Development on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs began in early 1934, and in June 1934, Walt Disney announced the production of his first feature to the New York Times. 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. Disney hoped to expand his studio's prestige and revenues by moving into features and estimated that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs could be produced for a budget of US$250,000; this was ten times the budget of an average Silly Symphony.
Walt Disney had to fight to get the film produced. Both his brother and business partner Roy Disney and his wife Lillian attempted to talk him out of it, and the Hollywood movie industry referred to the film as "Disney's Folly" while it was in production. He even had to mortgage his house to help finance the film's production, which eventually ran up a total cost of $1,488,422.74, a massive sum for a feature film in 1937.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a 1937 American animated film based on Snow White, a German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. It was the first full-length cel-animated feature in motion picture history, as well as the first animated feature film produced in America, the first produced in full color, the first to be produced by Walt Disney, and the first in the Walt Disney Animated Classics canon.
Through a textual prologue the audience is told that Snow White is a princess living with her stepmother, a vain and wicked witch known only as the Queen. Fearing Snow White's beauty, the Queen forced her to work as a scullery maid and would daily ask her Magic Mirror "who is the fairest one of all". The mirror would always answer that the Queen was, pleasing her.
At the film's opening, the Magic Mirror informs the Queen that Snow White is now the fairest in the land. The jealous Queen orders her huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and kill her, demanding that he bring her the dead girl's heart in a jeweled box as proof of the deed. The huntsman, unwilling to harm Snow White, instead spares her life, and urges her to flee into the woods and never come back, bringing back a pig's heart instead.
Lost and frightened, the princess is befriended by woodland creatures who lead her to a cottage deep in the woods. Finding seven small chairs in the cottage's dining room, Snow White assumes the cottage is the untidy home of seven orphaned children. It soon becomes apparent that the cottage belongs instead to seven adult dwarfs, Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey, who work in a nearby mine. Returning home, they are alarmed to find their cottage clean and surmise that an intruder has invaded their home. The dwarfs find Snow White upstairs, asleep across three of their beds. The princess awakens, introduces herself, and all of the dwarfs (Grumpy is initially suspicious, but eventually warms to her) welcome her as a house guest after they learn she can cook. Snow White begins a new life cooking and keeping house for the dwarfs.
The Queen eventually discovers that Snow White is still alive when the mirror again answers that Snow White is the fairest in the land. Using magic to create a drink that will disguise herself as an old hag, the Queen goes to the cottage while the dwarfs are away and tricks Snow White into biting into a poisoned (magic wishing) apple that sends her into a deep sleep, which can only be broken by love's first kiss. As Snow White falls asleep the Queen exclaims "Now I'll be fairest in the land!" The vengeful dwarfs, alerted by the woodland animals who recognized the Queen, chase the Queen up a cliff and trap her. She tries to roll a boulder over them but lightning strikes the cliff she is standing on and she falls to her death.
The dwarfs return to their cottage and find Snow White seemingly dead. Unwilling to bury her body out of sight in the ground, they instead place her in a glass coffin trimmed with gold in a clearing in the forest. Together with the woodland creatures, they keep watch over her body through the seasons in an "eternal vigil".
After several seasons pass, a Prince who had previously met and fallen in love with Snow White, learns of her plight and visits her coffin. Captivated by her beauty, he kisses her, which breaks the spell and awakens her. The dwarfs and animals all rejoice as Snow White and the prince ride off to the Prince's castle.
The film ends with a non-animated scene showing the last page of a book which reads "...and they lived happily ever after."
Disney's wife, Lillian, told him: "No one's ever gonna pay a dime to see a dwarf picture". Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre on December 21, 1937 to a wildly receptive audience, many of whom were the same naysayers who dubbed the film "Disney's Folly". Six days later, Walt Disney and the seven dwarfs appeared on the cover of Time magazine. The New York Times said "Thank you very much, Mr. Disney".
RKO Radio Pictures put the film into general release on February 4, 1938, and it went on to become a major box-office success, making four times more money than any other motion picture released in 1938. In its original release, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs grossed $3.5 million in the United States and Canada, and by May 1939 its total international gross of $6.5 million made it the most successful film of all time. By the end of its original run, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had earned over $8 million in international box office receipts, and has had a lifetime gross of $184,925,486 across its original release and several reissues. Adjusted for inflation, and incorporating subsequent releases, the film still registers one of the top ten American film moneymakers of all time.
Snow White's success led to Disney moving ahead with more feature-film productions. Walt Disney used much of the profits from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to finance a new $4.5 million studio in Burbank - the location on which The Walt Disney Studios is located to this day. Within two years, the studio would complete Pinocchio and Fantasia, and had begun production on features such as Dumbo, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan.