Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: A Pioneering Animated Film

        Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full-length animated film. Walt Disney pictures had previously released a short film, The Three Little Pigs, which was not well received by audiences or critics. Walt Disney knew he had to change the way animation was done in order to have audience approval and support. He first got the idea for his full-length film at the age of fifteen while at the cinema ( He had seen the silent movie version of Snow White and knew the traditional Brothers Grimm fairy tale. He took what he was familiar with and made it his own. His new idea was manifested and released in 1937 in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, changing the animation film making world forever.

        While the basic plot and theme was the same, Disney is said to have taken out sexual and violent undertones to make it more family friendly. Although this was not the first appearance of a Snow White cartoon, it was the first of its kind. While most cartoons did not last longer than five minutes, Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was eighty-three minutes. It was also the first film to release a soundtrack album from the film. Thus, the Disney fairy tale was born.

        Although the Disney classic as we know it almost did not happen. Both Walt’s brother and his wife did not want Walt to take on this project (“History of Snow White”), and Walt knew it would take new ideas and innovations to create such an endeavor. Walt Disney’s own invention, used in many of his films, was called the multi-plane camera. It consisted of stacked planes of glass, each painted with a different cell of animation, which allowed for re-use of a background or scene (Bellis). Disney employed a multi-plane camera in order to create the appearance of depth in his animated films. Although this technique had only previously been used in Disney shorts, it became the pioneer in full-length animated film making.

        Disney also took time to cast the character’s voices perfectly. He went through auditions for the voice of Snow White, and he even turned down Deanna Durbin for the rather unknown and young singer, Adriana Caselotti (Disney Archives). Walt knew what he was looking for and in most cases approached the actor himself. He chose many screen and radio actors for parts, and Pinto Colvig, better known as Goofy, to play two of the dwarfs ( Walt was determined to make this film a success.

        When it came to the actual animation of Snow White, Disney wanted to make cartoons new. He told his animation team to forego the “rubber hose” idea of cartoons. This troupe was built on the idea that characters could move in ways that do not conform to anatomy, or as if their limbs were made of rubber hoses (Crandol). Therefore, Snow White’s characters were based off of real people, giving them human qualities. This new animation process called for larger drawing boards and over 750 animators. It took around four years and close to $1.7 million to finish this film (Dirks). This expenditure was exorbitant and was another first for the animation motion picture world. At the end of the credits, Walt personally thanked his animation team, “My sincere appreciation to the members of my staff whose loyalty and creative endeavor made possible this production” (Dirks). He knew what they had done was new and even seen as crazy (in fact it was referred to as “Disney’s folly” (“History of Snow White”) in the years of production) and he knew he could not have pulled it off without the work and creativity of his team.

         Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in December of 1937 and wildly received and acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. On the night of its premier, the audience gave it a standing ovation ( After its release to the public in April, Snow White was the largest grossing movie of all time, and was only surpassed by the release of Gone with the Wind (Disney Archives).

        Although loved and adored by many, the only Oscar nomination received was for Best Score (Dirks), though later Disney received an Honorary Oscar. The film was “recognized as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon” (Dirks). According to the Disney Archives, “the film received a special Academy Award in 1939 consisting of one full-size Oscar and seven dwarf Oscars, all presented to Walt Disney by Shirley Temple” (Disney Archives).

        Disney’s Snow White was also the first Disney film released to RKO Studios (Dirks). This arrangement between Disney and RKO lasted for some years, until 1953 when Disney opened his own distribution studio, Buena Vista. Snow White was not released on VHS until 1994, and was the last of the early Disney movies to be released. It sold over ten million copies in one week, quickly surpassed Aladdin’s twenty-four million copies sold, and eventually sold over fifty million copies worldwide, making Snow White the best selling cassette of all time (Avery). Another first for this film was the digitizing process. It was the first film to be restored and the “first ever to be completely digitized by computer, cleaned up, and then printed back to film” ( for its 1993 release. It also set a record in 2001 for DVD sales, selling one million copies in one day. In 2009, Snow White debuted at number two for Blu-ray sales (Cera). Clearly, this is a film that even after seventy years is still sought, loved, and admired. It really holds up to its title as a pioneer and a classic.

        Snow White’s success launched The Golden Age of Hollywood cartoon from the late 1930s to the 1940s ( More successes were to follow Disney’s Snow White along with more milestones and innovations to animation. Films such as Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi are a few of the famous Disney full-length animated films to come out of Snow White’s sensation. Walt Disney was able to take risks in his animation and bring wonderful stories to audiences all over the world.

Works Cited

Avery, Tex “Animated Films”: “The First Full-Length Animated Film” and “Disney’s Golden Age of Hollywood Animations in the 40s.” Film Site 2010 [].

Bellis, Mary. “Walt Disney- Multiplane Camera.” Inventors About 2011 [].

Cera, Michael. “Disney’s ‘Snow White’ Earns Top Sales Spot.” Hollywood Reporter 2009. 2011 [].

Crandol, Michael. “The History of Animation: Advantages and Disadvantages of the Studio System in the Production of an Art Form.” Digital Media FX, 2011


Lauren Bauer

Table of Contents