Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 (Blu-ray Special Edition Combo Pack)
Directed by various hands
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1/1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 125/75 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 45.99
Release Date: November 30, 2010
Review Date: November 24, 2010
Walt Disney’s desire to create an anthology film presenting various pieces of music aligned with evocative images, sometimes abstract and sometimes narrative, came to fruition with Fantasia. Though meeting with critical and box-office indifference in its day, later generations have come to see that while as an experiment in sight and sound the film may be a mixed bag, as an example of the studio’s creative expression at its zenith, there is little doubt as to its influence and its importance. It took fifty-nine years for a sequel to be produced. Walt had originally envisioned Fantasia to be in continual release with new segments added and others dropped on a regular basis. When that didn’t happen, Walt’s nephew Roy Disney pushed for years for a new Fantasia to be produced, and Fantasia 2000 is the culmination of that dream. Both films are included in this new special edition release.
Fantasia – 4/5
With a narration provided by Deems Taylor, at the time a respected music critic in print and on the radio, Fantasia presents a program of seven segments featuring eight classical works. Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” offers an abstract art interpretation of the piece. “The Nutcracker Suite” by Tchaikovsky presents the nature fairies’ view of the changing seasons. Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” features Mickey Mouse in a starring role as the title character in the most narrative-based segment in the film. Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” examines the first billion years or so of Earth’s existence. Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony” sets its story during the era of Greek mythology as fauns and centaurs assist Bacchus in wine production while Zeus looks on mischievously. Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” is the film’s slapstick comedy segment, a ballet danced by a line of most unusual terpsichoreans. The program concludes with a combination of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and Schubert’s “Ave Maria” where the dark forces of evil run rampant until conquered by the rosy dawn. An impromptu jazz riff by select members of the orchestra after intermission and a visual representation of the soundtrack complete the program.
Fantasia has sometimes been called a film where you can “see music and hear images.” It’s a fascinating concept, and one can understand why Disney was so enthusiastic about it, but the simple fact is that the film suffers from offering too much of a good thing. The animation is superb throughout, and the artists show incalculable variety in their approaches to the drawing and painting of these exquisite images. There are bright colors and soft pastels, stylized drawings and exaggerated caricatures. The seven segments offer infinite diversity in design, style, and execution, but sitting through the more than two hours of brilliantly animated images set to some of the world’s most gorgeous classical music is akin to eating the contents of the entire dessert cart at a fashionable restaurant. No matter how delectable the selection, more than one or two offerings is overdoing it. There isn’t a segment in Fantasia that I wouldn’t want to exist, but these pieces are better and more palatable sampled one or two at a time.
As for Deems Taylor’s narration (dubbed here as it has been on the most recent home video releases as some of the original audio was lost), in most cases it’s completely unnecessary. In telling us what we’re about to see (except in “The Dance of the Hours” which he describes in only the vaguest terms so as not to spoil the comedy for first-time viewers), the audience’s intelligence is utterly insulted, suggesting we’re not literate or accomplished enough to figure out what we’re going to see for ourselves. As to the question of the censorship in the “Pastoral Symphony,” it is still present. Disney technicians have again zoomed the black centaurette Sunflower out of the frame, though it has been accomplished here more skillfully than in past releases. Sad to say, it’s a sign of our politically correct times, irritating to be sure and not honoring the craft of its original makers but likely not something the studio would even discuss reconsidering (since Song of the South continues to be a sore spot for the company).
Fantasia 2000 – 4/5
The second anthology in the series includes “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” repeated from the original film. Otherwise, it’s a new program which follows many of the precepts of the original but with different music. There is an abstract art segment illustrated to Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” followed by a surreal segment with blue whales as the centerpiece in Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.” A symphonic jazz piece is the movie’s only real glimmer of modification from the original plan with George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” drawn in the style of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld and portraying New York City life during the Great Depression. A Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale comes to life to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich in his “Piano Concerto No.2.“ For the comic segment, the film uses Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals.” Donald Duck gets his own showcase in Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” a variation on the story of Noah’s Ark. The film concludes with another intense piece, Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” as nature both destroys and renews.
As in the original movie, the new film is illustrated in a variety of styles; in fact, the stylized concepts for several of the pieces are more radical than the differences between the segments in the first film. Where this film doesn’t match the first is in the exquisite quality and detail of the animation. It’s beautiful, even haunting in places (the soaring whales in “Pines of Rome,” the evil, looming jack-in-the-box character in “Piano Concerto No. 2,” the entirety of “Rhapsody in Blue”), but the delicacy and intricacy of the drawings and special effects in the original are just unmatchable even with computers to help the modern day artists. True, “Carnival of the Animals” is hilarious and so brief that it doesn’t have a chance to wear out its welcome, and Donald Duck is allowed moments of his usual frenzy and fury when things don’t go his way, but he also gets to display more forlorn emotions on occasion, all of this in pantomime which is a high water mark for his performing in silence. And we get a host of noted personalities (Steve Martin, Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn & Teller, James Levine, Angela Lansbury) to introduce the segments with humor but no trace of the superior tone and spoiler-prone delivery of Deems Taylor in the first film. Fantasia 2000 has a great deal of imagination and talent behind its music and art, and it’s been limited to 75 minutes, a much easier film to get all the way through in one sitting than the original Fantasia.
Fantasia – 4.5/5
The film has been framed at its theatrical release aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The magnificent colors of the film burst from the screen almost continually (sometimes right to the brink of blooming), but there is no bleeding and next to no banding in the image. (I thought I glimpsed the tiniest bit of banding in the “Pastoral Symphony” the second time through the film.) Black levels are superbly inky and most extraordinary. Unexpectedly impressive with this release is the live action footage of the orchestra which has always been a mass of shadowy blobs but now is unfailingly crisp with details seen in those shadows for the very first time. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.
Fantasia 2000 – 5/5
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Colors are spectacular and deeply saturated, but there isn’t any hint of noise or blooming in the hues. There is also no sign of banding. All of the live action photography is crisp and clean with flesh tones looking very natural. Black levels are reference quality. The movie has been divided into 17 chapters.
Fantasia – 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix certainly routes the various sections of the orchestra throughout the soundfield, but there is some high pitched distortion during the “Toccata and Fugue,” and the engineers seem to have gone a bit wild on channel placement during “The Nutcracker Suite” which seems to have some minor phasing problems, something that isn’t noticeable during any other segment. Modern sound technology can only do so much with these very old recordings, so despite superb orchestrations and splendid conducting by Leopold Stokowski, no one is going to confuse this with a modern recording. It’s a pity that the digitally produced Irwin Kostal soundtrack used for the 1977 re-release of the movie wasn’t offered as an alternate sound choice. While it might not have fit the images to the same perfect degree as the original soundtrack, it would have offered a dynamic and certainly more modern approach to the sound of the music and would have made an interesting alternative.
Fantasia 2000 – 5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix is the very definition of the way a modern symphonic orchestra should sound in a lossless recording. (You’ll clearly hear the difference when “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” using the original orchestra track plays.) The placement of the various members of the orchestra is beautifully complemented by filtering those instruments into the various channels, and there’s plenty of explosive bass to keep the LFE channel busy. There’s also a nice moment as Mickey searches for Donald before his segment where directionalized dialogue is used terrifically to broaden the soundstage.
The film may be watched with DisneyView selected which puts art panels into the pillarboxes which adjoin the sides of the 1.33:1 framed movie.
There are three audio commentaries. One new offering is by Disney historian Brian Sibley, and it’s a very comprehensive analysis of the film, its makers, its pluses and minuses (including comments about the censored images). A second commentary is hosted by historian John Canemaker, and it features edited comments from a variety of sources by Walt Disney about the film, Mickey Mouse, and the empire he created. The third commentary includes comments by Roy Disney, James Levine, John Canemaker, and restoration expert Scott MacQueen, another track which was contained on the most recent DVD release of Fantasia.
“The Disney Family Museum” is a 4-minute vignette on a San Francisco museum which has been established to honor Walt’s legacy with his awards, many books, mementos, and keepsakes from his career. It’s presented in 1080p.
“The Schultheis Notebook” is a 13 ¾-minute featurette concerning the amazing scrapbook compiled by Herman Schultheis during the making of Fantasia. It contains notes, photos, and illustrations on how effects were created for the movie, a book which has been called “the Rosetta Stone of Special Effects Animation.” It’s in 1080p.
There are exhaustive interactive art galleries available for every segment of Fantasia with an elaborate overlay which allows you to view the art in three sizes and mark it with tags for later reference.
The disc offers 1080p trailers for Cars 2, Bambi, Disney 3D releases, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, Alice in Wonderland (1951), The Incredibles, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
The film carries over both commentary tracks from the last release on DVD. Roy Disney, James Levine, and producer Don Ernst provide one commentary while the director and art director of each segment provide the commentary on the second track. Both are worth hearing, and their sense of pride and accomplishment is evident with every word they speak. Too bad a film historian with credentials like Brian Sibley wasn’t engaged for a third commentary with this film as well.
“Musicana” is a 9 ¼-minute summary of the efforts that went into the creation of a more modern variation of Fantasia which was never mounted. Longtime Disney animators Mel Shaw and Wolfgang Reitherman worked on the project for years but couldn’t get executives to get on board. It’s in 1080p.
“Dali and Disney: A Date with Destino” is a comprehensive 82 ¼-minute documentary not only on the production of the short Destino but on the separate careers of Walt Disney and Salvador Dali as their paths eventually crossed in 1946 for the production of this project (which wasn’t completed in the lifetime of either man). It’s in 480i.
Destino is the 2003 realization of the original concept by Salvador Dali finally brought to the screen in an Oscar-nominated short subject. It’s in 1080p.
BD-Live: Disney’s Virtual Vault – Most of the production featurettes and background information of the making of the individual segments have not been ported over to this Blu-ray release from the last DVD release. Instead, Disney has made the information available only through a BD-Live internet connection, surely a money saving venture not requiring the company to produce another disc of bonus features but not really a fan friendly idea for those without internet connections.
The vault allows the user to mark ahead of time which segments he’d like to view, and then wait for them to download or stream. (There is a “play all” button in case someone doesn’t want to mark each individual listing.)
Below I have listed the information available for the two films via BD-Live. I have not bothered to give any summary information about these pieces other than their approximate running times. The segments show in a small window on your screen. They are not full frame presentations.
Interstitial introduction (1 ¾ minutes)
“Toccata and Fugue”: introduction (1 ¼ minutes), alternate concept (3 ½ minutes)
“The Nutcracker Suite”: introduction (1 ¼ minutes), Layering and Painting (3 ½ minutes)
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”: introduction (1 minute), deleted scene (1 ¼ minutes), story reel (4 ½ minutes)
“The Rite of Spring”: introduction (¾ minute), effects demonstration (7 ½ minutes)
“The Pastoral Symphony”: introduction (1 minute)
“Dance of the Hours”: introduction (1 minute), live action model reference (6 ½ minutes), unused rough animation (1 minute)
“Night on Bald Mountain”: introduction (¾ minutes), “Marrying Music and Visuals” (3 ¾ minutes)
“Ave Maria”: introduction (2 minutes)
The Making of Fantasia (48 minutes)
The Fantasia That Never Was: introduction (3 ¼ minutes), “Clair De Lune” (7 ¾ minutes), “The Ride of the Valkyries” story reel (3 minutes, “The Swan of Tuonela” story reel (9 ¼ minutes), “Invitation to the Dance” story reel (2 ¾ minutes), “Adventures in a Perambulator story reel (2 ½ minutes)
Special Effects in Fantasia (4 minutes)
1940 theatrical trailer (2 ¼ minutes)
1990 theatrical re-release trailer (1 ½ minutes)
Interstitials: creating the interstitials (5 ¼ minutes), early concept story reel (2 minutes), proof of concept test (3 minutes), Mickey Meets the Maestro (3 ¼ minutes)
“Symphony No. 5”: creating (4 ½ minutes), four early concepts (9 minutes total), proof of concept story reel (3 minutes)
“Pines of Rome”: creating (4 ½ minutes), abandoned concepts: penguin (3 ¼ minutes, original ending (1 ¼ minutes); storyboard to film comparison (3 ¼ minutes)
“Rhapsody in Blue”: creating (6 ½ minutes), stages of animation (3 minutes)
“Piano Concerto No. 2”: creating (4 ¾ minutes), abandoned concepts: rat sequence (1 ¾ minutes), original ending (½ minutes); production progression demonstration (four stages: story, rough animation, clean-up, final color – each ¾ minute)
“Carnival of the Animals”: creating (3 ½ minutes), early story reel (2 minutes), original ending (½ minute)
“Pomp and Circumstance”: creating (4 ½ minutes), abandoned concepts (5 ¾ minutes)
“The Firebird Suite”: creating (6 ¼ minutes), story reel (2 ¾ minutes), effects animation (3 ¼ minutes), original ending (1 ½ minutes), production progression demonstration (four stages, each ¾ minute)
two trailers and four TV spots
Roy Disney introduction (3 ½ minutes)
The Making of Fantasia 2000 (48 ¾ minutes)
“Melody” (10 ¼ minutes)
“Toot, Whistle, Plunk, Boom” (10 ¼ minutes)
The two other discs in the set are DVD copies of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000.
4/5 (not an average)
Unlike anything else in the Disney archives, Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 stand as remarkable achievements in marrying music and animation in creative explosions of sight and sound. This Blu-ray release of these two films show them to their best advantage both aurally and visually. While the decision to place the majority of the vintage bonus features in a cybernet vault instead of on a separate bonus disc was a foolhardy one, the included bonus features, especially the release of Destino, are most welcome. Recommended!