Thursday, February 11, 2016

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Walt Disney Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Forever enchanting and inspiring, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs embodies The Walt Disney Signature Collection’s legacy of animation. In this epic story of love and friendship, the kind and beautiful princess Snow White wins the hearts of the Seven Dwarfs and triumphs over the evil plans of a wicked Queen. Share the movie called “The Greatest Animated Film Of All Time," (American Film Institute) in High Definition Blu-ray and for the first time ever on Digital HD, with special features for the entire family!

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
This is the film that started it all for Disney. After doing a lot of shorts, Walt Disney decided to gamble big (and not for the first or last time) and make a full length animated film. It was unheard of and not only did Hollywood label Snow White "Disney's Folly," even his brother Roy and his wife Lillian tried to convince Walt not to do it. He was undeterred and he risked the entire company and even mortgaged his own house to fund the film and was later vindicated when the movie was a huge success and even won an honorary Oscar. Walt Disney was a visionary and this was just the first step of an incredible journey that continues to this day.

Disney's version of Snow White was based on the Grimm fairy tale, but his staff and him heavily adapted the story to their own sensibilities. He wanted to focus on the seven dwarfs who went unnamed in the original tale and he believed that they could have distinguishable traits that would lend themselves to their names and he intended to have them provide a lot of the movie's humor. In fact, he paid his employees $5 for every one of their gags to make it in the movie, which was pretty good money in those days.  

The basic story elements remained the same, with the young Princess Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) suffering the wrath of a vain Queen (Lucille La Verne) because she had usurped her position as the most beautiful in the land. Insanely jealous, the Queen orders her huntsman to take Snow White into the forest and kill her and bring back her heart to prove that it was done. Of course the huntsman is so overcome by Snow White's beauty that he lets her escape and instead brings back a pig's heart to fool the Queen.

Scared and alone, Snow White eventually finds a cottage in the woods owned by seven dwarfs and cleans it up while the men are away working in a nearby mine. When the dwarfs return home, they are initially afraid of the intruder, but they soon grow to love her as she cares for them. It's not long before the Queen discovers that Snow White is still alive and she concocts a plan to disguise herself so that she can kill Snow White with a poisoned apple. The only ones who can save Snow White are the woodland animals, the seven dwarfs, and possibly a certain charming Prince.

Even seventy-two years later, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is still impressive to see. After Disney and his teams had spent years refining their craft on Silly Symphonies and other shorts, they took it to a whole new level for this film. The sheer amount of work involved in making this film and the amount of invention needed to pull it off is staggering to think about. This was the first animated film and nothing was easy. Not only did that involve a lot of expenses, it took a lot of time to hand drawn each film cel and paint it and animate it. While the story itself and some of the characterizations are old fashioned, the techniques used to create it still are used today. While the film isn't one of my favorites of the Disney canon, it still has a warm place in my heart because it's the one that kickstarted the rest of the Disney films and eventually also led to Disneyland itself.
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
Every time Disney releases a new version of one of their classics, whether it's one of their "Diamond Editions," or like this new "Walt Disney Signature Series," it always makes me happy because I know that they are going to restore it to its fullest potential. Snow White is no exception, as it looks stunning on Blu-ray. I do believe that this is the same wonderful transfer that was released as part of their "Diamond Edition" and it still looks fantastic. Honestly, looking at this transfer, you'd never guess that the movie was released over seventy years ago. Colors are vibrant and pop off the screen and the black levels are pitch black and solid. Sharpness is as good as it could possibly get and there are no real issues to detract from the picture. This is another example of Disney treasuring their heritage with a loving restoration. 
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
Snow White's audio restoration may not be quite as impressive as the video transfer, but it is probably the best that we will ever hear it. Not only has Disney added a newly restored DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix to this set, but they've also included a restored version of the film's original mono track with a 192kbps Dolby Digital mix for the hardcore cinephiles. I appreciate getting both versions but I have to admit that I prefer the 7.1 mix of the two. The dialogue is clear and intelligible and the sound effects sound clean and crisp. The music and songs have also never sounded better. Fans will be very happy to hear this new mix.
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Now we come to the part that was the hardest to review. While there are a lot of extras included in this set, when compared to the previous two disc "Diamond Edition" set, it pales in comparison. A lot of those extras have been ported to this edition, but a lot of them have been edited down so you're not even getting the entire thing. If you were wondering whether or not you needed to keep the previous edition after buying this, it will entirely depend on how much you want to keep all of those special features. There are some new extras included in this set exclusively, but if I had to pick which version to keep out of the two sets, I'd keep the original "Diamond Edition" set because those extras were so much better.

Here's a list of the extras that have been ported over:
  • Audio Commentary - Film historian John Canemaker's commentary from the Diamond Edition has been included.
  • Hyperion Studios Tour - While the original version of this extra was extensive, this is a thirty-one minute excerpt that has cut out everything but the following featurettes: "Decoding the Exposure Sheet," "'Snow White' Returns," "Story Meetings: The Dwarfs," "Story Meetings: The Huntsman," "Deleted Scene: Bed Building Sequence," "Deleted Scene: Soup Eating Sequence," and "Animation Voice Talent."

Here are the new extras that have been included for this release:

  • In Walt's Words: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Although this is a very short audio track of Walt Disney discussing how Snow White came about and everything that followed its release, I really enjoyed hearing from the man himself. It's a nice addition to a collection bearing his signature and it's interesting to hear his thoughts about the film towards the end of his life.  
  • Iconography - A quick look into the film's continuing appeal and legacy. 
  • DisneyAnimation: Designing Disney's First Princess - Who better to talk about the film's animation than current Disney animators? We hear from Michael Giaimo, Mark Henn, Bill Schwab, and Lorelay Bove who talk about the character designs for the movie and the original animators who created it all. 
  • The Fairest Facts of Them All: 7 Things You May Not Know About Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - I'm on record as hating these synergistic Disney Channel stars being brought on each one of these releases to do some cross promotion. In this instance, it's Sofia Carson from their show "Descendants" who offers some trivia and comments about the movie. I highly recommend skipping this.
  • Snow White in 70 Seconds - If you ever wanted to see Snow White presented as a seventy second hip hop presentation, then you should watch this. Everyone else keep a safe distance away. 
  • Alternate Sequence: The Prince Meets Snow White - Here is a legitimate extra that's completely new. In this never before released sequence, we see an alternate version of how the Prince meets Snow White. 
  • Disney's First Feature: The Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - This is probably the best new extra on this set as it really dives into the making and history of this film. At a little over thirty minutes long, it spends an appropriate amount of time detailing the importance of the film to the Disney studio and how it started it all. 
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has earned its place in cinematic history and it's still as entertaining today as it was over seventy years ago. What really helps keep it fresh is the loving restoration that the video and audio presentations have received, which makes the movie look and sound like a recent release. The extras on this release can't compare with the ones included on the previous Blu-ray "Diamond Edition," so if the special features are important to you, I'd recommend buying that version instead of this one. There are some nice new extras included in this set and I was glad that this version also included a Digital HD copy of the film too that the previous edition didn't offer. If you are a fan of Disney films (and who isn't?), then you should pick up this set as this movie is the one that started it all.

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