Snow White Premieres
On December 21, 1937, Walt Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the world’s first full-length animated feature film.
“Snow White” is an old German folktale, preserved in written form by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. The story tells of a princess who survives the murderous efforts of a jealous queen with the help of seven dwarfs. Disney was inspired to re-tell the tale, removing much of the original story’s violence and playing up the romance.
From the very beginning, Snow White was a labor of love for its creators. It all began one night in 1934, when Walt Disney gathered his team of animators in a small sound stage on the Disney lot. There, he shared the story by acting out every role, running around the stage like a man possessed. One member of Disney’s creative team reported that while the movie was great, it didn’t eclipse the original performance.
By all accounts, this was the largest undertaking ever attempted by the Disney Studio. The cartoon short of the past was no longer financially viable and something new had to take its place. Creating the film would prove to be a daunting task that took almost four years. Disney employed 750 animators who made two million sketches for Snow White. The final movie had approximately a quarter of a million frames and cost almost $1.5 million. Disney had to borrow money and take out a mortgage on his house to meet the rising cost.
The animators also paid amazing attention to detail in the production. They chose colors to trigger certain feelings toward characters and even did experiments with light and shadow to ensure an authentic look.
Convinced that the project would fail because audiences wouldn’t sit through a full-length cartoon, the Hollywood film industry labeled the film “Disney’s Folly.” But viewers were excited and buzz surrounding the movie grew as the premiere drew closer. Advanced ticket sales outpaced any other movie ever booked at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. Demand was so great that people were limited to four tickets each. The premiere showing sold out, but an additional 30,000 people lined up around the block on December 21, 1937 just to be a part of the unprecedented event.
Walt and his wife arrived at the theater to a massive fanfare and watched the movie with some of the day’s biggest celebrities, including Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Milton Berle, Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant, and George Burns. After watching the movie, Chaplin said that it “even surpassed our highest expectations. In Dwarf Dopey, Disney has created one of the greatest comedians of all time.”
Snow White’s massive success was a turning point in Disney’s career, establishing him as one of the world’s most beloved film makers. The movie was not only the world’s first full-length animated film, it was also the first to ever have a soundtrack recording album released for it. It held the title of highest-grossing film ever for exactly one year, after which it was knocked out of the top spot by Gone With The Wind.
In 1994, Snow White became the first cartoon selected for the National Film Registry. In addition, the movie was voted the 23rd Greatest Film of all time by Entertainment Weekly, and is the highest ranked animated film on the list.
Click here to see video from the 1937 premiere event.