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 DVD. 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 DVD 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 a t a slow pace.
Video: How does it look?
Disney has done an excellent job with the transfers for both “Fantasia” and “Fantasia/2000”. Everyone should be really satisfied with these transfers. So let me analyze, eh?
“Fantasia” is in great condition, probably the best it has ever looked in sixty years. While the transfer is not perfect, this THX-certified transfer makes it look pretty good. You have to realize this film is six decades old, so this makes it so admirable. The color levels are perfect and seem exact, however, there is a good amount of dirt (especially in “The Pastoral Symphony”), blemishes and a scratch here and there. Still, it’s really wo nderful and this is the cleanest I’ve ever seen it, and probably the cleanest it’ll ever be. The movie is presented in 1.33:1, the original theatrical ratio.
“Fantasia/2000”, on the other hand, is flawless, a true reference quality disc. Being transfered directly from digital files, and also THX-Certified, it’s truly breathtaking. Colors and hues are accurate, and I couldn’t find any oversaturation or bleeding. Check out “The Pines Of Rome”, some of the shots are mesmerizing, it looks pretty real. There is a slight complaint though, I noticed some really, really slight shimmering here and there. However, it’s so small and barley noticable, I won’t detract anything at all. The film is also anamorphic and benefits from the extra resolution (the aspect ratio is 1.85:1, from when it was in regular theaters). Great job Disney! Don’t forget to use your THX Optimode.
Audio: How does it sound?
I was a bit hesitant with this section I admit. I’m sure Disney did a nice remix for “Fantasia”, but usually the original is always better. The new Dolby Digital and DTS mixes aren’t revolutionary by any merit, but fit the film surprisngly well. Besides, a film which is based on music should definently have multiple channel mixes. Dolby Digital 5.0 and DTS 5.0 are included on “Fantasia”. The mixes are not bad. I really didn’t have a preference from the DTS or Dolby Digital, both sounded really similar, except the DTS was a bit louder. The lack of a .1 LFE doesn’t really affect how the movie sounds at all, I think (well, maybe with “Night On Bald Mountain”). The mixes are pretty clear, and there was hardly any distortion. Considering how old the movie, fidelty and dynamic range are lacking, giving a true sense of being in a concert theater. Basically the mixes aren’t the best and isn’t that good for home theater reference, but as I said, it fits the film and wasn’t as bad as I expected. A nice, created mix.
“Fantasia/2000” on the other hand is reference quality with audio. Boasting a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a DTS 5.1 mix, this time around you really do feel like you’re trapped in a concert theater and part of this amazing expierence. The dynamic range is all over the place, the .1 LFE is made to good use, and it creates this exciting feeling (“Pines Of Rome”, like the video, is also a great way to show off the sound mixes). I personally prefer the DTS over the Dolby Digital, I felt it was a bit more aggressive and responsive, plus I felt the music had more depth within it. Still, the Dolby Digital is also very good if you watch the movie with that track. Either way, you can’t go wrong and you won’t be disappointed. A 5.1 Dolby Digital track is also included (of course, it’s only really for the presenters).
Disney has done a great job with the mixes for both movies, and THX Optimode is included for setting your sound up for these THX-Certified mixes.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Settle down in your chair, because if you plan to learn every apsect of the disc sets and my thoughts, it’s going to take awhile. Let’s get the show on the road…
I’ll start with the original “Fantasia” disc. Even if you buy this as a stand alone, the features here will provide a ton of insight on this animated masterpiece. First off and most notable, “Fantasia” is uncut from the original theatrical version, that being back in 1940 on the whole original Roadshow deal. The original intermission is included, however, I did notice it’s not compleltley restored. Using my video tape from 1991 as a comparison, I found that some shots are zoomed in, just like on the tape (they’re not supposed to be). I suppose it’s not restored the fullest, but this is the first time since 1940 it’s being shown with a running time of 125 minutes. Many film buffs and animations fans shall be pleased with this original cut.
Now, on to the audio commentaries. Two are presented here. The first one is with Roy E. Disney, conductor James Levine, animation historian John Canemaker and restoration expert Scott MacQueen. This is a very good commentary, as all of them have an incredible amount of passion for the movie and give their complete insights and thoughts on “Fantasia”. This is one commentary which is definently worth a listen.
Now the second commentary is also edited. Disney called it “Rare Archival Interviews with Walt Disney”, but it ins indeed a commentary track and a really marvelous one. John Canemaker hosts it, as Disney has put together interviews with Walt Disney that span three decades. The track is very interesting. It’s not screen specific, but these interviews has Disney commenting on the film and the animation pieces. The audio quality varies, due to how old the interviews are. Some are distorted and sound crackly and the age is easily heard, others sound pretty good. I’m glad Disney put this together and spent the time and effort to do so. You will gain a TON from this track, so please give it a listen.
Rounding off the disc is a very well put together 50 minute featurette (I consider it a documentary) entitled “The Making Of Fantasia”. Hosted by David Odgen Stiers, the roots and history behind “Fantasia” are revealed. It’s a good watch with some well put together interviews. It’s worth your time.
A very impressive amount of features for the disc and the quality is outstanding. Now on to what “Fantasia/2000” holds…
The disc begins with a nice introducting from Roy Disney, which you shouldn’t simply chapter skip over but watch, as he gives some short insight on this next chapter of the movie. It can also be accessed from the wonderfully animated menus.
Two commentaries are also on the disc. The first is with Roy E. Disney, conductor James Levine and producer Don Ernst. Roy was responsible for bringing “Fantasia/2000” to life, and this track gives all his insights and passion about it. James Levine talks more about the music, and Don Ernst shares his thoughts on production values. Each seem really motivated and have such strong feelings of pride toward the movie, which is good.
The next audio commentary is with the Art Directors and Segment Directors for each piece. So every animation piece you watch, you can hear what the creative forces had to say about their shorts. Most are pretty interesting, and if can get past some of the accents, you’ll learn a lot. Though it’s hard to give all their thoughts in a mere few minutes, they do a great job of doing so.
Two animated shorts are included on the disc (Disney has been including them with their animated titles as of late, why not release a set?): “Melody” and “Too, Whistle, Plunks and Bloom”, which was nominated for an Oscar. They’re a good watch for kids as some musical insight is provided.
Another featurette is included giving more interviews and some additional information on the movie, plus a special commemorative booklet explaining each piece and their music, plus some activities for the kids to do. A nice set of features for a great, beautiful movie.
Okay, here comes the major blow… “The Fantasia Legacy”, a third disc with an INCREDIBLE amount of insight on both movies and their making. It’s an exclusive disc with “The Fantasia Anthology” and is really worth it. Even if you don’t care much for extras, I still say you need this BADLY. Let’s get rolling…
First thing when you start up the disc, you get a nice intro, and then a nicely animated menu with music where you choose which movie you want to learn about. “Fantasia” on the left, “Fantasia/2000” on the right. I’ll do “Fantasia” first…
The “Fantasia” menu consists of streaming screens with clips from each segment. First up all the way on the left is “Dance Of The Hours”. You can watch an introduction with John Culhane, an animation historian, talking about this piece. The piece includes concept art, animation footage and sketch sessions.
An excerpt from “Tricks Of Our Trade:Live-Action Model Reference” is presented by Walt Disney himself, which shows animators drawing to a woman doing ballet dancing, and how it inspires them. A good, short watch. The “Visual Development” section features three pages of concept art, the “Character Design” has sketches for the ostriches, hippos, elephants and alligators, while you can view some unused and rough animation plus a nice bio on the music itself.
“Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” has an introduction with Walt Disney plus some commentary by John Culhane. Concept art is also shown plus some production photos. An “alternate concept” is presented which is quite a good watch, plus the “Visual Development” has a whopping 17 pages and there is a bio about the music in case you want more background.
“The Nutcracker Suite” features an introducton by Disney animator Frank Thomas, clips from the piece and concept art. An excerpt from “The Story of the Animated Drawing: Layering and Painting” gives good insight on the design aspect, as so does the “Visual Development” and “Character Design” sections, with pages upon pages of concept art. Rounding it off is the usual biography about the music.
“The Rite Of Spring” has an intro with John Culhane as he describes how the piece was used as an inspiration with “Fantasia/2000”. An excerpt from “Tricks Of Our Trade: Effects Demonsration” is here, as well some interesting “Visual Development” pictures, “Character Design” stills and a boy on this musical piece.
“Ave Maria” has a bio about the music, a good five pages of “Visual Development” and a spiffy intro with John Canemaker and insight from Frank Thomas and John Culhane, complete with concept art and some description of the film and Disney camera stock footage. I should mention Mr. Thomas had a LOAD of insight in the intros he does.
The classic and beloved “Fantasia” piece, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” includes an introduction with John Canemaker and John Culhane with some clips from the piece. “Deleted Animation: Mickey With The Broom” is sorta like a pencil test, and lasts a few seconds, but you see the final product afterwards. A “Story Reel”, complete with the music shows the storyboards put together and how it was originally planned. There’s some pages about the music itself, and the usual “Visual Development” and “Character Desgin” sections, with many pages of concept art and various drawings.
“The Pastoral Symphony” is introduced by John Culhane as he shares some insight about it. There are a few pages of “Visual Development” and “Character Design” which I found to be pretty neat, and rounding it off is a music bio.
“Night On Bald Mountain” has an introduction with John Canemaker and John Culhane, and features some concept art, clips from the piece and explanations are given about the design aspect. An excerpt from “The Plausible Impossible: Marrying Music and Visuals” is included, plus the usual pages of “Visual Development”, “Character Design” and a biography on the music itself.
That rounds out the animated segments, but there’s still more. There’s a section devoted to the Interstitials, complete with production photos and some visual development. An introduction with Roy Disney is included as well as animation restoration expert Scott MacQueen, plus Leonard Maltin. This intro is pretty lengthy.
“The Fantasia That Never Was” introduces concepts that were axed from the final film. The only complete one is “Claire De Lune”, and has been reused into another Disney project. It’s all complete though and quite nice to watch, and it has a whole visual development section. “The Ride Of The Valkyries”, “The Swan Of Tuonela”, “Invitation to the Dance” and “Adventures in a Permabulator” all have completed story reels and visual development sections. There are also three other concepts with just concept art, and they are “Mosquito”, “Flight of the Bumble Bee” and “Baby Ballet”. This whole section features a spiffy introduction by John Culhane and John Canemaker as they go through each axed concept briefly but carefully.
“Special Effects Of Fantasia” is a nice featurette of sorts with interviews. There are some biographies of Walt Disney, Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor, Ben Sharpsteen, Joe Grant and Duck Huemer, and the Publicity section features the original 1940 trailer (lots of grain there), the 1990 re-release trailer, pictures from the original Fantasia program for the Roadshow where it started out, tons of domestic and international posters, and what I feel is very interesting and a good read, the “Re-release Schedule” where it gives all the exhibitions of “Fantasia” and what was cut from them and how they were edited. Very good for comparisons. And that rounds out the original Fantasia, phew! But there’s still “Fantasia/2000” to be covered…
The “Fantasia/2000” section is presented just like the original “Fantasia” section. Animated menus with screens are presented, and you pick your piece.
The first one I’m covering is “Pines Of Rome”. “Creating Pines Of Rome” is a short featurette with those who worked on it, and it’s interesting to see the development it went through. The “Visual Development” and “Character Design” section have a lot of nice sketches. There’s also a bio on the music, and a “Storyboard-To-Film Comparison”, where you see a clip from “Pines Of Rome” and the story reel with it in split screen. Finally, they’re two abanonded concepts, each presented in story reels. One is an alternate ending, and the other deals with penguins. You can see why the penguins one was abanonded, and although the ending was never fully animated, I do like this one a lot. They’re both set to music as well.
“Pomp and Circumstance Marches 1,2,3 and 4” has the usual “Visual Development” and “Character Designs”, plus a bio on the music. There’s a featurette on it which is enthralling on how it was created, as well two concepts that were abandoned. Each is set to music. One is drastically different from the final product, and is based on the story of Icarus and the wax wings, with Donald being Icarus. It’s entitled “Icarus Duck”. The other one is basically the same as the finished product, yet it involves a dove helping out, that one is titled “Noah’s Dove”.
“Piano Concerto #2, Allegro, Opus 102” features some great history. This one was supposed to be in the original Fantasia, but it never saw the light of day. Storyboards by Bianca Majolie can be viewed in the section that date back to 1938. There’s “Desgin” and “Character Design” sections to view, as well as a featurette on the creating of this piece. There’s a bio about the music, as well as a “Production Progression Demonstration”, where you use your angle key on your DVD player to see a clip as it goes from concept, storyboards, rough and to final animation. Finally, two axed concepts are presented in story reels, complete with music. One is an original ending, and the other is an alternate rat sequence. I’m glad they were cut, and you can see why too.
One of my favorite pieces from “Fantasia/2000” is “Rhapsody in Blue”, and this section offers some great insight on the creation of it. There’s a featurette with interviews with the animators and Al Hirschfeld himself, who inspired the design aspect of the piece. The “Inspirations From Hirschfeld” gallery is excellent, as it pinpoints the exact pictures that inspired character designs. The “Design” section has some info on the art direction and the color keys, plus there is a biography on the music and a lot of “Character Desgins”. “The Stages Of Animation” is introduced by director Eric Goldberg, and is basically a production progression demonstration where the controlling is done for you. Finally, a “Storyboard-To-Film-Comparison”.
“Symphony No. 5” has a featurette with interviews from animators and those who brought it to life, as well as a “Visual Development” section. A bio about the music is included, as well as a story reel from June 1998. The “Early Concepts” section is plentiful, giving story reels and text introductions about how the piece was originally. There are four. One from May 1993, one from September 1993, the September 1993 one done with CGI and a third one (date unknown). Definently check them out, to show how much change it went through.
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is the same section from the “Fantasia” part. It includes an introduction with John Canemaker and John Culhane with some clips from the piece. “Deleted Animation: Mickey With The Broom” is sorta like a p encil test, and lasts a few seconds, but you see the final product afterwards. A “Story Reel”, complete with the music shows the storyboards put together and how it was originally planned. There’s some pages about the music itself, and the usual “Visual Development” and “Character Desgin” sections, with many pages of concept art and various drawings. What would have been nice if they showed how this piece was restored and cleaned up for “Fantasia/2000”, but oh well, it’s fine as it is.
“Firebird Suite – 1919 Version” has a lot of nice features. There’s a featurette with the animators and director talking about it, as well as a “Design” section, showing off the visual development and color keys used. There are three “Character Designs” sections to view (“Elk”, “Sprite” and “Firebird”) and a story reel of the piece. “Effects Animation: Firebird Erruption” is basically a production progression demo that’s controlled for you. The original ending is complete, yep, it’s fully animated. There’s not too much difference from the ending used, but the part that is changed is slightly rough. There’s a bio on the music, and there is also a “Production Progression Demonstration”, where you can control it.
“Carnival Of The Animals Finale” features an early story reel from September 1994, a featurette with clips and interviews with those who created the piece, a “Design” section, a bio on the music as well as an original ending in a story reel. The ending is short, but I actually preferred this one over the one in the final film (but I still enjoyed the actual ending used), so be sure to give it a spin.
“The Interstitials” section shows how much effort went into that opening. There’s a featurette about the creation, an early concept story reel, a CGI “Proof Of Concept” test, design pictures about it, and a section entitled “Mickey Meets the Maestro”. And you thought creating the pieces was the only tough job about the film!
Rounding off the disc is an “Orchestra Demonstration”, where you can learn a little more about music and show how each musical section is so important to a piece. So play around with that, and see how it all comes together. They’re numerous biographies of those involved with the movie, and finally, two trailers and four TV spots. And that ends the extra features section. Boy, am I tired…
Whether you love it or hate it, there is no denying “Fantasia” is one of the most important and inspirational films of all time. Disney has released this classic on DVD as well as the excellent next chapter booming with wonderful presentation and setting a new standard with extra features. It’s amazing how Disney releases two excellent boxed sets in a single month for two revolutionary animated film series (the other being “Toy Story”). If you can purchase on DVD set at all, this is the one to go with. Even if you don’t care for extras, it just shows how much time and effort goes into something like this, as well as giving a wonderful history that spans over six decades. Make no mistake, this set deserves to be in everyone’s collection.