Stunning. Absolutely stunning. I wish I could turn back time to watch the gorgeous visual presentation of Disney‘s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray disc for the first time, all over again. Experiencing this, the first Diamond Edition release from Walt Disney Home Entertainment‘s new line of classic films on Blu-ray, was akin to feeding my hungry eyes a platter of pure 2D animated magic.
I don’t think I really need to run down the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for you, do I? (Read the full original English text by the Brothers Grimm here, if you don’t know it yet.) Disney’s interpretation is pretty much a classic by now. And though it feels it’s being told in a style that’s far from contemporary, Snow White holds up. Enough about the the story, let’s get to the meat of my commentary. Let’s talk about the Blu-ray disc itself!
Robert A. Harris, the famous film historian and preservationist responsible for restoring innumerable films like Lawrence of Arabia (in 1989), Spartacus (1991), My Fair Lady (1994), Vertigo (1996) Rear Window (1998) and more recently the Godfather films, has stated the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray disc is “…essential to any serious collection.” I’d say that’s putting it lightly. This disc is as good as home video gets. Disney has given the film, which many consider to be one of the most important in cinema history, the royal treatment. It looks and sounds absolutely terrific! The studio could have scrubbed it to the bone, removed all grain, sacrificed detail, chopped it to fit your widescreen plasma display or performed any number of operations that would have “improved” the film for modern home video audiences. Instead, they’ve allowed Lowry Digital to carefully bring the 1937 animated film to life, scanning all elements at 4K and using the same proprietary technology that has taken care of classics from The Wizard of Oz to the Star Trek TV series. I can’t imagine Blu-ray getting any better than this.
That being said, this Blu-ray presentation won’t be for everyone. There will be a portion of the audience disappointed by the warts-and-all transfer presented on the disc. There are damaged or misplaced cells within the film which cause it to appear out of focus for a time. This is fine detail that even Walt Disney wouldn’t have noticed during the creation of the film because of the lack of resolution of the Technicolor process. The studio could have digitally “corrected” this effect but chose instead to leave the work as it was created. Brilliant! Again, this is what Blu-ray should be.
By the same token, the sound on the disc is fantastic! I’m sorry for all the unadulterated raving and praise I’m showering on this release but, man, they’ve really knocked it out of the park. The 7.1 DTS-Master Audio track could have been really insulting and over the top, translating the original mono elements into some surround-sound abomination. But again, Disney provides a truly dynamic presentation while remaining true to the spirit of the original work. And just to cover all of their bases, the studio has included the original mono track, for all you purists out there.
The bonus features on the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray disc are wonderful but problematic. Let’s start with the wonder. There is so much stuff packed on to two Blu-ray discs! I spent hours combing through every nook and cranny of this thing – a commentary track hosted by historian John Canemaker and featuring comments by Walt Disney himself, deleted scenes and storyboards, short documentaries and the Hyperion Studios tour which encompasses hours upon hours of shorts (Silly Symphonies in HD!), galleries, featurettes and audio snippets. And don’t even get me started about the creepy “Magic Mirror” which greets you every time you put the disc in. That thing will talk to you about the time of day, the weather outside, how many times you’ve watched the disc…Brrr…Creepy…
What I didn’t like about the extras was the Hyperion Studios tour navigation and the fact that Disney has failed to include all of the bonus features from the 2001 DVD release. In order to watch the features buried within the Hyperion tour (and they are multitudinous!) , the disc forces you to navigate your way through a maze of “rooms” within the studio. So, say for instance that I wanted to watch the “Steamboat Willy” short (Did I mention that all the Silly Symphonies are in HD! SILLY SYMPHONIES IN HD!!! “THE OLD MILL”, “FLOWERS AND TREES”, “GODDESS OF SPRING” AND MORE IN HD!!!! … You should really just stop reading now and run out and buy this disc.) I’d have to find my way over to the “Sound Stage” before selecting it. This is a drag. By the same token, I found it annoying that there wasn’t a “Play All” button that would have just taken me on the tour, allowing me to sit back and enjoy all the contents. I found myself having to press play on a new feature at least every few minutes. Hell, some of the little nuggets of information, like “Stories from the Camera Department” are less than 60 seconds long!
From what I can tell, this new Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray is missing a few critical features from the 2001 DVD. Most critically a 40-minute documentary hosted by Angela Lansbury and more abandoned and deleted scenes. It’s a shame we’re all going to have to hold on to our old DVDs to have everything. I mean, the feature is the thing here and it is glorious. But this would have been a perfect disc for me, if Disney had made it a bit more comprehensive. Seriously, ditch the Tiffany Thorton music video (Who the hell is Tiffany Thorton anyway?) and give me more deleted scenes!
One final gripe – the packaging. I live for this stuff. I love Blu-ray and home video. And despite my familiarity with these sorts of things I found the dual package marketing strategy baffling. It took me ages to figure out that Disney was offering the same contents in two completely different packages, targeted at two different audiences. One release is in standard Blu-ray packaging, implying that the DVD included in the package is a bonus. The other release is in standard DVD packaging and strongly implies that the Blu-ray content is the bonus. ARGHH!! What a frustrating thing to do to your customers, Disney! I mean, I get it. I understand what the goal is but there’s got to be a better way. Just saying.
NOTE: The Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Blu-ray disc is only $9.99 at Amazon.com at the moment (Oct. 6, 2009.) Use the code “snowhite” to get $10 off their already amazingly low price!