Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Two books were recently released by J.B. Kaufman, noted film historian and author, regarding the 75th Anniversary of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs released on December 21, 1937.

1.)    The Fairest One of All: The Making of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

2.)    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Art and Creation of Walt Disney’s Classic Animated Film

In 2008, the American Film Institute named Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the Greatest Animated Film of all time.  J.B. Kaufman joined “Adventures by Daddy” to discuss the importance of the film, his new two books, and a special exhibit opening at the Walt Disney Family Museum honoring “Snow White.”  Continue reading to listen to and follow along with my interview with J.B. Kaufman.

Click on the “play” button to listen to the interview with film historian J.B. Kaufman

[audio:http://www.adventuresbydaddy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/JB-Kaufman-Snow-White-interview.mp3|titles=JB Kaufman Snow White interview]

The Pinnacle of Animation

“There had never been a film like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs before, and I would argue that there’s never been one quite like it since.”  That’s how J.B. Kaufman responded when asked why “Snow White” was such an important piece of film history.  Walt Disney and his staff of artists spent 4 years of painstaking, perfectionist attention to detail to make this one animated film.  Guided by Walt Disney’s vision, 32 animators, 1032 assistants, 107 in-betweeners, 10 layout artists, 25 background artists, 65 special effects animators, 158 inkers and painters, and countless production staff came together to create the film masterpiece.

Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller shared, “My Dad was completely and intimately engaged in this film from start to finish.”  J.B. Kaufman concurred, “He was in that film up to his eyebrows.  He lived and breathed for the whole time it was in production.  It’s safe to say that there’s not a frame in that film that wasn’t carefully, carefully, inspected by Walt Disney and usually done over multiple times because of things he didn’t think were quite right.”

It could be said Walt Disney’s and his studios’ sole focus was one of the reasons “Snow White” reached such a high level of achievement.  While major studios at the time, Warner Bros., Paramount, and MGM, released a feature length film every week, Kaufman noted the Disney Studio focused on this one special project, and took its time producing “Snow White.”

A Dwarf Named Awful

J.B. Kaufman’s books are full of details regarding the production of the film.  For example, the “Snow White” fairy tale was passed down through an oral tradition until the Grimm Brothers collected it in the early 1800’s.  However in the Grimm version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the dwarfs are not differentiated at all and do not have individual names.  It wasn’t until Walt Disney’s version, that the dwarfs were all named and became distinct characters.  Kaufman elaborated on a technique the Disney Studios artists used known as “personality animation.”

Personality animation distinguished a character not only by the way he talks and the actions he does, but by the way he does those actions.  The way he moves.  For example, just the act of walking across a room there are so many ways of doing that, and each one of those walks can tell you about the character.  So, in a way, the Seven Dwarfs were a textbook exercise in personality animation.

They [the artists] knew from the start that the individual’s traits would be summed up in the character’s name.  So there was a list of almost 50 different names.  Some of the more interesting ones… Awful was an interesting dwarf.  The outline in which he was proposed said he steals, and drinks, and is very dirty.  The other dwarfs have impressed on him that he is a soul beyond redemption and whenever something happens , he gets blamed for it (whether it’s his fault or not).  Awful cheerfully accepts the blame saying, ‘I deserve it.’

Dopey was a character planned for the production of “Snow White” all along, but his personality evolved over the course of the production.  Kaufman explained,

“At one point he [Dopey] was going to be a real chatterbox – he not only could talk, but never stopped talking.  Whenever anything serious was going on, he would make some sort of silly remark and the others would slap him down.  As you know, that idea was eventually abandoned and, as they say in the film… ‘He don’t talk none, and it’s not that he can’t, he never tried.’”

Walt Disney considered “Snow White” the perfect story for his first full-length animated feature, and the distinct personalities of the Dwarfs ensured it would appeal to audience of every kind.  Watch the video below for more details on J.B. Kaufman’s books.

Walt Disney Family Museum Special Exhibition

The Walt Disney Family Museum opened in October 2009 on The Presidio in San Francisco, CA, and chronologically tells the story of Walt Disney, the man, and his career over the course of 10 permanent galleries.  There’s also a separate gallery that can be used for rotating programs, and the first one will be this large scale exhibition of original, production art from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  The special exhibition Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic opens November 15, 2012 and runs until April 14, 2013.

Curator of the exhibit is Lella Smith, Creative Director of the Animation Research Library (ARL) at the Walt Disney Studio.  Kaufman described the special exhibit,

“There are a few pieces in it that will be familiar to Snow White enthusiasts, but there are also quite a number of pieces that have not been displayed before.  It’s pretty mind-boggling to see the tremendous range of art that was created for this film apart from what actually wound up on the screen.  There’s a lot of concept art there, which was understood from the start would not be seen by anybody except the studio staff.  Yet, these are really gorgeous works of art.  So you get everything from concept art to story sketches to animation drawing all the way through to background paintings and finished cel setups that you see in the film.  I can tell you there’s just a tremendous wealth of art on display, and anybody who loves the film will have the opportunity to truly immerse themselves in this tremendous collection of art.”

Gabriella Calicchio, the Museum’s Chief Executive Officer comments, “I am extremely pleased to present Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic as the museum’s first major special exhibition.  As the film turns 75, the exhibition showcases Disney’s ongoing significance and relevance on contemporary culture.  I am truly inspired by Walt’s life and work, not only for the breadth of his creativity and for his accomplishments, but for his fundamental belief in the power of the imagination, his unwavering tenacity, and the visionary genius he became by following that belief.  Disney’s legacy is limitless and I hope the exhibition will ignite creativity and imagination in all of us.”

The Walt Disney Family Museum is open from 10am-6pm Wednesday through Monday and closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  Admission price is $20/adult, $15 for seniors and students, and $12 for children ages 6-17.  There is an additional ticket required for the Snow White exhibit costing $10, or you can purchase a combination ticket including general museum admission for $25/adult, $20 for seniors and students, and $15 for children ages 6-17.  For more information, please see the Walt Disney Family Museum website.

I would love to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum to see this special exhibit, and if any of the readers get out there, please let us know what you think.  If you can’t make it out to the museum, I encourage you to pick up a copy of one (or both) of J.B. Kaufman’s books.  They are gorgeous works of art themselves, and I’m sure any fan of Disney animation would treasure them.  For more family entertainment and travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.