Plot: What’s it about?
Back when I was a wee little lad, for some reason I absolutley loved “Fantasia”. Don’t ask me why, just something about the music and art being blended together really appealed to me. Of course the film was long and I was often bored with the live action sequences, but despite that, and like most people, I was enthralled by the film. Hell, when I went to Disney World when I was still that wee little lad, I begged my parents for Mickey gloves to compose (and all that I was missing was the magical hat).
Anyhow, after much anticipation, Disney finally delivers one of their best and more superior films on Blu-ray. I have to simply say, it’s really quite a treat and everyone is going to be pleased with it. The presentation has never been better, and the supplements on the movie disc are rather good (but the “Fantasia Legacy” disc will blow you away). Now, let me tell you about “Fantasia”…
If for some reason you’ve been at the core of the Earth for the past sixty years, “Fantasia” was one of Walt Disney’s most ambitious and beloved projects. The idea of presenting classical music with animation. The animation you’re seeing is supposedly what you’d be imagining if you were listening to the music in a concert hall (though I have to say, if “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” wasn’t stereotyped so much with this film, I’d never imagine Mickey Mouse). “Fantasia” is divided into several musical pieces. Some of the sequences have plots, others don’t at all and are simply wonderful imagery.
The first sequence in “Fantasia” is “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” by Bach. The music is very brisk and with spirit, and it involves a series of abstract drawings. This is not my favorite, but I still really enjoy it.
Next up is “The Nutcracker Suite” from Tchaikovsky. This piece is more memorable, as it features the dancing mushrooms, the dancing flowers, the whole ice fairies and whatnot. This one is pretty lengthy, but still very enjoyable to watch.
Of course, probably the most famous piece in “Fantasia” and what has gone on to represent it and be Mickey Mouse’s most famous role, is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas, as Mickey ignores his master’s warning and causes a bit of trouble with magic. You love it, I love it, so many love it.
“The Rite Of Spring” by Stravinsky features a nice big grand dinosaur battle, with some well paced and catchy music (but isn’t all the music in “Fantasia” catchy?). This one is not my absolute favorite, but it’s still pretty cool to watch and well done.
“The Pastoral Symphony” by Beethoven, one of Fantasia’s more notable scenes (and was supposedly cut decades ago due to some sort of stereotype), involves a plucky unicorn (as well as other unicorns) plus other mythical creatures from the world of Greek mythology. I really like the music (for you Simpsons fans out there, they use it pretty often), and I think this animated piece is pretty charming.
Ponchiell’s “Dance Of The Hours” has the elegant dancing animals which is also a pretty popular piece. You got the vicious crocodiles dancing with the ballerinas, the ostriches doing ballet as well as the elephants. The music is very relaxing and it’s a nice watch.
Moussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain” is that creepy, dark and grand music which so many horror movies seemed to use in their trailers. This one is about darkness, with a devil like monster and his wrath of of evil with ghosts, torture and fire. This makes Fantasia an interesting mix, because most of the pieces are lighthearted, while this one is pretty much the opposite. Change is good though.
Finally, we have “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert. The music is really tranquil and quiet, giving a really good sense of solitude. “Night On Bald Mountain” leads into this one, as that symbolized darkness and this one symbolizes light and peace. It puts you in a pretty mellow mood.
And that wraps up the original and forever classic “Fantasia”. It’s great to see the film complete and uncut since the original release, and Blu-ray really preserves it with much care. It’s all pretty bold, but more on that later.
Walt Disney’s original idea for “Fantasia” was to expand on it. Ever time you saw the film, you’d get a new piece. This idea never really went anywhere sadly, but Walt’s nephew, Roy, still wanted to continue this idea. In the early 90s, he started to develop “Fantasia Continued” (which is now known as “Fantasia/2000” of course), a set of new pieces with one returning classic favorite (That being “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”). The project was in development forever, but “Fantasia/2000” finally launched on New Year’s Day 2000 for a four month engagment in IMAX theaters across the globe (and some began and still are showing after the summer 2000 theatrical engagment ended). The film on IMAX was a tremendous success (I saw it on IMAX and I still believe it is the ONLY TRUE way to expierence the film, it’s a very breathtaking), and it had a limited one month engagment in regular theaters across the United States. It wasn’t as succesful as the IMAX run, most likely because so many people already dragged themselves to the closest IMAX theater near them months before.
“Fantasia/2000” consists of eight segments. Seven are new, and one is a classic. The film opens with a nice and pretty short one, which is set to Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven. It involves these abstract butterflies (which are basically two triangles) in various colors and chases. It is very nicely done and a good way to open a good film.
After that, the second segment is Respighi’s “Pines of Rome”, which involves a loveable baby whale and other whales who fly right out of the ocean. The animation on this one is really breathtaking, it seems like a mix of computer and regular hand drawn animation. The detail is wonderful in the animation, and not only “Pines of Rome” is a very good score, the story is also simple and enjoyable. This is probably one of my favorite segments of the movie.
Also another favorite is the marvelous “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin. The animation is inspired by Al Hirschfeld drawings, and deals with the rich, the poor, the young and working in depression-era New York. There is a man who dreams of being a musician, a poor man who yearns for a job and money, a little girl who wants her parents to stop bossing her around and a rich man who wants to be a little bit more free from his wife. But what is best about this sgement is that each story is interconnected.
Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, comes “Piano Concerto No.2, Allegro, Opus 102”. The plot of this one follows a toy soldier who has a little adventure while trying to win the love of a toy ballerina and stop a madman jack-in-the box. The animation in this one flows nicely and has a classic fairy tale look.
The fifth segment, which I really did enjoy and brought a smile to my face, but was REALLY short (I wish it could have been longer) was Saint Sanes “Carnival of the Animales, Finale” . It’s choreographed nicely, and involves a fun-loving flamingo who plays with a yo-yo, which distracts and annoys the other flamingos. The animation and color are really nice, but I wish this one could have been a bit longer.
After that is the classic segment, which has gone on to symbolize Fantasia and is probably Mickey Mouse’s most famous role. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Dukas (which is rightfully introduced by magic gurus Penn and Teller) tells the classic story of the lazy sorcerer’s apprentice, being Mickey, as he takes his master’s hat and has the broom do work for him. Of course, there are consequences and everything.
Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumastance #1, 2, 3, &4”, the famous graduation theme is the topic for a segment involving Noah’s Ark, and Donald and Daisy Duck coordinating the animals going on board. This also makes for some wacky comedy, when each think the other is gone for good. Well animated and light-hearted.
The big finale, “Firebird Suite (1919 Version)” by Stravinsky is nice and a marvel to look at. I could tell the ones working on this segment were influenced by the great animation director Hayao Miyazaki and his film Princess Mononoke, because the setting and themes were very similar. It involves the forest and it growing renew and being destroyed. It was good, but I thought it could have been better. The animation is fantastic, though.
Reactions to the “Fantasia/2000” were mixed. Nearly everyone compared it to the original, and said that this “add-on” was more like a sequel. Some critics gave it lukewarm reviews, others embraced it with much love. The main complaint, though, was that people felt the animations that went with the music lacked what the original “Fantasia” brought, and how different it was from the first film. I personally loved the movie and was really impressed, it was just so unique and well put together. Though I admit it was a bit different than the original, the passion and feeling was all there in the movie. I also do admit I slightly prefer “Fantasia/2000” over the original. Why? Well, I have to say the pace is much faster, and it does not tend to be boring. Don’t get me wrong, I love the original “Fantasia”, but you have to admit at some points it does move at a slow pace.
Video: How does it look?
Each film, “Fantasia” and “Fantasia” are seeing the light of day on Blu-ray for the first time and both look profoundly amazing. “Fantasia” looks a bit worse for wear but when you consider that the film is seventy (yes, seventy) years old, there’s little room for complaint. The 1.33:1 full-frame AVC HD transfer for “Fantasia” looks pretty darn good. Yes, there’s some grain and a bit of artifacting and this is noticeable during “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence. Colors are vibrant and though they appear a bit muted at times, on the whole this is by far the best that the film has ever looked. More impressive is “Fantasia 2000” with its 1.78:1 AVC HD transfer is certainly more visually appealing. There’s a distinctive sharpness and clarity when compared to the original, but the animated sequences are so different in nature and tone, that it’s really hard to compare these two. Suffice it to say, you’ll be amazed at how good both of these look.
Audio: How does it sound?
For the 2000 DVD release both of these films were given DTS soundtracks, and with this Blu-ray release they’re treated to the full HD experience and the DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks really breathe new life into these classics (yes, I’m referring to “Fantasia 2000” as a classic as well). As we might expect, “Fantasia” does sound a bit dated but surprisingly robust at times. The music is mostly set to instruments, so it’s not that hard to re-create the sonic experience. “Fantasia 2000” has my favorite sequence of both movies with George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and it sounds fantastic! I love this sequence and probably watched it half a dozen times. To see and hear this as it is was simply amazing. Like the video, the audio is as good as you might imagine. Sit back and enjoy it.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A decade ago, Disney put out “The Fantasia Anthology” which was the end all be all of these two films. There’s both good and bad news in regards to this new Blu-ray edition. First, the good news. All, and I mean all of the supplemental material from that three disc release is found on these discs; so it’s not lost forever and Disney isn’t going to try and get your money with another set two years from now (well they might, but it’s doubtful). The bad news is that the content is only available via the BD-Live feature “Disney Virtual Vault.” So yes, the content is there but if for those that have a Blu-ray player and no internet connection (you’re out there), you won’t be able to access it. The set is already four discs, why not throw in a fifth disc with the supplements that’s already available on DVD to begin with? At any rate, you’ve been warned. Now with that said, here’s a rundown on the supplements found on the Blu-ray’s.
The first disc houses three audio commentary tracks and two of those you might remember from the 2000 DVD set. We start off with historian Brian Sibley and the next is hosted by John Canemaker. The final track features Roy E. Disney himself, James Levine, Canemaker (again) and Scott MacQueen, who was in charge of the restoration of the film. Essentially anything you want to know about “Fantasia” can be found in these three tracks. Next up is “Disney Family Museum” as we get a look at the location in San Francisco and all it has to offer. I love San Francisco and next time I’m out there, I’ll stop by to see this place first hand. “The Schultheis Notebook: A Disney Treasure focuses on Herman Schultheis and his notes that he took during the production of the film. This will be on display at the Disney Family Musuem. Finally we have an interactive art gallery which is a series of sketches and production design from both “Fantasia” movies. You can even enlarge some of these as well. Cool.
Moving onto the next disc, we get into the supplements of “Fantasia 2000” and we’re treated to the same two audio commentaries that were present on the “Fantasia 2000” DVD. Roy Disney, James Levine and Don Ernst are on the first and the second has a slew of art directors for their corresponding segments. “Musicana” was supposed to be a sequel of sorts to “Fantasia” but it never materialized. We get a look at this project that, sadly, never saw the light of day. “Destino” is a somewhat risquÃ© animated sequence from French director Dominique Monfrey and is quite the unique visual experience. As mentioned above, the Disney Virtual Vault houses the supplements from the original DVD release. You can find a review of that material here.
If I had to pick ten movies in my collection, “Fantasia” would be one of them. Run, don’t walk, to pick this set up. And hurry too, Disney only has this out for a limited time.