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Snow White & the Seven Dwarf's Gag Outline

As Walt Disney’s animation studios grew, Walt became known as an innovative genius who was always working to ensure the cohesiveness of his vision. Unlike other animation studios at the time, who assigned individual scenes to each animator to draw and portray as they desired, Disney wanted to ensure that his animators were always working as a team. Comparing the process to an orchestra, Walt stated, “I like our cartoons to be put together like a symphony. You know, there’s a conductor—I guess I’m it—and then there are the solo violins, and the horn players, and the strings, and a lot of other fellows, and some of them are more stars than others, but everyone has to work together, forgetting himself, in order to produce one whole thing which is beautiful.”[1]

At the heart of every Disney cartoon, whether it was short or feature-length, were the gags. In the world of comedy, a gag is a short joke or comedic situation that is usually based in physical or visual humor. At other animation studios these gags were randomly inserted throughout the cartoon, and didn’t do anything to further the narrative of the story. Walt Disney changed this by linking the build-up of the gags directly to the outcome of the storyline. Instead of having an irrelevant string of gags throughout a cartoon, Disney made sure each gag was a plot device that added something to the story. Before a script or any dialogue was written, Walt Disney would send an outline of the plot to his staff and ask them to “gag it”. To incentivize his employees to come up with great gags, Walt started awarding a cash prize of $2.50 to each employee who came up with a gag that got used in the final cut of the film.

In the Mercury Collection, the note from Walt Disney at the top of the gag outline for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs really shows how important the cohesiveness of the gags was to Walt. He specifies to his team that he wants each gag to really “build the character and personality of the dwarfs.” This particular gag outline belonged to Dick Huemer, whose name is written in colored pencil in the top right-hand corner of the first page. Huemer was an animator during the Golden Age of Animation at Disney Studios, and he truly understood the vision Walt had. Speaking about his boss, Huemer said, “Disney always carefully planned things, so that everything was understandable, and one thing happened after another logically.”[2] The intentional, cohesive nature of Walt Disney and his animators has surely contributed to the long-lasting success and timelessness of Disney animations.



[1] Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. University of California Press. 2008. p. 100-101.

[2] Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. Vintage Books. 2007. p. 170-172.



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