Thursday, May 09, 2013

four snows whites and 29 dwarfs

I'm a Disney history buff... I love learning about the parks, about the building of, I love learning about the animated classics and the stories behind them, and of course, learning about Walt Disney himself.  A fascinating, driven cat that Walt was. 

So it makes me appreciate a movie like "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs" all that much more, reading and knowing what went into the film, and the efforts it took to get it made. 

One of the original movie posters from 1937
Walt Disney had made a name for himself doing the short Silly Symphony cartoons, a series of live action & animated shorts called "The Alice Films", when he decided it was time to do a full length animated film.  History will tell you there were one or two full length animated movies done before Snow White, but they are obscure, foreign and perhaps even lost forever.  So this was essentially new ground.

Ground that no one, including Walt's brother Roy and wife Lillian, didn't want to tread, as they tried to talk him out of it.  Budgeted at $250,000, the film's cost spiraled out of control, ending up in the neighborhood of $1.5 million, which in the mid-thirties was just about insane.  The project was so derided by the film industry, Hollywood bigwigs referred to it as "Disney's Folly".

Like most Disney animated classics, the original story has a fairy tale origin, but in the original tale that Disney drew from, the dwarfs did not have personalities.  Walt Disney felt that even though the story revolved around Snow White and The Queen, the Seven Dwarfs should be the star of the show. 

Out of over 50 names suggested by animators--including Jumpy, Deafy, Titsy (!), Dizzey, Hickey, Wheezy, Baldy, Gabby, Nifty, Sniffy, Swift, Lazy, Puffy, Stuffy, Tubby, Shorty and Burpy--five names were chosen by process of elimination... Doc, Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy and Happy.  Sneezy and Dopey were also considered, though Jumpy made the cut instead.  Eventually, as you probably can guess, Jumpy got cut.  Sneezy and Dopey made the list.

As time passed, and more the story came together, Walt began to realize that the story of Snow White and the Queen had to be the main focus.  Original story boards had a much larger role for the prince, aptly named The Prince, but animators just could not get his features and face right, thus his role was significantly diminished. 

Because of the shift in focus, several scenes were cut from the final film, mostly involving the dwarfs... including Doc and Grumpy arguing over Snow White, a dining room scene where the dwarfs were noisily eating soup (this one had been completely animated before it was cut), and another elaborate scene where they build Snow White a bed.  Having spent so much time on the dwarfs, animator Ward Kimball was completely distraught and was looking to leave the company.  Walt Disney persuaded him to stay, in part by promoting him to the character animation of Jiminy Cricket on the upcoming production of Pinocchio.

The Disney Company had to work through Bourne Company Music to create the songs for the movie, including the famous "Heigh Ho" and "Whistle While You Work"... back then, soundtracks for films were not done much, and considered useless.  Bourne held the publishing rights to other movies music as well, and in the years since, Disney has been able to acquire that music back (I've read, however, that Bourne still holds the rights for Snow White)

The line to get in became a Standing Room Only event
The film opened on December 21, 1937, at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Hollywood, to stellar reviews and audience raves.  Among the star studded audience was Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Chaplin, Milton Berle, George & Gracie, Cary Grant and more.  The film was lauded at the following Academy Awards, with Walt picking up a full size Oscar and seven miniature statues for achievement.   The film was also profitable, giving Disney the money to finance a new studio in Burbank, where it remains today, and pushed productions of Pinocchio and Fantasia into high gear.  Its legacy of history continues today, as the American Film Institute listed it as the #1 animated movie of all time, and it ranks #34 on AFI's greatest films of all time.  It is also the first animated feature to be selected for the National Film Registry.

Personally... I had not seen this film since 1983.  Jaws 3 (IN 3-D!!) had just been released, and I wanted to go see it so, so bad... but my mom felt like this movie was a little much for my 9 year old eyes.  So, we went to see Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs.  (in hindsight, mama knew best, because Jaws 3D is a train wreck)

A few years ago on this very website, I challenged myself to watch all then-51 movies in the Disney Movie Canon in a year's time... well, like many of my self-challenges, that fell short really before I got going... but today, on a lark, 30 years later, I decided it was worth a re-watch.

Being a fan of Disney History, I can appreciate this movie greatly.  I cannot imagine what audiences must have felt in 1937, watching a full length movie completely animated, with music and story and laughs and gags and a princess and a prince and an evil queen... watching it on Blu-Ray in HD, the colors are brilliant, and the sound is exceptional.

But, can I be honest with you?  Seriously... its a chore to get through.  Perhaps my expectations are automatically high, beyond my own conscious control, but the story just... lagged.  Adriana Caselotti, voicing Snow White, has this shrill voice with this annoying falsetto, so every song she sang made me cringe.   The song at the wishing well is perhaps the worst to me, so I'm glad its over early.

The dwarfs are comical and funny and charming, and I'm glad Walt put some focus on them.  The Queen is evil, as she's supposed to be, but I found myself liking her more than Snow White.  She's at least more interesting.  I know this is heresy, because being a Disney fan I'm supposed to like all things Disney, right?   Well, I'm not a Snow White fan, and I've never seen an attractive Snow White in any of the theme parks either, so sue me.  I don't like Stitch's Great Escape, I steer clear of most Disney Channel afternoon programming and have eaten three times at Mama Melrose in Hollywood Studios, and don't care for the either.  So there.

Anyway, if you have never seen Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, you need to.  If only to experience Disney history in animated form.  Its not a bad movie, its just not for me.

By the way, if you get the Blu-Ray, make sure you watch the "Snow White Returns" special feature.  Apparently, in 2001, Disney Archivists found storyboards for a possible sequel to "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs"... no one knows why they started it, and no one knows why production was halted.  But it would have incorporated two of the deleted musical sequences, which are also featured on the Blu-Ray.  The "Noisy Soup" is alot of fun, but the "Bed Building" really drags.

Speaking of Snow White, let me mention the other three Snows that have appeared in the last few years...

Why yes, its that chick from The Blind Side.  And her eyebrows.  And its
that dude from The Social Network.  Both of the Winklevii.
"Mirror, Mirror" came out in 2012, with Julia Roberts as The Queen, Lily Collins as Snow White and Armie Hammer as Prince Alcott.  This film loosely follows the story of Snow White, with the characters, but the dwarfs have names like Grimm, Half Pint and Chuckles.  I thought this movie was silly, but also fun, though it helps that I really, really like Lily Collins. 

"Snow White & the Huntsman" was released a few months after "Mirror Mirror", with Charlize Theron as The Queen, Thor as Eric the Huntsman and the always cheerful Kristen Stewart as Snow White.  This film had potential, turning the tale into an action film and making the dwarfs (all 8 of them) warriors.  My problem?  Kristen Stewart.  Not since "Panic Room", one of my own 50 favorite films of all time, have I liked Kristen, and after the Twilight movies, she really has no place in my heart.  Personally, take her out, put Lily Collins in this action role (she can do action--she was the only, ONLY, good thing about "Abduction"), and this film is markedly better. 

Of course, there is Ginnifer Goodwin's "Snow White" on the excellent TV show "Once Upon a Time", but Snow is just one character in a whole slew of fairy tale characters.

However, do me a favor and go find 2007's "Sydney White".  It starts Amanda Bynes, in the years when she was cute and sweet and not crazy and Lohanesque.  Starring a bunch of people you've never seen (except for Bo Duke), its a fun take on the Snow White tale set in a modern college campus, featuring seven dorks.  Not a typo.

And make sure you catch the original.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I want to hear your response! Click here!!