'Snow White' museum exhibit celebrates the classic Disney animated feature film

Lobby card; print on paper
A vintage poster with Snow White and dwarfs.Today

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By Jane L. Levere

“Snow White,” the beloved, first, full-length animated feature film, created by the Walt Disney Studios, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with a major exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

Called “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic,” the exhibit celebrates Disney’s vision and the artistry of his staff—over 1,200 of whom labored for almost four years to make the film.

Diane Disney Miller, Disney’s daughter and the founder of the museum—which presents the story and achievements of Disney, using the latest technology, historic materials and artifacts to bring his achievements to life—said her father was “completely and intimately engaged in this film from start to finish. It was the first of its kind to have the depth of character, careful attention to story, original music that helped tell that story and superb artistry.”

Premiered at Hollywood’s Carthay Circle Theater on Dec. 21, 1937, the film opened in 1938 at Radio City Music Hall, and played across the United States and Europe that year. In 1939, it received an honorary Oscar containing a standard Oscar statuette and seven miniature ones, representing the dwarfs. In 1989, it was among the first 25 featured films to be preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, and in 2008, the American Film Institute named it the greatest animated film of all time.

Disney film historian J.B. Kaufman, who wrote the exhibit’s catalog, called the film “the culmination” of Disney’s previous work on short, animated films featuring Mickey Mouse, among other characters. “It established a gold standard for the craft of making animated films, a standard filmmakers today still are struggling to measure up to,” he said.

Kaufman said the Disney film is based, in part, on the Brothers Grimm Snow White fairy tale, which he called a "very dark story."

"Walt didn't make a film for children."

The exhibit features more than 200 works of art from the film, including conceptual drawings, early character studies, detailed story sketches, animation drawings, pencil layouts, watercolor backgrounds and vintage posters, all illustrating how Disney advanced the creation of a new art form.

Created by a Disney Studio Artist, this is a color model sheet of the dwarfs.Today
Created by a Disney Studio Artist with ink and acrylic on cellulose acetate, this depicts Snow White with the witch offering the poisoned apple.Today
Created by Gustaf Tenggren with watercolor and ink on paper, this book illustration shows Snow White and the witch with the poisoned apple.Today

Also on display is artwork from scenes that were never fully developed, or that were deleted from the film, including one in which the dwarfs build and carve a bed for Snow White, and another in which she dances in the stars.

Lella Smith, the exhibit’s guest curator who is also creative director of the Walt Disney Animation Research Library in Burbank, Calif., said the majority of works featured in the exhibit have never been published or exhibited before.

“It’s a chance for people to see some amazing artwork,” she said. The artwork includes one piece that depicts the queen looking into a mirror surrounded by astrological signs, and another that shows Snow White kneeling in the forest with the huntsman behind her, the surrounding trees resembling undulating, female forms.

The exhibit will be on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum from Nov. 15 to April 14; it is in discussion to transfer it to an East Coast institution after that, though this has not been confirmed yet.