Movie Legends: Did People Fear Snow White Would Blind the Audience?

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: People feared that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs might make the audience go blind.

Reader Adam T. wrote in to ask, "On the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs blu-ray, there's a special feature that mentions a claim made before the film was released. The claim, made by someone who didn't think a feature-length cartoon was a good idea, was that the film would be so bright for such a long time that people who watched it might go blind. Was this a real thing that someone thought?"

There are a couple of things at play here. It is pretty well accepted that Walt Disney was one of those types of people who seemed to do best when their back was against the wall. Therefore, when things aren't necessarily in that type of situation, they tend to find a way to get themselves to believe that they are.

A famous example of this with regards to Walt Disney (which I'm sure was mentioned somewhere else on the Snow White blu-ray) is that his plans to move past making short animated films to make a feature length film was dubbed "Disney's Folly." That's absolutely true, in the sense that there was a reporter who wrote that about the project in his newspaper column. However, that was just one person's opinion. The much larger audience of critics were eagerly awaiting the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The real problem for Disney at the time was simply raising enough money to produce the film, since he kept going over budget. His main financier, Joseph Rosenberg, the president of Bank of America, had to repeatedly give him more funds and since Rosenberg had never really financed a movie before, he wasn't sure of the situation, either. So there was certainly risk involved in the project.

However, there's technically risk involved in pretty much everything. Disney later had to leverage himself a lot to finance Disneyland, as well, but most observers at the time bet on him succeeding. It was just simply a matter of whenever you spend a ton of money on something, you're bound to be worried about possibly failing. Like William Goldman famously noted about Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything." In fact, before the release of Snow White, Disney made it a point to spend a lot of money on promotion because he feared that people were SO looking forward to the movie that they were at the risk of resting on their laurels. This movie was a highly anticipated movie.

Therefore, similarly, any negative comment about the film was fodder for Disney to play the ol' "Nobody believes in us!" racket. So if someone said that the film might be damaging to people's eyes, that's precisely the thing that Disney would remember and repeat.

The big difference here, though, is that not only DID people say that the film could be damaging to people's eyes (I don't know if anyone specifically said "blind," but "damage people's eyes" is close enough to count, I think), Disney himself believed it.

That is why the short film, "The Old Mill," is so important, as it was a test film where Disney tried out a few different new innovations, the most important being the use of layered animation to give the animation a sort of 3-D effect.

Disney believed that the film would need to have that effect for audiences to be able to watch it for so long, as he believed watching strictly two-dimensional animation for too long would be taxing on their eyes. That is different from people who just thought that watching bright colors for too long would hurt people eyes, but there was enough generic "the film might damage people eyes" critiques that I think it is possible that other people were worried about the same thing that Disney was worried about.

In any event, long story short, yes, people said it, but there probably weren't too many of them that said it and there was even a little bit of truth to the critique.

I guess, then, that that would translate to the legend is...


Thanks to Adam for the suggestion!

Be sure to check out my archive of Movie Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of film.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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