Monday, October 12, 2009

Mama's Movie Night takes on the Grandma of em all

When times are hard, the arts tend to get all retrospective, and nostalgia is this season’s trend. Film companies appear to be heading for the vault and reissuing anniversary editions of iconic classics. Weekend before last, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of Dorothy and Toto.

Then the folks at Disney sent an army of us bloggers the Diamond Edition of Snow White to examine, just in time for the October 6th rollout. I’m pretty careful about my freebies, preferring to pick my way through popular culture on my own, but as a media educator, the chance to write about the very first full length animated feature ever made was too great for my film buff household to pass up.

The eagerly awaited DVD/Blu Ray boxed set arrived, and we ceremoniously gathered round for what in our house is known as Mama’s Movie Night. Last week I had my long suffering students, I mean children, sit through Alexander the Great with Richard Burton. Next week we will be looking at Garbo. But this week we harkened back to their grandparents’ day, and it’s Snow White on a cold Saturday night. We watched the DVD version, since our friends who have a Blu Ray had a previous engagement. We have not invested in the newest technology---we still watch old VHS versions of many films, and times are hard in our house---which in a way makes us pretty similar to some of the folks watching Snow White when it first came out.

I don’t mean to be picky, but when I told my kids we were getting the Diamond Edition, my daughter expected a really nice box. And I agree---if you are peddling an artwork as groundbreaking as Snow White, it should probably get something with a little more preciousness than the usual plastic portfolio tucked into the stand by the grocery checkout. I wish the presentation of the discs had carried a sense of the jewel sitting on the shelf. But I can see from the Disney website we got the low end addition. LOL. Maybe I will make a pretty jewel encrusted case for my daughter, who is now inspired to do a vintage Disney birthday party....

It is so hard to convey to a media saturated child of the 21st century what a ground breaker this movie was. Back then, stories were heard, not seen. Masses huddled in the dark and folks must have been awed and moved by this lusciously colored version of a childhood tale. I could not give my children the eyes of children from the 1930’s—I had their highly sophisticated eyes accustomed to hundreds of visual images a day. But I wanted to know how this work would measure up to its filmic offspring: Pixar and Studio Ghibli.

The old girl held her own.

My youngest liked the old fashioned simplicity of the images and got really into the backgrounds. My tween boy was most taken with the dwarves—the rest he maintained was a “Girl Story”. We are all still wondering how they did the water in front of the dwarves house. Both kids noted that the DVD was “clearer” than our old VHS version. I can’t wait to impose on our friends and see the Blu Ray now.

And then my kids drifted off to dreamland and I stayed up to the wee hours picking through the bonus features. The most fun was the audio commentary they pieced together with ol’ Walt himself, and you get to hear the arduous struggle of trying to invent the technology as they went along.

When you look at the previews (which I usually hate), its an eye opening to get such a graphic, side by side look at how far Disney animation has come. And we absolutely adored the sneak peak of the upcoming feature The Princess and the Frog. Disney, who ordinarily never shows its back side or inner workings, shows six minutes including sketches and chunks that are not yet colored. One can see the process of creating the finished product. We LOVE that, and now can’t wait to see it. So if the main purpose of the release was to drive traffic to other Disney properties, it has accomplished its mission.

But in the end, here’s the takeaway for families that are not studying film: Snow can still provide you with a nice night of family entertainment. We got to talk about what entertainment was like back when my children’s grandparents were young, and we got to see where all those songs came from and we sang along. I caught my self hi ho-ing off to work this morning! My children have heard many of the Grimms tales, so the scary and unPC bits of the actual tale did not pull them up short---and they are clear that this was a story From the Olden Days. So if you are looking for an updated snazzy trip down nostalgia lane, you could do worse than the animated feature that started it all (and the reason why studios thought the Wizard of Oz was a bankable project).

And if you are not into nostalgia, the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival opens in about a week and a half, and you could see where film will be going next! We are all lined up for the new Wallace and Grommit…..

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