Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs - Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Oct 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs - Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £22.31


    We have a couple of ways of enjoying this Disney disc. The film's original Academy ratio of 1.37:1 (1.33:1 on the packaging) can be viewed as the typical square-box in the middle of the screen, with black borders on either side, or, very nicely indeed, with decorative wall-paintings specially crafted by artist Toby Bluth to take their place. These, the inclusion of which is how I preferred to watch the film, seek to blend in with the settings and the scenes they accompany as best they can. Forests tend to adapt woodland colours and textures, the cottage has a rustic surround, and the castle some dark and carved masonry. There are many who will decry this as woefully unnecessary, but I found them striking and very complimentary and a clever little visual aside.

    As to the transfer, itself, Snow White looks utterly spellbinding ... but then, you expected that, didn't you? Disney were hardly going to botch this one up along the lines of Dreamworks/Paramount and Gladiator. A very thin layer of grain lends cinematic texture and the image, completely robust and steady as a rock, looks sublimely film-like and unmolested by DNR, edge enhancement or artefacts. The trace elements of haloing that sometimes appear are part and parcel of the cell-drawn and painted animation process, as is the brightening of Snow White's face in a few shots, and not something that the Blu-ray transfer has cooked up.

    Brilliantly restored, Snow White comes very close to meeting the unbelievably clean, sharp and vivid transfer that graced Sleeping Beauty but, if anything, the more organic tones and hues, the softer and more rounded animation seen here present a richer, more involving picture. The heightened reality of the pencil-crafted texture makes each and every shot seem somehow more alive, the MPEG-4 transfer capturing the fullness of the subjects and providing them with a surprising level of depth within the 2D frame. The backgrounds, so painterly and exquisitely rendered, now seem more immersive than before, offering a deeper and more detailed aspect for the eyes to rove around. Dirt and debris and the accumulated signs of the film's vintage are almost completely eradicated. Just a few very minute smears now appear in place of the cracks and tears that were once there and you can see the very slight contrast wavers within thicker colours, but this only adds to the charm of the image, lending it a quirky sort of continual “life” that maintains the organic quality that hand-drawn animation from the first great period of the medium are so renowned for. Blacks are deep and smooth, well presented without any softening, lightening or grey infiltration that hasn't been intended. Certain images - the Queen's black cloak when she adopts her crone's disguise, and the wooded hollow that the forest critters hide within - look terrific and provide some incredibly strong contrast to the various tones that surround them.

    There is such a lush saturation to the primaries and such care with the shading of the secondaries that the image can't fail to entrance. It is easy to say about a painstakingly cosseted Disney movie on Blu-ray, but this really does weave a visual spell that just cannot disappoint. That apple is ablaze with scarlet danger. The midnight blues of the glen, the white arrows of rain and the forks of lightning, and the fantastic little gleaming whites and yellows of animal eyes peeping out from the shadows, and the cosily entrancing colours of the costumes - softer for the good guys, sharper for the Queen - blend so meticulously and seamlessly into the frame that you have to be thankful that the engineers have resisted the temptation to boost the palette. Each and every candle, lantern, fire and ray of sunlight positively glows with marvellously accurate warmth.

    Sometimes there can a vague smudging of movement, almost as though the original pencil-lines are struggling to catch up with the fluid image. This is common to every version of the film that I have seen, though, so is certainly not an error of the encode. Edge enhancement and banding? Erm ... nope, not a problem. Detail is wonderful to behold, everything that was drawn and animated is there in absolute clarity, nothing crushed, nothing scrubbed and nothing sharpened.

    Surely, this version of Snow White is the fairest of them all.

    Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs - Diamond Edition Picture


    Disney's disc incorporates a new DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio mix that enhances what we have heard before in terms of crisp, clear sound. I often lament the use of pseudo-surround channels in the revamped mixes of old movies, especially horror films since, and companies like Anchor Bay have, in the past, incurred some serious vitriol from me in reviews for such blatant audio idiocy. But Disney are another kettle of fish altogether in that they sincerely aren't just trying to “sensationalise” a once mediocre sound design merely to attract the punters. Having said that though, it really shouldn't be possible to stretch out the original mono signal with any convincing level of natural authenticity, and yet there is nothing exhibited here that sounds bogus, fake or artificially forced. I will, however, say that Snow White doesn't really deserve a full 7.1 makeover - and, if we are honest, it doesn't exactly make much use of those extra channels in any grand, show-boating manner. But what this new lossless track does achieve is a totally respectful and ambience-rich presentation that brings all the old elements into crisper, cleaner clarity and provides an overall warmth that is eminently rewarding. And it does, at least, deliver more of a pleasing wraparound experience than you may imagine.

    Surround effects come into play when Snow White is compelled to flee into the woods near the start, the music and the whirling nightmarish activity reaching a fine crescendo as she collapses in a feverish swoon that ripples away behind us. The storm also benefits from the extra dimensionality, with some nicely augmented wind and rain effects and a clear boost to the thunder and lightning. Sub activity - something else that I hadn't expected - also invigorates these scenes with some pretty decent, if restrained, deep reverberation. But another element that is picked-up by the lossless surround track and slightly stretched-out with clarity and a newly formed sense of envelopment, is the diamond digging that the Dwarfs busy themselves with down in their mine. Here, we have some beautifully crisp clanks! and cracks! as their pickaxes hit the rock and some definite spatiality to the cave-set design. Listen to the beautiful high-ends as gems are tested with a hammer, or flung, in bags, into the shed. There is a lot more detail and precision to be heard in such, otherwise, subtle instances.

    Needless to say, with this clean-up job, there is no hiss or distortion whatsoever. Most of the action is frontally-based, as it should be, but the extension to the other channels, whilst not groundbreaking, is both worthy and subtle.

    Perhaps we shouldn't be trying to pick fault, but if I had to find something to say about this track that wasn't glowing, it would be that the dialogue, primarily for Snow White, the Queen and the Prince, sounds subdued and, well, dwarfed, by the soundscape around it. This has always been the case, of course. But, considering the otherwise grand remixing and prioritisation that has taken place elsewhere, this just seems a little more noticeable, with the voices set just a little bit lower in the mix than the activity around them. Still, this is a wonderful revamp that surely can't upset the purists too much, especially as the original mix, albeit restored, is included, as well.

    A very pleasing new mix, folks.

    Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs - Diamond Edition Sound


    Disney's 3-disc Diamond Edition for Snow White has a lot of goodies to explore.

    Disc One

    Here we have the main feature, with its two viewing styles, as well as a little explanation regarding the illustrated borders. We also have the talking mirror that greets you when you hit the main menu - cajoling you with the weather outside, provided you are connected to the net, and reminding you where you left off your previous viewing visit, etc - that is a great, and slightly unnerving gimmick.

    There is a collection of archival anecdotes about the film from the great Walt Disney, himself, pieced together to form a commentary that is further spiced-up and smoothed over with some fascinating insight from film historian, John Canemaker, to aid the experience.

    Then there is the 8-minute preview of Disney's soon to be released movie, The Princess and the Frog - a film that Pixar/Disney honcho John Lasseter assures us will be a return to traditional hand-drawn animation. I have to say that I like the look of this New Orleans-set, voodoo-tinted fantasy. The guys in charge of the production attempt some humour, but the real delight here is the 6-minute showcase that actually hails from the start of the new movie, itself. Although part of what we see is only in black and white rough pencil, the first portion is in glorious colour and hi-def ... and, man, does it look splendid!

    Next up there is a tantalising look at what could have been a follow-on of sorts to Snow White with some newly discovered storyboards and sketches for the aborted Snow White Returns. Given a narrative voice-over and some character-inspired acting, we get to see what may have been nothing more than a short that details the comical adventures of the Dwarfs when they learn that Snow White is coming to pay them their annual visit.

    More fun is to be had from a couple of Deleted Scenes which are actually the full sequences that feature in the unfinished Snow White Returns, of which the previous featurette only gave us snippets.

    Games round out the disc - Jewel Jumble proved to be an addictive favourite with my kids - as well as a rather naff music video of Someday My Prince Will Come, sung by some lamentable teen-pop starlet. Eminently forgettable.

    Disc Two

    This is were the majority of the extra material resides ... and there sure is a lot of it!

    Under the banner of Hyperion Studios we get to languish in pure, unadulterated Disney nirvana. Divided-up into various “rooms”, the disc even conveniently ticks off places and features that you have visited, keeping tabs on you, as it were. Now, I'm afraid that I am not going to go in-depth on any of this stuff simply because I haven't been able to wade through it all yet. But take it from me, if you are fan of the film and of the sheer class of Walt Disney and his army of creative geniuses then this prestigious cavalcade of galleries, vintage cartoons, mini-docs and featurettes will be as precious as the gems that the Dwarfs dig up.

    We have three sections that look at the beginnings of the Disney empire, or Hyperion Studios, as they were originally called - in Where It All Began (12 min), which looks at the creator and his animators, The One that Started It All (17 min), a terrific retrospective which reveals the impact of Snow White and the power and finance it brought to the fledgling company, and the brief Family Business (2 min), which serves to exhibit the sheer joy that working for Disney imbues in its skilled animators. We also have the familiar features of Disney Through The Ages and Animation Voice Talent that were on the previous Collector's Edition, as well as Dopey's Wild Mine Ride and the “Heigh-Ho” karaoke sing-along.

    Next, under the title of Story Room, we get a couple of very extensive galleries for storyboards and abandoned concepts, some very swift, but fun, interviews and some insight into Walt Disney's somewhat unorthodox working methods (bribing his writers to come up with gags and prowling around the studio, salvaging scrapped sketches and ideas from the animators' bins). We also get to learn about some early notions for the Dwarfs' names and get to see the celebrated short “Babes In The Wood” (8 mins) that gives us a version of Hansel And Gretel.

    Music Room offers some very brief background to the scoring of the movie and the sound design, but is most notable for the inclusion of the great short animation, Skeleton Dance (6 mins).

    Moving on to Art Department, and the disc provides us with two more gorgeous galleries of artwork, as well some smart and fascinating, though still very brief featurettes on how the animation was developed and how Walt Disney's vision steered the whole look and feel of the film. Of particular note is how European and medieval castles and landscapes influenced the atmospheric aesthetic of Snow White's magical, but dangerous realm. Another vintage cartoon pops up here, too, with a Silly Symphony entitled Music Land (10 mins).

    Character Design is nowhere near as comprehensive a section as I thought it was going to be. We learn about the concepts and desired intentions for the Dwarfs and we get to see some Colour Tests and a much smaller gallery of design imagery.

    Background and Layout then broadens our insight regarding the settings for these characters and reveals how shots were set up. A couple more galleries follow, with some lush illustrations of scenic splendour.

    Animation Department, naturally, takes a look at how the film was brought to life and padded out with some backslapping from the people who work such wonders for a living. Two more vintage cartoons can also be found here, with a very early outing for Disney's favourite pooch in Playful Pluto (8 mins) and Goddess Of Spring (10 mins).

    In Live Action Reference, we discover how real movement, poise and anatomy were studied to aid the animation of the film in a small featurette and then a gallery of posed imagery. In this section, we also learn about the casting of the voices for the characters and get to see some footage of Adriana Caselotti, who provided the tonsils for Snow White, herself.

    Another deleted scene crops up in the section called Sweatbox. Only a couple of minutes long this reveals a playful Bedroom Fight Scene that was ultimately cut from the film. The Sweatbox refers to the screening room in which Uncle Walt would assess the quality and relevance of scenes as they were being worked-upon, a valuable tactic that could end a lot of painstaking graft on something that clearly wasn't going to fit in with his vision.

    Far too brief, Ink And Paint, offers a couple of mini-featurettes that look at how the animation cells were then painted and coloured. More of Walt's workplace methodology is mentioned, too, with the segregation of his staff in the 2-minute Life In The Nunnery. But bolstering this section is the Oscar-winning short Flowers And Trees (9 mins) and another gallery.

    Camera Department comments on how Disney liked to film his glorious animation and the innovation the studio had to bring in with the photography, via “multiplane” cameras. To further illustrate their unique abilities, we get to see the short The Old Mill (9 mins) that was used to fully test out the technique.

    Sound Stage explains the effects work created for the film, but the best element of this little section is the inclusion of the famous Steamboat Willie short (8 mins), the first cartoon to use synchronized sound to complement it. Excellent and historic stuff, again.

    Saccharine backslapping rounds things out with a touching little piece entitled Walt's Office, purporting to inform us what it would have been like to have worked with the great man, himself. And then, finally, we get another couple of image galleries, this time covering publicity and production stills.

    A standard DVD version sits on the third disc in this combo-pack.

    Overall, this is a fairly exhaustive collection, but I still wish that a lot of these tiny little featurettes had been sort of amalgamated into one lengthier documentary, to ease off the interactivity a bit.

    Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs - Diamond Edition Extras


    It is impossible to underestimate the power and everlasting legacy that Snow White has over Cinema. The film is achingly beautiful, even if it remains one of the studio's slightest productions, narratively speaking. But its power lies equally in this simplicity as it does in its visual splendour. Funny, exciting and terrifying, Snow White is a fairytale of darkness and delight, charity and cruelty. It's got a princess, an evil queen, cute woodland critters and a gaggle of tumbling, prat-falling, slapstick-clowns who just may be the most courageous bunch of reluctant heroes around. The songs, by and large, stink, but the magic is undeniable, even after all these years.

    After Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio blew us all away with their Blu-ray transfers, Snow White now looks set to do just the same. The studio is certainly back with a vengeance and they know what they are doing with the restoration and presentation of their vintage masterpieces. The extensive package of extras offers a winning combination of trivia, fact and production insight. The inclusion of so many classic early cartoons is a collector's dream, and the kids will be happy with the games and a “real” Magic Mirror.

    Film-fan? Then you can't afford to pass this up. It is that simple. No film collection should be without this seminal masterpiece.

    Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs - Diamond Edition Verdict

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.31

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