Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Honorary Academy Award®

Posted on Thu, 02/23/2023 - 16:41

Arguably, the highlight in The Walt Disney Family Museum Awards Lobby is Walt’s collection of 26 Academy Awards®, the largest collections of Oscars® outside of Hollywood. Of all of Walt’s Oscars®, one outweighs the rest, literally. This special honorary Academy Award consists of one standard Oscar® statuette standing above seven other miniature ones representing each of the Dwarfs. 

In celebration of the upcoming 95th Academy Awards, our special Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Oscar is on display at the Carthay Circle Restaurant at Disney California Adventure park now until March 20. Visit Disneyland Resort and see this unique award in the place inspired by the historic venue where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs held its Hollywood premiere over 85 years ago. Learn more here.

On February 23, 1939, Shirley Temple was selected to present him with the award because she could stand in for Walt’s audience, the children of the world. While Walt would take issue with the insinuation that he only made films for children, he was more than happy (and not at all Grumpy) to accept the unique trophy, nonetheless. 

Upon its release, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) had both the critical acclaim and box office success of a film worthy of an Oscars® conversation. To that point, it was the highest-grossing film of all-time. Unfortunately, the film’s status as the first feature-length animated film from a Hollywood studio separated it from every other potential Best Picture nominee, and it was thus kept out of the Best Picture discussion altogether. 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the only film to have been honored by the Academy in two successive years. The first honor came in the year of the film’s release (1937), when it was nominated for Best Music (Scoring). In 1938, the Academy presented Walt with this special Academy Award® consisting of one full-size and seven miniature Oscar® statuettes. The Academy honored Snow White as “a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon.” At the awards ceremony, Shirley Temple unveiled the statuette, exclaiming to Walt, “Isn’t it bright and shiny?” 

Shirley Temple Black admitted decades later to Animation Historian John Culhane that she was a little uncomfortable that night. “I thought that the big statue was for Walt and that the Seven Dwarfs were the little ones going down the side and that Snow White herself hadn’t gotten anything,” remembered Mrs. Black. “I was eleven years old. And I was worried about Snow White at the time, that she hadn’t gotten an Oscar. It’s just that the big one is the one usually presented to who the person is. I mean, Snow White wasn’t there.” 

According to his autobiography, Academy President (and legendary film director) Frank Capra was the one who came up with the idea of a special award of a full-sized Oscar statuette with seven smaller ones descending in a row. 

There has only been one other time that an Oscar statuette has been customized. The year prior to when Walt received his award, famous actor and ventriloquist, Edgar Bergen was presented with an honorary award “for his outstanding comedy creation, ‘Charlie McCarthy.” It was a wooden Oscar statuette with a movable mouth. Edgar Bergen would later have a role in Disney’s Fun and Fancy Free in 1947 and on Walt’s first television special “One Hour in Wonderland.”   

A common rumor that Walt was dissatisfied with the award, because in the footage of him receiving the award people think he appears to be unhappy. However, there is nothing documented of Walt having anything bad to say about the award. In the regarded Walt biography by Bob Thomas, Walt Disney: An American Original, he writes, “Such an appearance before his peers caused an uncommon lack of ease. The ten-year-old Shirley Temple, noticing his demeanor when she presented him with the Oscar, commented, ‘Don’t be nervous, Mr. Disney.’” 

–Bri Bertolaccini, Marketing Manager

Image sources (in order of appearance):

  • Courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum; © AMPAS
  • Courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum; © AMPAS