the most successful sound film of all time, displacing Al Jolson's The Singing Fool (1928) (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was soon displaced from this position by Gone with the Wind in 1940). By the end of its original run, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had earned $7,846,000 in international box office receipts. This earned RKO a profit of $380,000.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first re-released in 1944, to raise revenue for the Disney studio during the World War II period. This re-release set a tradition of re-releasing Disney animated features every seven to ten years, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was re-released to theaters in 1952, 1958, 1967, 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1993. Coinciding with the fiftieth-anniversary release in 1987, Disney released an authorized novelization of the story, written by children's author Suzanne Weyn.
In 1993, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became the first film to be entirely scanned to digital files, manipulated, and recorded back to film. The restoration project was carried out entirely at 4K resolution and 10-bit color depth using the Cineon system to digitally remove dirt and scratches and restore faded colors.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has had a lifetime gross of $418 million across its original release and several reissues. Adjusted for inflation, and incorporating subsequent releases, the film still registers one of the top ten American film moneymakers of all time.
The film was a tremendous critical success, with many reviewers hailing it as a genuine work of art, recommended for both children and adults. Although film histories often state that the animation of the human characters was criticized, more recent scholarship finds that most reviewers praised the realistic style of the human animation, with several stating that audiences will forget that they are watching animated humans rather than real ones. At the 11th Academy Awards, the film won an Academy Honorary Award for Walt Disney "as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field". Disney received a full-size Oscar statuette and seven miniature ones, presented to him by 10-year-old child actress Shirley Temple. The film was also nominated for Best Musical Score. "Some Day My Prince Will Come" has become a jazz standard that has been performed by numerous artists, including Buddy Rich, Lee Wiley, Oscar Peterson, Frank Churchill, and Oliver Jones. Albums by Miles Davis, by Wynton Kelly, and Alexis Cole.
Noted filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein and Charlie Chaplin praised Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a notable achievement in cinema; Eisenstein went so far as to call it the greatest film ever made. The film inspired Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to produce its own fantasy film, The Wizard of Oz, in 1939. Another animation pioneer, Max Fleischer, decided to produce his animated feature film Gulliver's Travels in order to compete with Snow White. The 1943 Merrie Melodies short Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, directed by Bob Clampett, parodies Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by presenting the story with an all-black cast singing a jazz score.
Snow White's success led to Disney moving ahead with more feature-film productions. Walt Disney used much of the profits from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to finance a new $4.5 million studio in Burbank – the location on which The Walt Disney Studios is located to this day. Within two years, the studio completed Pinocchio and Fantasia and had begun production on features such as Dumbo, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.
The American Film Institute (AFI), an independent non-profit organization created in the United States by the National Endowment for the Arts, releases a variety of annual awards and film lists recognizing excellence in filmmaking. The AFI 100 Years... series, which ran from 1998 to 2008, created categorized lists of America's best movies as selected by juries composed from among over 1,500 artists, scholars, critics, and historians. A film's inclusion in one of these lists was based on the film's popularity over time, historical significance and cultural impact. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was selected by juries for inclusion on many AFI lists, including the following:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released on DVD on October 9, 2001, the first in Disney's Platinum Editions, and featured, across two discs, the digitally restored film, a making-of documentary narrated by Angela Lansbury, an audio commentary by John Canemaker and, via archived audio clips, Walt Disney.. A VHS release followed on November 27, 2001. Both versions were returned to the Disney Vault on January 31, 2002.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released on Blu-ray Disc on October 6, 2009, the first of Disney's Diamond Editions, and a new DVD edition was released on November 24, 2009. The Blu-ray includes a high-definition version of the movie sourced from a new restoration by Lowry Digital, a DVD copy of the film, and several bonus features not included on the 2001 DVD. This set returned to the Disney Vault on April 30, 2011.
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment re-released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on Blu-ray and DVD on February 2, 2016, as the first of the Walt Disney Signature Collection Line. It was released on Digital HD on January 19, 2016, with bonus material.
Snow White's Scary Adventures is a popular theme park ride at Disneyland (an opening day attraction dating from 1955), Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. Fantasyland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom underwent an expansion from 2012 to 2014. The Snow White's Scary Adventures ride was replaced with Princess Fairytale Hall, where Snow White and other princesses are located for a meet and greet. Included in the 2013 expansion of Fantasyland is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster. Snow White, her Prince, the Queen, and the Seven Dwarfs are also featured in parades and character appearances throughout the parks. Disneyland's Fantasyland Theater hosted Snow White: An Enchanting Musical from 2004 to 2006.
Unknown Mary Jo Salerno played Snow White in the Disney-produced Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (also known as Snow White Live!) at the Radio City Music Hall. Music and lyrics for four new songs were created by Jay Blackton and Joe Cook, respectively; titles included "Welcome to the Kingdom of Once Upon a Time" and "Will I Ever See Her Again?". It ran from October 18 to November 18, 1979, and January 11 to March 9, 1980, a total of 106 performances.
In the 2000s, DisneyToon Studios began development on a computer-animated prequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, titled The Seven Dwarfs. Director Mike Disa and screenwriter Evan Spiliotopoulos pitched a story explaining how the Dwarfs met, and how the Evil Queen killed Snow White's father and took the throne. According to Disa, DisneyToon management changed the prequel to center around how Dopey lost his voice upon witnessing the death of his mother. After Disney purchased Pixar in 2006, John Lasseter, DisneyToons' new Chief Creative Officer, canceled Dwarfs.
In March 2016, the studio announced a new film in development titled Rose Red, a live-action spin-off film which will be told from the perspective of Snow White's sister, Red Rose. In late October that year, a live-action feature-length Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was announced, with Erin Cressida Wilson in negotiations to write the script and Pasek and Paul writing new songs for the film.
The Seven Dwarfs made rare appearances in shorts, despite their popularity; they simply were too numerous to animate efficiently. Commissioned shorts The Standard Parade (1939), The Seven Wise Dwarfs (1941, using mostly recycled footage), All Together (1942) and The Winged Scourge (1943) all include appearances.
The animated television series House of Mouse, which included many Disney character animated cameos, included the characters in the special Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse. The Evil Queen appeared in a starring role in the film Once Upon a Halloween as well. In the arena of live action, the fantasy television series Once Upon a Time (produced by Disney-owned ABC Studios) regularly includes live-action interpretations of these characters including Snow White, the Evil Queen and Grumpy.
An animated television series featuring the seven dwarfs titled The 7D premiered on Disney XD on July 7, 2014, and ended its run on November 5, 2016. The show takes place 30 years before the events of the original film.
A 1937–1938 newspaper comic strip adaptation was republished repeatedly as a comic book, most recently in 1995.
The 80's cult classic, the Gremlins, used the cartoon in the theater scenes for the movie.
In only 2 months after the 1987 re-release, the film grossed another $45 million—giving it a total gross to date of about $375 million! (Online copy at Google Books)
North American box-office: $46,594,719
North American box-office: $41,634,791
The great Russian filmmaker Eisenstein, on seeing 'Snow White', called it the greatest film ever made.
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