You'd think, given her previous dealings with poison apples, that Snow White would be somewhat hesitant when it comes to visiting the Big Apple.
But Disney's very first princess (you know? The one who narrowly avoided a bad case of the Sleeping Death) is heading for the City That Never Sleeps. This Saturday morning, Snow and her seven tiny friends can be seen at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. Where the New York Film Festival -- in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the release of Walt Disney Studios' first full-length animated feature -- will be screening a state-of-the-art digital version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which will be hosted by Eric Goldberg.
And to hear this animation industry legend talk (Goldberg is probably best known as the supervising animator of the Genie character in Aladdin as well as being the co-director of Pocahontas), it's entirely appropriate that Snow White's 75th anniversary be acknowledged and celebrated at this year's NYFF.
"After all, as Walt was increasing the size of his studio's staff in preparation for the start of Snow White, he reached out and recruited some of New York City's top animators -- people like Art Babbitt and Grim Natwick -- to come work on this animated feature," Eric explained during a recent phone interview. "And it's these experienced vets who got their starts at New York-based animation studios like Fleischer & Terrytoons that then helped make the lifelike movement of the human characters like the Wicked Queen or Snow White in this movie possible."
You see, that's the thing that many film fans don't quite understand about Snow White -- that because this was the first full-length animated feature to ever be put into production, there was this huge learning curve. There was a lot of stuff that Walt and his team had to learn the hard way on this project.
"By taking the amount of time and what it cost to make an 8-minute-long animated short, Walt originally thought that he could make Snow White in two years time and for just $250,000," Goldberg said. "But in the end, it actually took three years to produce Disney Studio's first ever full-length animated feature. Not to mention costing $1.4 million. Which was a huge amount of money back then."
Yes, Snow White was obviously a huge gamble on Walt Disney's part. But when Disney's Folly premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Dec. 21, 1937, it was immediately hailed as a masterpiece. Which is why when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs began its exclusive engagement at Radio City Music Hall on Jan. 13, 1938, New Yorkers often stood for hours in the frigid winter cold just so they'd then have the chance to buy tickets for this cinematic sensation.
During Snow White's record-breaking five-week-long run at Radio City, nearly a million New Yorkers got the chance to see this animated feature at that movie palace. And the overwhelmingly positive word of mouth that came out of Snow White's sell-out engagements in New York and Hollywood then helped turn this animated feature into a box office behemoth once it went into wide release. An estimated 109 million tickets were sold to this movie in 1938, making Snow White the highest grossing film in Hollywood history until Gone With the Wind came along just two years later.
"There are so many milestones associated with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This was the first movie ever to have a best-selling soundtrack. The soundtrack album was basically invented for this movie. Plus Snow White proved that there was a huge market out there for well-produced family-oriented fantasy films. Which MGM then tried to tap into two years later when it produced The Wizard of Oz," Goldberg continued. "Plus there are all of these technological innovations associated with Snow White like use of the multiplane camera."
And speaking of innovation: As part of Saturday morning's presentation at the Walter Reade Theater, Walt Disney Animation Studios will also be showing Paperman, this new animated short that skillfully blends CG and hand-drawn animation to form something entirely new.
"And given that Paperman is basically a fairytale set in a city very much like New York of the 1950s... Well, that's what makes this short the perfect thing to screen at the New York Film Festival," Goldberg said. "What with Snow White being 'the one that started it all' at Walt Disney Studios and Paperman now being hailed as the future of animation at the studio, you then get Disney's past and future all wrapped up in one neat little package."
Add to this the fact that Saturday's presentation at the Walter Reade Theater is one of the very few times since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was last released theatrically back in 1993 that this acclaimed animated feature has been shown on the big screen in the past 19 years, and this NYFF presentation now becomes a must-see event for animation fans.
"I myself am very excited to be part of this pairing," Goldberg concluded. "To get to introduce a digital presentation of Snow White as well as see the audience's reaction to Paperman seems like a really fun way to spend a Saturday morning. Especially for all of us who grew up watching cartoons on Saturday morning television."
Jim Hill is an award-winning entertainment writer who lives in New Boston, N.H. Over the past 30 years, he has interviewed hundreds of veterans of the animation and themed entertainment industry and written extensively about The Walt Disney Company. For more of his musings on movies, TV shows, books and theme parks, please check out his blog, jimhillmedia.com.
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