Ask just about anyone what the first animated feature film was, and they will probably say Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Not only was it not the first animated feature, it was not even the first from Disney! There were a good half dozen animated features that predate Snow White, going back as far as 1917, twenty years before the Disney feature!
Defining a Feature Film
Let’s lay some ground rules out at the beginning– like what is a feature film. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences– the Oscar people– and their British counterparts at the BFI consider any film over 40 minutes a feature length film. We will go with that. Animated is a bit tougher to define, but let’s start with the film must be over 50 percent animated. As for animation itself, let’s just agree that it means the act of creating motion with static objects through the use of the persistence of vision illusion created by the frame rates of film. This can be created in a variety of ways: puppet, cel, stop-motion and computer to name a few.
Whose On The List?
The first film generally accepted as meeting all these requirements is the Argentinian film El Apóstol (The Apostle) from 1917. The film was written, directed and animated by Quirino Cristiani, and ran 70 minutes. Well-known caricaturist Diógenes Taborda headed a team of five animators which produced 58,000 drawings for the film over 12 months. Unfortunately, the film no longer exists (although no one disputes that it did exist). All known copies disappeared in a 1926 fire in producer Federico Valle’s vaults.
Cristiani went on to direct Sin Dejar Rastros (Without A Trace) the following year, but this animated feature film was confiscated by the government and destroyed. Peludópolis (Peludó City) was released in 1931 with a Vitaphone sound-on-disc synchronization system soundtrack, making it generally credited as the first animated feature film with sound. All of Cristiani’s films were black & white, and traditionally animated.
The first color feature-length animated film was Lotte Reinigers’ Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed) from 1926, predating Disney’s film by over a decade. You probably remember this film for also using a multiplane camera years before Disney, too. This silent film was puppet and paper cut-out / silhouette animation. Prinzen Achmed is the oldest surviving animated feature, too.
Other Animated Films Released Before Snow White
The Russians beat Disney to the punch with the puppet-animated Novyy Gullivyer (The New Gulliver) in 1935. Ladislaw Starewicz released the third animated film with sound titled Le Roman De Renard (The Story Of The Fox) in April of 1937, and the Germans followed up later that year with Die Sieben Raben (The Seven Ravens) which came out the week before Snow White.