DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Fantasia & Fantasia 2000 – 4-disc Special Edition, Blu-ray (1939/2000/2010)

Walt himself once said that Fantasia was the best idea he ever had.

Published on December 3, 2010

Fantasia & Fantasia 2000 – 4-disc Special Edition, Blu-ray (1939/2000/2010)

Fantasia & Fantasia 2000 – 4-disc Special Edition, Blu-ray (1939/2000/2010)

Studio: Walt Disney Studios 105512 [11/30/10]
Video: 16:9 on both (with DisneyView on Fantasia) 1080p HD color
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DD 5.1, DD. 2.0
Extras: Restoration of 1939 film, DisneyView borders, Disney Family Museum, The Schultheis Notebook – newly discovered, Interactive art gallery, audio commentary tracks, “Dali & Disney” – documentary on “Destino,” Entire short film – “Destino,” Audio commentaries, Disney’s Virtual Vault, "Musicana" – Walt’s inspiration for a sequel to Fantasia, Fantasia 2000 audio commentary, BD Live, Disney Fast Play
Length: 1: 125 minutes; 2: 75 minutes
Rating: *****

The four discs are so you can have standard DVD versions of both films.  Before I get to  my glowing review, let me get off my chest again the absolutely maddening navigation forced on the viewer by all Disney Blu-rays. You must struggle thru endless preview and special protions to finally get to the feature film.  All the options on the main menu are also extremely slow to come up. It made operation of my usually fast Oppo BDP-83SE seem like the first generation Blu-ray player I had. The specially-named Disney View (actually I haven’t seen it with any other 4:3 movies) is merely small bits of artwork on the left and right borders of the original 4:3 screen of Fantasia and other older Disney films, to fill out the 16:9 screen. They brought back one of the original animators to create the paintings that are designed to fit in smoothly with the 4:3 images, and they usually do. Especially with such an artistic film as Fantasia they work quite well.

Walt himself once said that Fantasia was the best idea he ever had.  It certainly did make a number of breakthrus. The "Musicana" featurette is a fascinating story on the inception of the feature, including some of the music and image ideas that were kicked around prior to ending up with the well-known film. Among them was the use of the music for Finlandia as well as Scheherazade, and an extended sequence featuring vocals by Yma Sumac, who was a favorite of Disney’s. Fantasia was just as revolutionary a feature in its own way as Disney’s Snow White had been in the early 1930s. He observed that it was timeless, and he was right. Not only did it achieve new heights of animation techniques – and all long before computerized graphics – but it was the first film with multichannel surround sound. Leopold Stokowski and Disney worked closely together on Fantasia, and a new collaboration of classical music and animation was achieved when Stoky shook hands with Mickey Mouse at the end of "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice."

Most of us of a certain age cannot hear the audio alone of some of these classical hits without seeing in our mind’s eye the images of Fantasia. There are the multiplying brooms in the Dukas tone poem, the winged horses in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and the thirsty, lumbering dinosaurs in The Rite of Spring. Both features were mastered to HD digital and the images are absolutely gorgeous. I know the original Stokowski soundtrack was redone for one of the many re-releases of Fantasia, but I don’t know if it is that version or the original that is heard on the excellent lossless surround track. (Disney Studios also released one version in which an anamorphic lens was used on the original 4:3 images to stretch everything unnaturally to create a pseudo-widescreen film;  fortunately, we now have Disney View instead of that horrendous solution.)

There had been discussions for many years about Walt wanting to continue the Fantasia idea by adding/substituting a newly-made musical sequences every few years.  Unfortunately, after all the work and expense that went into the original, it wasn’t a big box office hit in the theaters, and such plans to continue were shelved.  Roy Disney mentions in the commentary for the second feature that it was the sales and public interest in Fantasia on VHS and DVD that finally convinced him to go ahead with a second film 60 years later.

Fantasia 2000 doesn’t stand up to the original, but it is still a fine filmic experience. For some reason it is also much shorter than the original. This time a great variety of animation techniques were used – cel, water color, cut-outs, computer. When production started in the early 1990s some of the computer graphics software wasn’t yet as sophisticated as later on.  For example, the animators had a great deal of trouble creating the ocean waves in the flying whales sequence to Respighi’s Pines of Rome. This is a truly amazing combination of music and images – totally different from the widescreen visual impression Respighi was imagining. Planning for the second film began after Roy Disney met with conductor James Levine in 1992.  Levine quickly agreed to take on the role Stokowski had done in the original. He conducted the Chicago Symphony in all the selections – except for the repeat of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the original.  It was surprising to hear that although normally the soundtrack for animation is always done first, in the case of The Pines of Rome, Levine conducted the Symphony after most of the animation had been created onscreen. Levine speaks in the commentary track about the “emotional impact of animation,” and he was trying to get his players to bring out specific emotional feelings in the performance for different sections of the animation.

The various music sequences were done at different times by different people and use different approaches. The first piece is the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – to entirely abstract images on the screen. The Finale of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals had been considered for the original Fantasia. An animator who worked on it in 1941 kept detailed notes on an idea for images having to do with giving some ostriches yoyos to play with. Fantasia 2000 changed them to pink flamingos and used water color art; frankly I think this is the corniest of the sequences, but some think it hilarious.  Peter Schiekle arranged portions of four Pomp and Circumstance Marches by Elgar into one so that the processions of the animals going into Noah’s Ark would properly match up. Actually, when he arranged the music it was supposed to be for a march of various Disney characters from over the years, but that was dropped for Donald Duck as Noah’s helper on the Ark. That one is standard cel animation.

For me (and for Levine) the hit of Fantasia 2000 is the UPA-stylized animation of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which hues closely to animating the distinctive Broadway drawings and caricatures of Hershfeld. And speaking of hues, the colorist for this sequence put some blue into all the colors she used on the screen. Its music was also recorded after the animation. There is also the Allegro movement from a  Shostakovich Piano Concerto, for a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. The closing images to Stravinsky’s Firebird ballet music try to emulate the closing portion of the original Fantasia with its diabolical Night on Bald Mt. melding into Ave Maria. To gain a better feel for the images’ storyline of death and rebirth, Roy Disney sent a couple of the animators to see the devastation of Mt. St. Helens in Washington. During their week there, they spied a lone buck elk, which they ended up making one of the two characters in the animation, together with the sprite of Nature.

The various musical sections are each introduced by a top celebrity. They include Steve Martin, Bette Midler, Angela Lansbury, Itzak Perlman, Quincy Jones, James Earl Jones, and Penn and Teller.  Much effort was put into selecting and filming the actors, musicians and others and matching them to the particular section they were introducing.   For example, Jones, who had done the voiceover for The Lion King, introduced the Carnival of the Animals selection.

All the extras are worth viewing – after seeing the one on the Disney Family Museum I want to visit it the next time I’m in San Francisco. The longest is the documentary on the completely unexpected collaboration of Walt Disney and Salvador Dali in the 1930s on a proposed short surrealistic film, Destino. Dali came to the Disney Studios and worked for some time with them on the possible short.  But although the two men – so completely different but yet on one level very similar to one another – remained good friends the rest of their lives, Disney pulled the plug on the film after seeing one of Dali’s sudden ideas that just seemed too crazy to him.  About 180 finished drawings and paintings for the short were mouldering in the Disney Archives, and Roy Disney decided to make the short film now – all these years later. He found a young French animator who agreed to do the work, and the resulting Destino is part of the Extras. The widescreen short – using a scratchy recording made originally for the Three Cabalerros Disney film in 1944 – was nominated in 2003 for an Animation Academy Award.  And it’s certainly wildly Dali!

 – John Sunier




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