Snow White Continues to Charm

Snow White Continues to Charm  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Profiles in History.

The movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was the world’s first full-length animated feature.  If you’re young at heart the movie is as fresh and touching today as when it was released in 1937. 

Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive.
— Walt Disney

That’s what makes it a classic.

Walt Disney took a chance on the film.  He knew on some level it was possible to create animated characters that had the same range of feelings as real people.  He was also sure animation could be artistically pleasing at the same time. 

Cartoon as art form was Walt’s go for with Snow White.  The age-old tale of good over evil never seems to lose its luster.

“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation,” Walt said.

Films based on fables and nursery rhymes made perfect sense.  People grew up with these characters and plots.  They already related to them. 

From the beginning Walt envisioned each of the seven dwarfs or as he called them “the seven little men” with unique personalities.  The cartoon characters proved easy enough for the animators to illustrate.  It was the human beings in the film like Snow White that were difficult to bring to life.  Drawing human figures and having them move in a natural way was hard. 

In the spring of 1935 Disney hired 300 artists to give it a shot.  They studied and watched films constantly.  Animation had a lot to learn from other disciplines and technical mastery meant everything to Walt.

“We want to imagine it (the film) as rich as we can without splashing color all over the place,” he said.             

Walt’s goal was to create a dramatic story with more realism than had ever been done before.  The task was to create the illusion of depth on the big screen--the appearance of moving into a scene.  The camera department developed what they named a “multiplane camera” to pull it off.  The camera created previously impossible effects.   

In the end the movie Snow White was a tightly constructed story with strong, believable characters, good music and a happy ending.

“Before seeing Snow White I was 53-years-old, now I’m 53 years young…You have carried me back to the happiness and safety of my childhood,” wrote one fan.  

With Snow White animation became art form. 

By the beginning of World War II the film had grossed over $8 million worldwide.  Walt used $10,000 of the money as a deposit on 51 acres in Burbank, Calif., for a new Walt Disney Studio complex.   

In 1938 Walt Disney Studios also signed a contract with the Courvoisier Art Gallery of San Francisco for the distribution of original art work from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and other future Disney productions. 

About 7,000 celluloid paintings from the film went on the market.  The rest were destroyed.

Over 73 years later, the fascination of owning an original cel from the film continues.

On March 14-15, Profiles in History in Calabasas, Calif, featured a selection of original Snow White cels for sale in its Hollywood auction.  

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Courvoisier Production Cels

Wicked Witch; evil hag as she offers Snow White the apple; trimmed and applied to wood-grain background with airbrushed effects; 1937; 6 inches square;  $18,880.

Raven, Skull and Candle; airbrushed background; scarce; 1937; 12 inches square;  $8,260.  

Snow White; as she recoils from the Wicked Witch’s offer of an apple; wood-grain background with airbrushed effects; 1937; 8 inches square;  $10,620.   

Dwarfs; all 7; wood-grain setup with airbrushed effects; 1937; 6 inches and 8 inches square;  $18,880.

Evil Queen; holding heart box; hand painted cel; 1959; 8 ¼ inches by 10 ¾ inches;  $23,600. 

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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