On December 21, 1937, the first Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs audience exited the Carthay Circle Theatre knowing that Hollywood had a spectacular new hit, one that would usher in a whole new field of entertainment. “Walt’s Folly,” as it had been referred to, showed the world that feature-length animated films were just as entertaining, if not more so, than the motion pictures Hollywood had been producing for years. Snow White touched the hearts of theatergoers, earning $8.5 million in its initial release and becoming the highest-grossing film until 1939′s Gone With the Wind. The film’s success allowed Walt Disney to continue leading the quest to experiment with and perfect the art of animation, and it paved the way for dozens of beloved Disney animated classics to come.
However, being the first animated feature film and the highest-grossing film of all time were by no means the film’s only contributions. Snow White opened a whole new realm of possibilities for Walt Disney Productions that would forever change the entertainment industry. As we celebrate the film’s many accomplishments in salute to its 75th anniversary on December 21, The Official Disney Fan Club has explored the Walt Disney Archives to uncover some rarely seen materials surrounding the film and its legacy. So now, it’s off to work we go to share just what we discovered about this animated classic!
The First Full-Length Animated Film
Much of the press doubted that a feature-length animated film would be a hit. And the voice of Snow White was unaware that the film would be a full-length feature. In an interview found in the Archives, with Disney Legend Adriana Caselotti, the unforgettable voice reveals her surprise. “They forgot to tell me that it was going to be a feature-length film!” she said in the interview. “They had said it would be longer than their usual seven-minute shorts, so I figured it would be maybe a 20- or 25-minute short. They didn’t say, and I was a dumb little kid and didn’t ask.”
Like Adriana, it was difficult for the public during that time to consider the notion of a “cartoon feature.” Audiences were accustomed to the shorts created by various entertainment companies. Rumors circulated that watching a feature-length animated film would be too much, and even harmful for those who dared to view them. Fortunately, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs surprised audiences and put those speculations to rest. And Walt proved that a feature-length film could be successful, later saying, “We became aware that the days of the animated cartoon, as we had known it, were over.”
The First Fully Integrated Merchandising Program Upon a Film’s Release
During a time when merchandise was developed after a film’s release, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first to have a full merchandising campaign in place when the movie premiered. Featuring quite an assortment of products, the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs merchandise collection even extended to apparel, such as the character-inspired hats seen in the campaign titled “Snow White and the Seven Stylists.”
A keen eye will notice that these are not just any actresses in this advertisement. Modeling the “Prince Charming” hat is none other than a young new talent, Lucille Ball. Who knew there would be a link between I Love Lucy and Snow White’s Prince? And you may also recognize MGM musical star and tap dancer Ann Miller in the Happy-inspired hat. Though it may seem by chance that these famous performers are featured in the advertisement, RKO Radio Pictures distributed Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and these actors were under contract with them.
Disney’s concept of launching a merchandise campaign along with the release of a film paved the way for what we commonly see today throughout all entertainment industries. Now, it’s not unusual to see merchandise released months in advance of a movie’s premiere!
The First Motion-Picture Soundtrack
As another first, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first film to release a motion-picture soundtrack. Featuring classic songs “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Heigh Ho,” and “Whistle While You Work,” the soundtrack set a new precedent for the entertainment industry.
One interesting factor is the title of the album. Since it was the first of its kind, the term “soundtrack” had not yet been utilized. So instead, the title was quite literal: Songs from Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: with the same characters and sound effects as in the film of that title. Of course, that label quickly simplified to Motion-Picture Soundtrack.
In an interview with Brian Sibley, co-author of the book Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the Making of the Classic Film, Adriana Caselotti reminisces about recording some of the legendary songs heard on the album. “I think I was given the role not because I was better than anyone else, but because I had a voice with what Walt described as a ‘lilting quality’ that lifted—and almost smiled—as Snow White sang and spoke,” she said. Adriana continued to explain that she worked on the soundtrack for about two years, and her vocals were recorded not with an orchestra but solely with a piano.
No animated masterpiece would be complete without a cast of strong characters, and we uncovered concept artwork that gives a glimpse at some of the character development that took place.
Although some of the animation for Snow White was inspired Adriana Caselotti, the live-action model for the character was Disney Legend Marge Champion.
These early renderings of Snow White and the Prince demonstrate the 1930s influence on the characters.
In this early concept art of the Seven Dwarfs, you can see how they have very different characteristics. With time, the Seven Dwarfs eventually became the softer, warmer, and relatable characters we know today.
As the design of the characters changed, so did their identities. We found a list of alternate names for the much-loved Seven Dwarfs. Just imagine if Doc would have been called Hunky, or how about Huffy? Grumpy might have been Squinty, Bashful Wiggles, Sleepy Winky, Dopey Duffy, Happy Toots, and at one point, Sneezy Deafy. It is incredible how the name or design of a character can impact an entire film.
“The Fairest One of All” Celebrates 75 Years
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of the most written and talked about, award-winning cinematic masterpieces. It reached new milestones for Walt Disney Productions and served as a foundation for the future of feature-length animated films. But as we commemorate its 75th anniversary, there is one thing to remember: aside from its many artistic and technological breakthroughs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a heartwarming story that has inspired the young and young at heart in all of us.
As Walt described his and his staff’s work on the film, “Over at our place, we’re sure of just one thing: everybody in the world was once a child… So in planning a new picture, we don’t think of grown-ups, and we don’t think of children. But just of that fine, clean, unspoiled spot down deep in every one of us, that maybe the world has made us forget, and that maybe our pictures can help recall.”
So join us as we wish a happy birthday to The Fairest One of All!
By D23: The Official Disney Fan Club’s Melody Dale