Two landmark animated features are now available on DVD and Snow White and Shrek both have a lot to offer says Jerry Beck.
It's an animated showdown at the video store this month, with a "beauty" (Snow White) versus a "beast" (Shrek). Animation's first feature-length blockbuster is going head to head with 2001's biggest animated hit. Both are superior examples of what DVD technology can provide -- whether you are a techno-junkie, animation historian, devoted fan or just-plain love movies.
The First Lady
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was, as anyone reading this Website should already know, Walt Disney's first animated feature film. Released in 1937, it was the Titanic of its day; a huge gamble that became a mega-blockbuster and beloved classic. Though a little primitive by later standards, the film was a major accomplishment in the art of animation, as well as a landmark in motion picture storytelling.
This DVD release gave the studio a reason to, yet again, restore the film to pristine perfection. The picture and sound here are a revelation. The soundtrack is crystal clear and the visuals are very bright and clean. Maybe too bright and clean. Looking at the movie on DVD makes it hard to believe this film was produced in 1937. There is no film grain and the colors are bright, sharp and vivid. (Compare them to the numerous theatrical trailers contained in the bonus materials.)
Can a restoration be too good? I have not done a side by side comparison to the previous laser disc or VHS versions, but if I had one observation to note, it would be that some of the lit scenes here seem a tad too bright. When the Dwarfs first come across Snow White, they are searching around their cottage with a small candle lantern. The light emitted feels like a halogen bulb -- 500 watts of brightness -- illuminating every nook and cranny.
"Clean" is the other big word coming to mind while watching this DVD. If this is what today's digital technology can do for a 1937 cartoon, then bring on Silly Symphonies, Happy Harmonies and Merrie Melodies! "Old" Hollywood cartoons need not look and feel like ancient relics -- and this disc proves it.
As for the bonus materials -- this is a film buff's idea of heaven. While there is a fair amount of extra material here for families and kids (a Barbra Streisand video, sing-along sections and a Dopey video game -- and I use the word "dopey" here as an adjective), the archive material for the serious film fan is priceless. I cannot think of a thing they've left out. There are deleted sequences and animation art presented here I've never seen or heard of before.
Here's a quick rundown of a few of the extras I really appreciated: two behind-the-scenes production shorts from 1937 and 1938, eight theatrical trailers, seven radio spots, five deleted sequences, rare radio broadcasts, a deleted song, behind the scenes on how the restoration was done for DVD and tons of production artwork. Also included is the 1934 Silly Symphony short The Goddess of Spring, which tested the animators on drawing a realistic female figure, in anticipation of animating Snow White.
I also love that they provided the original RKO opening and closing titles. Audio track commentary by John Canemaker and Walt Disney (himself, from rare interviews) runs concurrent with the film and provides wonderful insights and anecdotes. Walt mentions at one point that he came to hate Snow White, because all his subsequent features were compared unfavorably against it. There are hours of material here, much more than I mentioned above. This is clearly a must-have for anyone who cares about animation.
PDI/DreamWork's Shrek shares with Snow White a storybook opening, seven dwarfs, a magic mirror and the honor of being the largest grossing film during the year of its initial release. This animated smash won over audiences by being a clever spoof of fairy tales, at the same time telling a great story with real heart.
I enjoyed Shrek mainly due to its funny script, its clever direction and the excellent performances by an all-star voice cast. I have some reservations about the character designs and animation, but I still recommend this film to any and all for its pure entertainment value. While I prefer Pixar's cartoony visual approach to CGI, DreamWorks and Pacific Data Images certainly have concocted a real audience pleaser here -- and I especially liked the film's digs at Disney's happy empire.
The feature, presented both in full screen and wide screen versions, looks terrific on DVD and the Dolby digital surround sound is crisp and clear. The DVD features a staggering 11 hours of bonus materials -- however six of those hours are devoted to kids' games. Animation buffs can settle in with plenty of extra goodies starting with the informational (and entertaining) audio track commentary by directors Vicky Jenson, Andrew Adamson and co-producer Aron Warner. Behind the scenes documentaries, outtake footage, storyboards, deleted scenes, trailers and music videos fill the two discs. One of the production documentaries, "The Tech Of Shrek," is particularly detailed about the CGI work on the film.
Professional animators and rabid cartoon fans got an early Christmas treat with the release of these two wonderful DVDs. For the price (both are listed under $30.00), Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and Shrek are two films well worth adding to your permanent collection.
Jerry Beck is an animation producer and cartoon historian who is simultaneously developing a show with MTV Animation and writing a book for Harry N. Abrams Publishers. He also has a cool Website at www.cartoonresearch.com.