Saturday Matinee #73, Snow White's Scary Adventures Farewell Tour: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - The FIRST Trailer! (circa 1937/1938) - published May 26, 2012
by Albert Gutierrez
While Magic Kingdom's Snow White will be taking her final flight through the forest on May 31, fans can still see her terror-inducing chase in the original attraction at Disneyland. And, of course, on film. Snow White's run through the forest is one of the most impressive sequences in Disney animation, as it is a testament to both the immediacy of Snow White's flight, as well as the unlimited range of her imagination. In addition, it's perhaps the best-scored scene in the entire film. But I'll save an analysis of that scene for a future Saturday Matinee. Instead, Saturday Matinee continues with From Screen to Theme's "Farewell Tour" for Snow White's Scary Adventures by celebrating her introduction to the audiences.
We'll take a look at the public's first real glimpse of Disney's Snow White through her first official appearance: the theatrical trailer. It should be noted that the theatrical short "How Walt Disney Cartoons Are Made" featured some behind-the-scenes footage of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, it was not until the theatrical trailer that audiences saw full-color imagery from the film.
Hyperbole: not just advertising, but a way of life!
As the adage goes, "go hard or go home." Hyperbole was not just advertising, it was a way of life. Just pick any A-level movie at random from 1930 to 1975, you know the kind. The big-budget epic with a lot of star power, or at the very least, a lot of publicity from the studio. You'll see advertising that sells these films as the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's either through quoted reviews from notable critics (who themselves were no stranger to hyperbole either), or their own big words. Even Disney was no stranger to this, as evident by the first words to greet audiences for their Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs trailer.
Technology and the theatrical experience go hand-in-hand, as both are always evolving and re-inventing before becoming stagnant. Every major innovention in filmmaking often led to a boom in the theatre industry. Think about how theatres changed from nickelodeons with short subjects to gala-filled premieres of epic films. We went from silent flickers with an organist to Al "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet" Jolson in The Jazz Singer. Color was used sporadically, and sometimes experimentally, until companies like Technicolor and Eastmancolor came along to make it affordable (for the "A" pictures, at least). Disney would take part in many of these innovations, and all of their flagship releases had a new technology to promote. First, we had synchronized sound in "Steamboat Willie," followed a mere four years later with the first color cartoon in "Flowers and Trees." Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs continued that trend, this time promising the first full-length feature film from Walt Disney, and one that was being produced in both multi-plane and Technicolor.
Seeing "Shot in Technicolor" in 1937 is akin to seeing "Shot in IMAX 3-D" today, or perhaps "Shot in 48fps" tomorrow (thanks to Peter Jackson and his upcoming Hobbit films). You knew you were in for something special. Seeing a film in Technicolor was like seeing life in a dreamlike trance. The colors and imagery were made to wow audiences by being richer and fuller than what we'd see in real life. Just look at some stunning examples from Disney's contemporaries in 1936 and 1939:
These two shots are from 1936's The Garden of Allah (Selznick International) and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (Paramount). The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was notable for being the first Technicolor film shot outdoors. Before this film, the heavy lighting requirements meant the process could only be filmed indoors.
The next three shots are from Gone with the Wind (Selznick International), Jesse James (20th Century Fox), and The Wizard of Oz (MGM). All three films came out in 1939, regarded by many as the greatest year in Hollywood filmmaking. Many Disney fans may immediately recognize this scene from The Wizard of Oz, thanks to The Great Movie Ride, but how many know who Tyrone Power is sitting with? It is none other than Jane Darwell, famous for films like The Grapes of Wrath (in the Academy Award winning role of Ma Joad) and Mary Poppins (her final role, as the Bird Woman).
Testimonials aren't often used in trailers today, but they were among the bread and butter of trailers of yesteryear. Sometimes, if a film had the stamp of approval from the likes of Alexander Woollcott and Dorothy Parker (both for "The New Yorker") or Bosley Crowther ("The New York Times"), that would be success enough. Critics were that powerful. Thus, if a trailer like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs could have a positive testimonial from "TIME" magazine, that could be enough to sell to an audience.
These shots on the left are used during the "TIME" testimonial, but also help introduce the audience to the film, without actually showing footage from the film. I've included the final film shot on the right. The whole-cel shots are quite interesting to view on their own, as we get to see just how much work goes into each frame. Of particular interest is the frame with Snow White and the Dwarfs themselves. We actually see where the animators (and by extension, the ink-and-painters) stopped drawing, as they knew the camera would no longer be shooting beyond a certain area. However, when we look at how that shot was actually filmed, the camera zoomed in even more than where the cut-off point was. Animation was, and still is, a time-consuming art form. Seeing shots like these help the audience appreciate the amount of time that went into each frame. Especially when we see that some material on that frame doesn't end up being seen at all.
Finally, we get to one of the last segments of the trailer. Walt himself sits down to introduce to the viewers the seven dwarfs, not Snow White. Everyone will already know Snow White. But they won't know the dwarfs, which makes them the real selling point. People will come to the theatre to see Snow White, but they'll stay for the Seven Dwarfs. It's excellent marketing on Walt's part. He's already introducing something familiar by way of the actual fairy tale. But in a twist, he's adding something new: seven individual (little) men, not just one group of dwarfs:
The Dwarfs' names fit their personalities. This pompous-looking individual is Doc, the self-appointed leader of the group. This little fellow is Bashful, who is secretly in love with Snow White. This funny face is Sneezy; he has hay fever. Ole Droopy Eyes is called Sleepy. And Happy here with the beaming smile. And old sourpuss here is Grumpy, the woman hater. And last, but not least is Dopey. He's nice, but sort of silly.
This personalizes them and makes them relatable for the audience. Some viewers may sympathize with Bashful more than Sneezy, others may declare Happy their favorite. Personally, I've always loved Dopey and Sleepy.
Recent generations of filmgoers live in a world where movies are available at their fingertips. They can watch Gone with the Wind on their iPhone, or stream Casablanca on Facebook. I did the latter a couple weeks ago, actually. Technology has reached a point where the "event" of going to see a movie is now just any old Saturday night. However, years ago, movie audiences weren't so lucky. If they wanted to see a movie, they had to make sure it was playing at the theatre - and thus, a movie had to be both immediately popular and enduring at the same time. Studios needed to sell movies as something that could be immediately popular and enduring. That's what makes watching old movie trailers so fun. We see them promote everything as larger than life, with such wild and crazy statements to support it. It truly helped, as they were selling much more than a film. They were selling an experience. To quote Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, "It's the stuff that dreams are made of."