"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is one of those iconic films whose images, songs and characters have soaked into the popular culture.
"Snow White" is still very much with us, 75 years after the release of Walt Disney's landmark animated film. That anniversary will be celebrated through Oct. 27 at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. A special exhibition, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic," will demonstrate how the film was crafted through the display of conceptual drawings of characters, story sketches, watercolor backgrounds and cels, which are the transparent sheets on which objects are drawn or painted for traditional animation.
"I think people will be surprised by the beautiful watercolors created to plot out angles, such as the scenes of the dwarfs chasing the witch up the mountain," said Lella Smith, who, as creative director of the Walt Disney Company's Animation Research Library, is the guest curator of the Rockwell exhibition.
The first full-length, animated feature film, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was released in 1937 after three years of work by Disney's team of animators and craftsmen. Disney had been laying the groundwork with animated shorts and the critically acclaimed Silly Symphonies, and was the first to use Technicolor in cartoons, but the leap to a full-length film was a considerable one.
The film's rich, painterly appearance still impresses 75 years later. The attention to detail, such as the mirrored reflections of Snow White's animal friends as they race past a stream, is a testament to the craftsmanship that went into its making.
Stockbridge's Marge Champion served as a model for the movements of Snow White.
Before "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" premiered, the film was labeled "Walt's folly," says Smith. Critics thought an animated film could not be sustained beyond a few minutes.
Then came its unveiling.
"At the premiere, Walt heard sobbing when Snow White was on her funeral bier, and this was a Hollywood audience with Clark Gable and other celebrities in attendance," says Smith. The film was one of the first 25 to be preserved in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Revisiting "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" also provides a reminder of how dark in tone it is. The evil queen, who transforms herself into a witch to deliver a poison apple to Snow White and reclaim her title as the fairest in the land, is a frightening figure who still shows up in films in one guise or another.
One kid who did get scared was Diane Disney Miller, who enjoys telling the story of seeing her father's film before its release in a studio screening when she was around four years of age. The queen's transformation into the witch got her screaming.
"I can still remember the terror," says Miller in a phone interview from San Francisco, home of the Walt Disney Family Museum she co-founded. "I was whisked out of my mother's lap, went from the dark to broad daylight, and was staring up at a kind-looking man who was undoubtedly sent to watch over me."
One of the attractions of the Rockwell exhibit, which is organized by the Disney Museum, is the inclusion of artwork from deleted scenes, such as the sequences depicting the dwarfs building a bed for Snow White.
Rockwell Museum director and CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt hopes the exhibit will, besides offering a fun experience, give visitors a new appreciation of the art and technology of animation.
"It's easy to take animation for granted today," she observes. "People have grown up with it and youth are growing up with it in the 3-D format. The exhibition explains the complexity of the process and reveals the artistry involved as well."