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Mirror mirror on the wall, why does Snow White remain among the fairest of all?

A still from Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937).  (Walt Disney Productions)
A still from Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937). (Walt Disney Productions)
By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

It’s hard to believe there was a time in which naysayers scoffed at animation being able to hold attention for more than an hour. Animated features and shorts, after all, are ubiquitous.

Today, contemporary animators owe much to the debut of the Disney classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the first full-length animated feature film and Disney’s first animated feature film.

The groundbreaking movie debuted 85 years ago in theaters nationwide, won critical acclaim and was a commercial success. It was a seminal production. The film inspired Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to produce the brilliant fantasy film, “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939. “Gulliver’s Travels” was created to compete with “Snow White.”

Acclaimed director Sergei Eisenstein called Snow White the greatest film ever made. The iconic Charlie Chaplin also gave the movie a big thumbs up. “Snow White” was a popular picture in America and around the world.

“Snow White,” which was based on the 1812 German fairy tale published by the Brothers Grimm, remains a favorite with a new generation of fans. Having lost both of her parents as a child, Snow White is a princess living with her miserable stepmother, the Queen, who forces Snow White to become a maid.

After the Queen’s magic mirror informs her that Snow White is the fairest one of all, everything changes. The Queen orders her huntsman to kill Snow White, but he can’t bring himself to do it and encourages her to run away. Snow White is surrounded by caring woodland animals. She befriends seven dwarves and the fun begins.

If it weren’t for Walt Disney’s tenacity, Snow White probably would have never been made. His wife Lillian and his brother Roy Disney tried to talk him out of the venture, which cost $1.5 million to make – a staggering sum in 1937. The Hollywood industry derided the venture as “Disney’s Folly” but the animator/entrepreneur had the last laugh.

The lifetime gross of “Snow White” and its reissues is $418 million. And that’s not counting the myriad items the cottage industry has spawned, such as hats, dolls and t-shirts.

The story of Snow White has become a beloved cottage industry. There are video games, theme park rides and a Broadway musical.

Snow White’s Enchanted Wish – known as Snow White’s Scary Adventure until 2020 – is a popular theme-park ride at Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.

The women behind the animation

Most of the animators credited in “Snow White” are men, but the majority of inkers and painters were women.

An inker fills in the animated cels, one by one. A painter will paint the cels with predetermined colors. A cel is a celluloid sheet that was the feedstock for animated productions during the ’30s and ’40s. After each cel was draw on, filled, painted and photographed, the material could start being edited.

Hundreds of women were employed in the Ink and Paint department at Disney. Hours were long, and it was a rigorous, thankless job. But it was an essential part of helping “Snow White” reach the screen.

Without the painters and inkers, the Academy Award winning film would have been in black and white and it could have had a different impact on the audience and the world of film.

A film worth celebrating

The music from “Snow White,” timeless as the film, is significant. Such well-known songs from the film are the cheery work-day anthem “Heigh-Ho,” the baroque “Someday My Prince Will Come” and the cute “Whistle While You Work.”

And then there are the many honors bestowed upon the film. In 1989, the United States Library of Congress recognized “Snow White” as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it as one of the first 25 films for preservation in the National Film Registry. The American Film Institute ranked it as the 49th greatest film of all time and also tabbed it as the greatest American animated film .

The story of Snow White is receiving the live-action treatment from Disney, with the film slated to release March 2024, starring Rachel Zegler as Snow White and Gal Gadot as the Queen. Written by Greta Gerwig and Erin Cressida Wilson and directed by Marc Webb, the film wrapped this past July .

The film is certain to be entertaining, but it won’t be the same as the animated feature, which had such a massive impact in the entertainment industry. There is nothing like an original and Snow White is just that.

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