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Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Disc review by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Diamond Edition (Blu-ray Disc)

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Diamond Edition
1937 (2009) - Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Released on Blu-ray Disc (+DVD) on October 6th, 2009
Also available in DVD (+Blu-ray) packaging


Film Rating: B
Video (1-20): 18.5
Audio (1-20): 16
Extras: A-

Nowadays, it's hard to even think about a time when there wasn't animation on the big screen. It's also difficult to conceive that there was a time when all animation was disposable entertainment, set to goofy music. But the time was the 1930s, and the country was in the middle of the Great Depression. The newfangled Technicolor process was wowing audiences desperately in need of some escapism.

At his Hyperion studios, Walt Disney had been developing cartoon shorts (the Silly Symphonies), and characters like Mickey and Donald, for close to a decade when he finally got the financing to take all of the technologies and techniques his team had been innovating into a large film format. The effort was considered "Disney's Folly" and cost close to a million dollars - a huge sum in those days. Yet despite the critics, the resulting film delighted audiences. Snow White would become a Rosetta Stone in the evolution of the art form, and it inspired generations of animators that followed.

Not content with the excellent remastering done for the previous 2001 DVD re-issue of Snow White, Disney has pulled out the negatives again and let their skilled team of restorationists go nuts. The studio's new Diamond Edition Blu-ray offers the film in pristine high-definition form. Disney appears to have taken some of the criticism of its recent Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio Blu-rays to heart, as Snow White appears less digitally-scrubbed. The image here retains more of the subtle brush strokes and other naturally-occurring flaws in hand-drawn and painted animation - the very things that give it the warmth and character that separates such work from today's computer-assisted productions. I do still wish Disney had left more of the film grain in the image, but it appears that they've decided to recreate not the original theatrical experience of the film, but rather the look of the original artwork as it appeared on the animation stand during production. It's not that taking out the grain has harmed image fidelity - far from it. But grain does help to retain that original analog warmth of the film. Snow White does have many instances of what the casual viewer could mistake for edge enhancement. The reality is more interesting: Many times when animation cels were photographed, especially 70 years ago, they wouldn't lie entirely flat on the background. This results in reflections from the acetate, shadows and other artifacts that are part of the film, and I wouldn't have it any other way. In any case, while some purists' mileage may vary, I think the image here is very, very good - definitely better than Disney's last couple of animated Blu-rays.

The audio comes in 2 flavors: The original restored mono track and a brand new DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 remix. The 7.1 track sounds pretty good, given the limited fidelity of the source material (Snow White's voice is so high, it's occasionally almost incomprehensible due to distortion), but it feels almost like it's been stretched too thin. The original mono mix has a tad more body to it. In the end, it'll all come down to your personal preference, but I wish they could have done the mono in lossless as well for a proper comparison.

Disney knocked Snow White out of the park back in 2001, with an amazing bonus package to kick off their Platinum DVD line, and it looks like the new Diamond Blu-rays will be just as impressive. The first thing that dazzled me here, was that the interactive menus are ACTUALLY interactive. The Magic Mirror that hosts them remembers what you've looked at before and even notices what your remote is currently selecting. Consequently, he makes suggestions as to what other extras you might enjoy, and even remains waiting on the screen as you switch discs. This is a subtle surprise that really stands out as a next-generation experience.

Disc One of the Blu-ray includes the film itself, along with audio commentary by animator (and animation historian) John Canemaker, a fascinating featurette on newly-discovered storyboards that suggest Walt may have been planning a sequel, a pair of deleted scenes, a sneak peek of the studio's new The Princess and the Frog (along with numerous other previews), a music video for Some Day My Prince Will Come, a number of BD-Java interactive games for the kids and the usual BD-Live features.

Disc Two adds more new documentary featurettes, including the Hyperion Studios exploration of Walt's original animation facility and The One That Started It All, which examines Show White's influence on animation and the cinema in general. The disc also includes an archive of most (but not all) of the extras that were contained on the original Platinum Edition DVD, though at least some of what's missing appears to be either redundant or outdated material. Most notably missing are several deleted scenes and vintage radio bits. Here's the complete list of missing material (note that those who want it all will need to keep BOTH discs of the Platinum Edition): The excerpt from Tricks of Our Trade, Camera Tests, Abandoned Concepts, The Restoration, the Walt Disney Biographical Timeline, the Snow White Production Timeline, the Original Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale, the Storyboard-to-Film Comparisons, the original RKO opening and ending credits, all the radio shows and spots, 3 of the deleted scenes, the Silly Song Recording Session and the deleted song (You're Never Too Old to be Young).

Missing content aside, there's still so much material - and so much new material - that it's impossible to list it all here. But by the time you emerge on the other side of this experience, you'll really understand just about everything you'd want to know about the making of this film. It's also worth nothing that there IS Silly Symphonies footage (and other cartoon material) in the new documentaries, seen in HD for the first time on disc. I should mention that this set also includes a DVD movie disc for the kids.

The packaging appears to represent a new marketing strategy for Disney. The combined Blu-ray/DVD release is available in both DVD and Blu-ray-sized cases, so the end user should be careful which one they grab off of the rack. (Though both include the same discs.) The Blu-ray cover art prominently features the Hag Queen and the poison apple, while the DVD brings Snow White front and center. On the one hand, this is an interesting effort by the studio to get the Blu-ray stocked on more store shelves, and also to get the Blu-ray version in more living rooms. Moms grabbing the DVD for their kids will eventually discover that they've also got the Blu-ray, and those who buy the set for Blu-ray might find it useful to have the DVD version too. Either way, there's perceived added value to the set. On the other hand, it's also a risky move that might simply confuse people. This could happen if people buy the DVD packaging and then mistakenly put one of the Blu-ray discs in their DVD player. We'll have to see how consumers react to it.

In the end, Snow White successfully launches Disney's new Diamond line as revolutionary and different from the earlier Platinum Edition releases, but not without sacrificing some previously released extras. Still, with its innovative menus, high-quality A/V presentation and terrific new special features, what you do get in this set should be enough to satisfy all but the most hardcore of Disneyphiles. Hopefully, a lot of retailer demos will be showing this disc (and Warner's new Wizard of Oz) over the holidays, so that people will have the chance to see just how good old movies really can look on Blu-ray. Snow White in high-def is definitely recommended!

Jeff Kleist

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