This year marks the 75th anniversary of the release of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
When Walt Disney came up with the idea, people thought he was nuts. Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies cartoons were consistent hits, but cartoons were short films that were shown before a featured movie, not the featured film itself. Fantasy stories also did not fare well at the time. At an estimated cost of $250,000 in 1930’s dollars to produce, the idea of a movie length cartoon fantasy was laughable. Called “Disney’s Folly” in newspapers, even his wife and brother, who was also his business partner, tried to talk him out of it.
Mortgaging his house to fund it and finally clocking in at an enormous sum (at the time) of nearly $1.5 million to complete, it was finished after three years. Disney had a multiplane camera made especially for the film. In traditional animation, a multiplane camera creates a sense of depth using depth of field and allowing varied levels of backgrounds to move at different speeds. The studio also hired an artistic staff of more than 1400 people and all their futures were riding on its success. So how did it do?
- It opened to wild acclaim and went on to win an Oscar for technical achievement, since there was no award for animation at the time. The full-size Oscar was accompanied by seven smaller statues.
- In its original run, it grossed more than four times other films in theatres at the same time. It ranks today among the top ten highest grossing films of all time, adjusted for inflation, of course.
- The film was eventually shown in 41 countries.
- It was the first film to have a soundtrack album released at the same time, as well as tie-in merchandise. The album was released in 10 languages.
- The multiplane technique was refined over the years and became a standard in animation.
Whatever your stance on the Disney company of today, there is no denying the pioneering vision and influence Disney the man has had on animation and filmmaking in pursuing his decision to make the first full-length animated movie a reality.
It’s kind of fun to do the impossible
If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area or are planning to travel, the Walt Disney Family Museum has a great set of exhibits covering the development of the movie and will be hosting a special exhibit at the end of the year. They have the Academy Award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs there, too!
- Read the Walt Disney Family Museum’s blog about the upcoming special exhibit!