Book Review: The Fairest One of All: The Making of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
I have seen most of the coffee-table art-and-making-of books on the animated features of the past three or four years, but the giant (12.6” x 11.2”; over one inch thick and weighing over five pounds) The Fairest One of All is something else again. It would be inaccurate to say that it is the same kind of making-of book, since it does not have the same total access to the production while the production was going on that the books documenting the contemporary films do. But the modern books are also handicapped in that they are about original stories, and timed to end with that feature’s release. The Fairest One of All goes back centuries to the origins of the Snow White folk tale, and then devotes almost a hundred pages to telling what Disney has done with the characters in the 75 years after the movie was finished.
The Fairest One of All, published to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the movie’s release, is divided into three parts. “Before 1934”, pages 12 to 27, presents the earliest forms of the Snow White folk tale, going back hundreds of years before the Grimm Brothers’ version. (Did you know that in the original 1812 edition of the tale, recorded as the Grimm Brothers heard it told, Snow White’s oppressor was her mother, not her stepmother? And that it was Wilhelm Grimm himself who changed the story in later editions to make it more palatable to parents and children, when he realized that their book was selling more as a book of fantasies for children than for scholars of Germanic folk tales?) But this part concentrates mostly on the other dramatic productions of Snow White before the Disney feature, from 19th and early 20th century stage plays to the live-action movies of the 1910s and 1920s and the Fleischer Studios’ Snow-White starring Betty Boop of 1933.
Part 2, “The Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, runs from pages 28 to 233. This is the meat of the volume. Kaufman traces in detail, with dozens of pieces of production art to illustrate his points, how the film progressed from its beginning in 1934 until its premiere in 1937.