Thursday, July 21, 2016

Original Production Animation Cel Key Setup of The Evil Queen from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," 1937

Original hand painted and hand inked production animation cel of The Evil Queen from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," 1937, Walt Disney Studios; Numbered 268 in ink lower right; Set on key master production background; Size - Evil Queen: 10 x 9 3/4", Background 12 1/2 x 15 3/4", Image 10 3/4 x 14 1/2", Frame 29 1/2 x 32 1/4"; Framed with two suede acid free mats, gold wood fillet, gold wood frame, and UV conservation clear museum perfect glass.

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"A blast of wind, to fan my hate!" - The Evil Queen

Development on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs began in early 1934, and by June Walt Disney announced to The New York Times the production of his first feature, to be released under Walt Disney Productions. Before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Disney studio had been primarily involved in the production of animated short subjects in the Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies series. However, Disney hoped to expand his studio's prestige and revenues by moving into features, and he estimated that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs could be produced for a budget of $250,000 (this was ten times the budget of an average Silly Symphony).

Full untrimmed cel of The Evil Queen.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was to be the first full-length cel animated feature in motion picture history, and as such Walt Disney had to fight to get the film produced. Both his brother and business partner Roy Disney, as well as his wife Lillian attempted to talk him out of it. The Hollywood movie industry mockingly referred to the film, while is was in production, as "Disney's Folly." Disney ended up having to mortgage his house to help finance the film's production, which would eventually ran up to a total cost of $1,488,422.74; an absolutely massive sum for a feature film in 1937!

Close up of the production number.

After a long and difficult four years, on January 13, 1938, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made its New York premiere at Radio City Music Hall. The film ran for five weeks in a row, the first motion picture to do so, and it could have played longer if not for prior commitments of the venue. It was to be the theatres' most successful engagement in all of the 1930s. The film was loved by everyone and Disney, along with his animation team, had managed to make an animated film that the audience would believe! The crowd would be sad and cry when Snow White bit the apple and was placed in a glass casket; and they would laugh, smile, and be happy during the song and dance numbers with the Dwarfs. However, Disney was criticized by some for making a very scary film for children.

Original production watercolor background without The Evil Queen cel.

When the movie was played at Radio City Music Hall on its first release, the theater managers had to replace the music played when Snow White runs into the Dark Forest; because they were nervous that the kids would be too frightened upon hearing it. Snow White's run into the Forest had another result;  young children were still so scared by the sequence, that they wet their pants. As a result, the velvet upholstery of each and every seat held by a child, had to be replaced prior to every showing of the film.

The Walt Disney film's version of the Evil Queen changing into an Old Hag is very different compared to the original story. In the Disney version, the Queen uses her dark magic powers to actually transform herself into an old woman instead of just taking on a disguise; as in the Brothers Grimm story. Animation provided a transformation scene that is truly spectacular and the Disney team even made the event greater by utilizing the multi-plane camera; to make the room itself appeared to spin. This sequence along with the flight of Snow White through the Dark Forest; caused the British Board of Film Censors (now, the British Board of Film Classification) to give the film an A-certificate (children had to be accompanied by an adult) upon its original release. This resulted in a nationwide controversy as to whether the Forest and the Witch were too frightening for younger audiences. Nevertheless, most local authorities simply overrode the censor's decision and gave the film a U-certificate (Suitable for children).

Walt Disney's response to the idea that the film was too frightening for children was, "I do not make films primarily for children. I make them for the child in all of us, whether we be six or sixty." This may have been his statement, but he never made another film with such a scary villain. Every film after Snow White had the main villain accompanied by a comedic sidekick; such as Maleficent and her Goons, Cruella de Vil with Horace and Jasper, or Medusa with Snoops.

Original production watercolor background with The Evil Queen cel showing all four edges.

The Evil Queen, one of the greatest Walt Disney animated villains of all time, was animated by the famous Disney animator Art Babbitt. Babbitt was already an accomplished animator prior to working on "Snow White." He was known for creating the character of Goofy and for his work on "The Country Cousin," which won an Academy Award for the Disney Studio in 1936. The villain for Snow White was the Evil Queen; which Walt Disney and Joe Grant (Walt Disney character designer and story artist) had conceived as a blend of Lady Macbeth and the Big Bad Wolf, as well as traits inspired by actresses Joan Crawford and Gale Sondergaard. Refinement of the Queen was done by animators Grim Natwick and Norm Ferguson; however the actual animation of the Queen fell to Babbitt.

Rotoscoping, a technique used in animation whereby live actors are used to portray the characters and then animators trace over the footage frame by frame; was not used as much on the Queen as it was for the character of Snow White. Babbitt preferred to avoid rotoscoping and instead draw the character free hand. It has been stated that you could wallpaper a room with just drawings that Babbitt made just of her mouth and eyes; because all of the Queen's emotions came through her face. The Evil Queen, wonderfully voiced by veteran stage actress Lucille La Verne; holds a place in history as being the first character to ever speak in a full length animated film.

Framed original production animation cel key setup of The Evil Queen.

This is an absolutely spectacular piece of animation art history and is of museum quality. Original key setups (an original production animation cel on it's matching watercolor production background) from vintage Walt Disney (1959 and before) feature films are extremely rare. In addition, this is from the first full length feature animation film in history, and features one of the greatest (if not the greatest) Disney Villains of all time, The Evil Queen! This is an extremely rare full untrimmed cel, with it's production number in ink lower right, placed on it's key matching watercolor production background. It simply does not get any better!

The dialog for the scene is below:

Evil Queen: "Now, a formula to transform my beauty into ugliness, change my queenly raiment to a peddler's cloak. Mummy dust to make me old. To shroud my clothes, the black of night. To age my voice, an old hag's cackle. To whiten my hair, a scream of fright. A blast of wind, to fan my hate! A thunderbolt, to mix it well. Now, begin thy magic spell."

To view the scene which this cel and background were used to create, click on the short video below: