Sunday, March 30, 2014

“Een moderne toovenaar!”: The history of Walt Disney in the Netherlands (Part 1)

by Sam Vlas

For my first article, I thought it would be fun to look at familiar Disney history… from a slightly different angle. I grew up with the Dutch versions of the beloved classics. Today it seems more than self-explanatory that the newest Disney films are dubbed in Dutch, but I wondered: how did it all start in Holland? Continue after the page break and find out...

Today, I would like to look at a very important part in Disney history, the release of the first full-length animated feature film ever: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Not the 1937 release in the Carthay Circle Theater, but the 1938 Dutch release in the Nöggerath theatre in Amsterdam.
The history of Walt Disney in the Netherlands begins slightly earlier than 1938, with little comics first appearing in Dutch newspapers in the 1930’s. The adventures of Mikkie (Mickey), Miepsie (Minnie), Arabella (Clarabella) and Bleskop (Horace) in a Dutch translation of Mickey Mouse and the Gypsies were now for everyone to enjoy. We’ll get into the history of Disney’s newspaper comics later.


Sneeuwwitje en de Zeven Dwergen was originally set to release in the same year as the original: 1937. However, a lawsuit prevented the film from releasing. The “Centrale Commissie voor de Filmkeuring” (Central Commission for Film Rating) had rated the film as “suitable for everyone 14 years and up”. This is a very unusual rating, especially considering the very tame nature of this film, even in those times. Disney, along with the Dutch distributor of the movie R.K.O., protested heavily against this rating. Eventually, to make the film suitable for all ages, they had to cut almost every iconic passage with the Evil Witch. Can you imagine watching Snow White without the Witch? The trimmed film was eventually released on November 11, 1938.

The first Dutch translation of the movie was done by famous musician, composer and journalist Max Tak, who also directed the voice-over sessions. Snow White’s speaking voice was done by Cecilia Bach, her singing voice was provided by Frieda van Hessen. A wide array of professional variety and radio actors portrayed the seven Dwarfs, people like Johan Kaart, Wam Heskes and Louie de Bree.

The Evil Queen was voiced by Tilly Perin-Bouwmeester. The voices were redone by order of The Walt Disney Company in 1984 and some voiced were changed again in 1990.

When Sneeuwwitje en de Zeven Dwergen first came out in the Nöggerath theatre, the façade was elaborately decorated. Above the entrance to the theatre was a beautifully designed and painted panorama of the forest with the Dwarf’s cottage in the middle, Snow White and the Dwarfs on the right and the Evil Queen and the Huntsman on the left. In the windows of the theatre were mannequins of the main characters. The façade and the mannequins were designed by famous Dutch animator Joop Geesink, who later went on to animate many exquisite stop-motion movies, such as Kermesse Fantastique (which you can watch below, it’s excellent!).
Joop Geesink was just beginning his career at this point; he was a huge Disney fan.


The newspapers were lyrical about this new innovation in family entertainment. In the years following the release of Sneeuwwitje en de Zeven Dwergen, the newspapers would pay a lot of attention to Walt Disney and his newest movies, such as Pinokkio and Fantasia. This would mark the beginning of Disney history in the Netherlands. It didn’t stop there, though, but that’s a story for another time. I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I did writing it! 
Are you still here? Good, because I added a little bonus to this article. The following images are a newspaper comic of Snow White in Dutch and some advertisements using the characters from the movie. I also added a nice poster of the Dutch release of Fantasia. Don’t tell anyone…



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