Screencap from the film showing Snow White, December 21, 2017 – YouTube/Labiba Arzumand
CAIRO – 21 December 2017: December 21 is the anniversary for the release of Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, which premiered in 1937. The first feature length animated film in color and sound, “Snow White” paved the way for Disney to become a massive global corporation.
Adapted from the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, the classic story follows the beautiful young Snow White who is beloved by all the creatures of her kingdom, save for her wicked stepmother, the Queen, who learns from her enchanted mirror that Snow White has taken her place as the “fairest of them all”.
Enraged, she commands the huntsman to kill Snow White, forcing the fair maiden to flee into the forest. After the huntsman mercifully spares her, Snow White then encounters the Seven Little Dwarfs, helping to clean their home and becoming friends with them. The Queen learns that Snow White still lives, however, and so disguises herself as an old hag to give the hapless girl a poisoned apple. As the story goes, she falls into a death-like slumber, but is awoken by the kiss of her true love, the handsome Prince.
With the evil queen vanquished, they all lived happily ever after.
An animation classic, production for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was a risky venture, incorporating methods revolutionary for the time. It all began in the early 1930s, when Walt Disney noticed that his Mickey Mouse shorts weren’t making back money. This convinced Disney to branch out into producing feature length movies of his own, setting out to produce a cartoon that ran for 88 minutes, a full movie.
It was a massive risk, both financially and creatively. Production began on 1934, when Disney gave out a four-hour speech that went through the plotline of the film and his plans for it to be feature-length, which both moved and shocked the animators present. Nothing like this had ever been attempted before, and no one knew if it was even possible.
Costs for the film were originally estimated at $500,000, which was already a hefty price to ask in the midst of the Great Depression. Hollywood executives were so skeptical of the project that it had been dubbed “Disney’s Folly”, smugly assured that it would fail catastrophically. The budget for the film rising to $2 million certainly didn’t help change their minds, either.
Production for the film continued unabated over the next three to four years, with Disney’s enthusiasm for the project infecting his team. His crew was massive, eventually composed of around 750 artists, who Disney had taken classes with at the Chouinard Art Institute, and later the Disney Art School in order to create drawings that were as life-like as possible. For animals, his artists would study them at the zoo.
To create a sense of depth, Disney had his animators separate the artwork into layers of glass, which was moved while the camera moved in, creating the illusion of depth. Live actors were brought in for use in various animated sequences, helping to ensure that the movements of the characters were smooth and realistic, a first for a time when animation was focused on being cartoony and loose. Thousands of drawings were made, many of which were never used in the final product. It was a race to finish before the winter release deadline, with a budget that just wouldn’t stop climbing and climbing.
Even Walt was beginning to have his doubts about the project, though he pushed on, determined that they could make this work; and that they did, beyond his wildest dreams. When the film saw its first premiere at the Cathay Circle theatre in Los Angeles, audiences were overjoyed. After its nationwide release on February 4, 1938, “Snow White” would go on to sell over 109 million tickets, raking in an adjusted gross of over $1 billion, making it amongst the most profitable films of all time.