Sunday 18 November 2012

The Fairest One of All: The Making of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Review - A Triumph Befitting Disney's Classic

Firstly, I apologise for the tardiness of this review; I've been snowed under, but hopefully normal service is now restored - there'll be a review up of The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation in the next week as well. Thanks to the team at Aurum Press for sending me a copy of this - US version sold by Weldon Owen.

The Fairest One of All: The Making of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is an almost complete account of the huge production of Walt Disney's first feature length animated feature, the fantastic classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Such a gigantically important, influential and trend-setting picture, obviously, took a mammoth amount of effort, as such, this book is an absolutely mammoth undertaking itself.

The Fairest One of All is as close to a comprehensive history of the film as we're ever likely to get, I'd hazard that a lot of the people who actually worked on the film didn't know as much about Snow White as author J.B. Kaufman does. Kaufman is a film historian who works for the Walt Disney Family Foundation, having previously co-authored a New York Times 'Notable Book of the Year', Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney. So Kaufman was in a fantastic position to be tackling such a book as this, with all the archives of Walt Disney, and even the knowledge of his daughter, Diane Disney Miller (who provides an impassioned and knowing foreword), at his fingertips. This unparalleled access is evident in the phenomenal detail the book delves into.

Other books have dabbled in chronicling Snow White, although it's often overshadowed by a more encompassing subject - like a history of Walt himself, as in Neal Gabler's brilliant Walt Disney: The Biography - whereas, here, Kaufman devotes an entire book, an entire 300 page book, to recounting the history of this marvellous feat of determination and vision. As much reverence and love as I have for the film, J.B. Kaufman seemingly has even more, putting it best in his hagiographical introduction:

"[Snow White is] a film not only for its own time, but for all time. Long since absorbed into our culture, endlessly exploited as a marketing tool for kiddie merchandise, Snow White remains undiminished. In the long view of history, in the world where Intolerance and Citizen Kane are recognised as great films, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a great film–unique, cherished, and timeless. This is its story."

The book is split into three sections: before the film, making the film, and after the film, with the bulk of the text falling into the middle section. The first section does something that I personally haven't seen done before: it covers, in detail, the history of the Snow White tale before Disney - apparently in one Celtic version of the folk-tale, the Queen's magic mirror was replaced by a talking trout! It also talks about the many stage adaptations in great depth, as well as the 1916 live-action Paramount adaptation that helped inspire Walt Disney, and the more zany 1933 Fleischer Betty Boop short. What this section stresses so eloquently is that, while there were existing Snow White stories, they were so diffuse and varied, that Walt Disney's version was in many senses an original take on it.

A glimpse for two cut scenes, the "soup eating" and "lodge meeting" ones, both were animated by Ward Kimball.

The section that tackles the production of the film is the most interesting though. Often in these kinds of books, the author touches on the most interesting, or more often the most well known, production stories and deleted scenes, but what J.B. Kaufman does is to go through the film, scene by scene, recounting the various considerations of production, ranging from animation, to character design, to dialogue, to music, and offering, on almost every scene, alternative ones that were considered, and several that were cut. I pride myself as a Disney nerd, and like to think I know an awful lot about the films, but this book taught me a tonne of cool facts and trivia, about the story and the film, that give you an even greater appreciation of the finished film. Interesting titbits from the production include details about the Prince's formerly larger role in the film, cut sequences, like the soup scene (animated by Ward Kimball), and the more abstract dream sequence.

Artwork from the cut "Dream Sequence".

The sheer wealth of cut scenes, and the stress on keeping a simplistic shell of the story, to allow for more character-driven development, really hammers home the well recognised point that Walt and his team put everything they had into this film, pouring over every minute detail, and it shows - as Kaufman clearly attests to. The author's adulation for the source material is evident, as such, the book has a real enthusiasm to it; it has a scholarly tone, but at the same time is fanboyish.

This isn't an Art of book like most books we review here, but it does feature an awful lot of art. An awful lot of great art, I might add - this is Golden Age Disney after all. The character development artwork is particularly great, it just shows how much every aspect of the film changed from initial conception to the final article.

Size comparison with The Art of Rise of the Guardians.

But, unlike, say, The Art of Rise of the Guardians, the art is not the focus here; the fantastic biographical history of Snow White is. The artwork is used greatly though, to visually accompany the glut of text, and - as The Fairest One of All celebrates the production of Snow White - shows some of the key production artwork from the film.

Artwork for the planned hodgepodge sequel, Snow White Returns.

The section focusing on the post-Snow White success was great too, showcasing the legacy of the film - both good and bad - and how this was really just a jumping off point for Disney. I genuinely never knew that so many varied Snow White sequels were planned - a Hansel and Gretel adaptation with the Dwarfs, as well as one cobbled together from cut scenes. There's not really any part of the book that wasn't eye-opening and scintillating!

My only criticism of the book is that it's so big, it's impossible to take anywhere with you, and you'll want to, it's enrapturing! The long and the short of it is that The Fairest One of All is a magnificent book, truly a one-off, and an absolute must-read and must-own for fans of Disney, animation, and even film! Congratulations to J.B. Kaufman and co. on an absolute triumph, celebrating arguably Walt Disney's greatest triumph, 75 years on.



Note, all images and artwork used here are property of Aurum Press, Weldon Owen, The Walt Disney Company and any other respective owners, and are used here for illustrative purposes only and in accordance with the fair use policy of copyright law.


  1. Replies
    1. Haha, I'm afraid not! a) I've only got the one copy of it, and b) sending it to the winner would probably bankrupt me; it weighs a tonne! But I heartily recommend it.

  2. Richard Canipe7 July 2015 at 14:33

    I always wanted that book and experience it!