It was seventy years ago today, on November 21st, 1937, that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered at Hollywood’s Carthay Circle Theatre. Many of Hollywood’s royalty were in attendance that evening, but mixed among them were the anonymous and unknown animators who had struggled to create the film. As they watched the audience watch the film unspool, they realized that they had succeeded in achieving what many had claimed was impossible – the creation of a feature-length animated feature that would engage and affect audiences as much as a live action film.
Disney fans probably know all the stories and what was at stake; every ounce of the studio’s resources had been sunk into the film. Walt himself had mortgaged his home; he constantly struggled to find additional funding as the film’s budget skyrocketed from the original $500,000 to a then-astonishing $1,500,000. While not everyone echoed the sentiments of those who referred to the film as “Disney’s folly”, few could probably have anticipated the massive public response that followed Snow White‘s release.
Aside from being a critical hit, “Disney’s folly” shattered box office records – it was the highest grossing film ever to that point, and remains the #10 grosser all-time when adjusted for inflation (did you know The Bells of St. Mary’s was #48? Weird…). It was the first film to ever issue a soundtrack album, and was accompanied by a flood of tie-in merchandise. It was the first animated film to be added to the National Film Registry, and one of two animated films in the AFI Top 100 American films. Sergei Eisenstein called it the greatest film ever made.
The success of the film saved the studio, giving Walt the money to build an entirely new facility in Burbank and allowing the production of all the films that followed. Take a look at how RKO, the films distributor, introduced the film to audiences – the following featurette reveals some of the unprecedented praise surrounding the film as well as giving us a peek inside the Walt Disney Studios, including Walt’s “hard boiled directors” and the “pretty” ink and paint girls. You get a look at what went into the film and watching the process take place is still pretty freaking amazing, like some weird alchemy. It’s sometimes hard to believe these films ever were made at all.
Needless to say, there have been a number of commemorations of Snow White‘s anniversary. The Disney Animation building at the California Adventure park is now featuring an exhibit showing rare concept, development and production art from the film. “The Fairest One Of All” exhibit opened in November with a special showing of the film and a panel discussion with Roy E. Disney, animator Glen Keane, live-action reference model Marge Champion, Leonard Maltin and John Lasseter. Animated Views posted coverage here and here, as did Daveland.
In addition, Michael Sporn has posted two selections of art from the film. The drawings, one of which I’ve posted above, show the insane level of artistry put into the film. There’s something about those pencil drawings so amazingly old-school and brilliant that gives the air of a lost artform. While great artists will still produce great art, there’s a feel in those drawings that I’m not sure can be recreated with a Cintiq. Anyway, the Great American Ink animation gallery is also featuring an exhibit, and produced this nifty faux-retro featurette about the film.
An interesting sidenote to all this is that California Adventure’s impending do-over will feature a recreation of the Carthay Circle where Snow premiered. There’s also a smaller, less prominent (it’s a shop) recreation at the Disney-MGM Studios.
And finally, because I can – here’s a blast from my past. The 1987 Snow White Golden Anniversary special is a magnificently camp (Jane Curtin as the Queen! Sherman Hemsley as the Magic Mirror!) extravaganza featuring everyone’s favorite funnyman Dick Van Dyke as the 8th dwarf. Enjoy!