FANTASIA / FANTASIA 2000 - 2 Movie Collection (Blu-ray Edition)|
Disney / Buena Vista | 1940 & 1999 | 195 min | Rated G | Nov 30, 2010
Written by Jason Flick
December 16, 2010
Disney has held a lifelong tradition to bringing audiences quality films for the whole family. It’s that same trademark that stands today as it did back in 1940. Disney films over the years have contained some of the most memorable tunes to grace the silver screen. But none quite compare to the musical masterpiece of Fantasia and its sequel fantasia 2000 that have been brilliantly restored and put together in the perfectly timed 4-Disc Fantasia/ Fantasia 2000 Special Edition Blu-ray release. Fantasia makes its move to High Definition as it simultaneously releases this week alongside Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which was a perfect, move indeed if ever I saw one. Now a whole new generation can experience one of Disney’s greatest accomplishments for years to come.
This Blu-ray disc set release is as epic as the masterpieces that they contain as I experienced not one but two spectacular full length musical animated motion pictures. This review will cover both the original 1940s cut of The Concert Feature (rolls off the tongue don’t it) or rather simply Fantasia and it long awaited 1999 sequel Fantasia 2000. I remember watching both these films in over the years and while I probably didn’t have the musical appreciation that I do now, they still were a joy to watch. So I’ll kick this review off covering the original masterpiece Fantasia first.
Fantasia, for those that have not seen it, is a wonderful mix of music and animation that Is unlike anything that has come out of Disney’s studios. Most Disney films feature animated stories that feature music but Fantasia takes music and builds imagery around the music. Some of the imagery in Fantasia is nothing more than basic shapes moving to the music while others tell a definite tale such as the most famous piece “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” featuring Mickey Mouse. This version of the film has been restored back to the way that Walt envisioned it back in during the films 3 year development. Not only has the film been visually restored but an entire musical section as well as narrative sections done by the late radio commentary, art critic and composer Deems Taylor was brought back to its original 125 minute road show presentation.
I’m certainly no art or music critic by any stretch of the imagination. I listen to music because I like it, it inspires me and it immerses me in whatever media it is contained. The music chosen for Fantasia is among some of the most notable pieces in history. Among the fantasy backdrops complete with mythical creatures such as fairies, satyrs, demons, gods and even a lovable mouse are musical masterpieces carefully selected such as Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” and Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in Minor D”. While I like every part of Fantasia there are a few sections of the animated concert that I liked most.
The first is no real surprise as it is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. It is one of the most Iconic musical performances in Disney’s history and is featured in both Fantasia features. Paul Dukas’s score for this section is just as magical as the visuals that accompany it. The other musical performance I like is Modest Mussorgsky’s “A Night on Bald Mountain” which depicts the gathering of evil and dark creatures to worship Satan on the eve of our modern Halloween. This piece is not only wonderfully contrasted next to Schubert’s ”Ava Maria” but its haunting visuals and powerful music make it the real stand out piece in Fantasia.
Fantasia 2000, the long overdue sequel contains the same musical tradition but changes the visual presentation a little. The film contains some old fashion animation style segments with newer CGI and technology advances with what was being with other films at the time. Fantasia is presented much the same way as the original though instead of using one host they brought in a few actors, artists and celebrities that you may recognize such as my favorites Angela Lansbury and magicians Penn & Teller. They each bring their own magic to the film be it funny, energetic or stoic.
Like its predecessor, the music that accompanies the beautiful visuals is classical ranging from Beethoven’s well known “Symphony No. 5” to the jazzy piano melody of “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin. The overall feel of Fantasia 2000 is definitely more modern than the original, which I definitely think that it will appeal to a younger audience than the original film. One of the things that I liked most about Fantasia 2000 is that Roy E. Disney and the directors decided to put “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in the film. This segment as well as a few other instances and cues solidify that this is a continuation of the original and a step forward into the future. Little touches like the intro of the film being comprised of footage and voice tracks from the original film and a small entr'acte between two pieces that conveys the same old to new push which I thought was pretty cool and a great touch.
As much as I love “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” it wasn’t among my favorites this time around. The first segment that I liked was “Rhapsody in Blue” because of the upbeat music and the artwork styling of Albert "Al" Hirschfeld. It’s one of the more unique pieces and I like the story that it contains. The other piece I liked was “Firebird Suite” by Igor Stravinsky’s 1919 performance. The story of this particular piece is one of the more emotional pieces in the film featuring a symbolic tale of life, death and rebirth. The story follows a spring Sprite that after a long winter awakens and restores the land to green with her companion Elk. During her cheerful work she accidentally awakens a “firebird” in the crater of a volcano and havoc ensues as the firebird lays waste to the forest and the Sprite. The defeated Sprite, who seeming perished, is revived though with a broken sprit. It takes the wise Elk to get her on her feet and get her to start over. This piece according to the commentary is a representation of the aftermath and recovery of the Mount St. Helens eruption that laid waste to the area in 1980. I found it to be the strongest piece in the film both in music and animation for me.
There are several art styles seen both films and I like several of them both on an artistic level and a technical level especially in the original film. The assumedly departed Herman Schultheis did wonders for the film including special effects featuring water tanks and created a very detailed notebook about his processes. As I mentioned about the film was restored to its original 1940s release and given a digital restoration that brings back the films magic for a new generation to see. Fantasia is an old film so it’s presented in its native 1.33:1 Full screen format. Viewers can choose to watch the film as is or they can opt to view it with the DisneyView feature that contains hand painted still taken for the film its self to fill in the black bars on the sides.
Fantasia 2000 on the other hand features animation and artwork that is quite good for around that time. Fantasia 2000 is presented in 1.78:1 Widescreen which looks more vibrant than its predecessor and looks fantastic in High Definition. I was surprised to find out that one of my favorite pieces “Rhapsody in Blue” is almost completely done digitally. It honestly looks hand done. I also like all the touches they did to seamlessly mix one segment into another with cool animation tricks especially after the Sorcerer’s Apprentice piece.
The Fantasia Blu-Ray contains a look at the Disney Family Museum as well as an interactive art gallery featuring storyboard artwork of the film. There are also 3 different audio commentaries by people involved with the film. This includes a commentary by Disney Historian Brian Sibley, a commentary hosted by John Canemaker featuring Walt Disney interview and story recreations. The final commentary pulls out the stops with Executive Producer Roy E. Disney, Conductor James Levine, Animation Historian John Canemaker and Film Restoration Manager Scott MacQueen. It also includes a documentary featuring the major discovery of a long lost notebook by Herman Schultheis. This notebook contains all the precise details of how the more elaborate effects were done in the movie. It’s quite a marvel to see how the old style of animation was accomplished in a time without computers.
Fantasia 2000 offers another set of intriguing extras including a look at Musicana, the next to be Fantasia feature that never saw fruit. There is also a look into Disney’s Virtual Vault, which gives viewers a whole new look at alternative concepts for each film as well as various bits from Walt and other people. But the one thing that impressed me the most was the 2003 Academy Award® - Nominated Animated Short Destino that is included for the first time ever in consumer consumption.
The thing that caught my eye the most about the short was that Walt Disney and Salvador Dali collaborated on it. The project originally never saw light during both men’s live but it was finally finished under the guidance of Roy E. Disney. There is even an hour and a half feature covering both men’s lives, their involvement with the project and the shorts final completion and release. I actually really liked the film short, given it was a bit out of the ordinary, thanks to the brilliant work of Disney animation studios and Dali’s artistic artwork.