The dreams and visions of Walt Disney come to life in 'Fantasia,' which blends music and film magic into an exhilarating movie-going experience. Unforgettable images are brought to life by some of the world’s best music, and highlighted by the comedy of Mickey Mouse as a troublemaking sorcerer’s apprentice, along with the beauty of winged fairies and cascading snowflakes, the majesty of Noah’s ark and even plump hippos performing ballet in tutus.
Motivated by his uncle’s foresight, Roy Disney continued the magic with 'Fantasia 2000' which begins where its predecessor left off. There are seven completely new segments, and viewers watch a bustling Depression-era metropolis in the style of Al Hirschfeld’s famous cartoons, a flock of flamingos with slapstick yo-yo talents, an ark full of animals gathered by Donald Duck as Noah’s first mate, and musical life breathed into a family of flying humpback whales.
I think we can safely say, in this day and age of dumbed-down animated kiddie flicks, money-grubbing studios, and lackadaisical audiences, that there would be no one brave enough to release something like Walt Disney did with 'Fantasia.' Let's imagine, just for a moment, that a trailer pops up on your TV for a brand new, one-of-a-kind animated journey into classical music. In a world where a movie like 'Avatar' makes billions, do you think people would be flocking to the theater to check this movie out? I doubt it.
Now I know what you're thinking, "Aaron, there's another movie in this set called 'Fantasia 2000.' That came out in our time and it was relatively successful at the box office. What gives?"
While 'Fantasia 2000' harkens back to the 'Fantasia' of old, it has been modernized. The formula has been tweaked to attract more viewers. Is this a bad thing? Not really. But, a movie like the original 'Fantasia' just wouldn't work nowadays. It was originally conceived that 'Fantasia 2000' would contain at least three segments from the original film. After test screenings all but the Sorcerer's Apprentice scene was cut due largely to running time. We're looking at a two-hour long 'Fantasia' compared to a 75 minute 'Fantasia 2000.' Familiar faces like James Earl Jones and Bette Middler are thrown in for good measure in order to keep people interested. 'Fantasia 2000' seems more like a movie, whereas 'Fantasia' feels like something much, much more. An enthralling experience of sight and sound. 'Fantasia 2000' tried to pick up where the original left off, but with updates for a modern audience with shorter attention spans, it never reaches the lofty heights of its predecessor.
'Fantasia' remains to this day one of the most ambitious animated works of all time. No one was even sure that this concept would fly in 1940. Walt Disney set out to make a 120 minute animated feature which, besides the introduction bits, had a complete lack of dialogue. Let's also keep in mind that this was only Walt Disney's third full-length animated feature after 'Snow White,' and 'Pinocchio.' The risk involved with creating a spectacle like this was unfathomable, especially for an animation company that was still trying to establish itself. Straying from the fairy tale formula that had worked so well for his first two movies, Walt set out to create something quite unique to the world of animation and cinema. He set out to create not only a movie to entertain the masses, but an experience that took people on a visual journey through sound.
Walt, ever the innovator, and his crew had to invent new animation techniques to create each one of the shots contained in the film. The time, effort, and money thrown into 'Fantasia' at the time seemed ludicrous. Walt had no idea if 'Fantasia' would make a profit, but he did know that this is what he wanted to create. If there's one thing we've learned about Walt Disney over the years it was that he never really cared if people thought he was crazy. He was determined to showcase his own creativity and imagination to the world. He blazed the path for animation as a viable cinematic art form.
'Fantasia' is a film unlike any other. That was Walt's idea. 'Fantasia' was meant to feel more like an event. It was going to be a film that people dressed up for and saw, like they were going to see the orchestra or a ballet. Indeed 'Fantasia' is an event. An experience, that since my youth, I still haven't forgotten. After revisiting it again I still remember the happiness I felt as a kid watching those little mushroom men dance to the sounds of the Nutcracker. I also recalled the dread I felt watching the giant, evil winged monster call forth his minions. If there was a scene in a movie that scared me more as a kid than the flying monkeys in 'The Wizard of Oz' this is that scene.
I'd also like to point out that in our overly politically correct world a movie like 'Fantasia' would never be able to get released. After the outcry that 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1' showed brief snippets of nudity, how would those same people feel about an animated cartoon that features, among other things, nude sprites and winged daemons with fully visible breasts and nipples, not so subtle references to black magic and the evil side of the supernatural, and a creation story that has absolutely nothing to do with God? Yet, somehow 'Fantasia' lives on in our collective minds as an astounding piece of cinematic history. It wasn't the first time Walt Disney emblazoned his name on the history of film, but it definitely was the most flamboyant and daring time.
'Fantasia' is a movie to be cherished, because it's safe to say we'll never see anything like it again. Hopefully, with this fully restored Blu-ray release, the movie will find an entire new generation of fans.
'Fantasia' – 5 Stars
'Fantasia 2000' – 4 Stars
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Fantasia' and 'Fantasia 2000' come packaged together in a 4-disc special edition. Both movies are housed on 50GB Blu-ray discs. The other discs are DVDs which also contain the movie. They all come together in a oversized keepcase with a beautifully embossed slipcover.
Filmed 60 years apart 'Fantasia' and 'Fantasia 2000' have completely different looks, but each one appears magnificent in these 1080p restorations. Disney's loving care for its classics is evident here. These faithful presentations leave us with an image that is, by far, the best they've ever looked.
The original 'Fantasia' – presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ration - has an abundance of colors, all of which are bold and bright in this new high-def restoration. Notice the opening, when the silhouettes of the conductor and the orchestra are placed against the pulsating colorized backgrounds. Oranges, purples, pinks, reds…I remember, as a kid, being awed by the colors when I watched this on VHS. Now, it's like seeing a completely different movie. The colors are rich, and deep without hints of flickering. Tiny imperfections in the animators lines can be seen, just like in Disney's Blu-ray presentation of 'Snow White.' Seeing every tiny detail in the animation lends itself to a near perfect viewing experience. 'Fantasia' no matter how fantastic it looks, still has some issues it was unable to overcome. Ringing and color bleeding crop up every now and then. There are a few small occurrences of banding as colors fade in and out on top of each other. However, there is no source noise to speak of. Considering the age of this film, that is simply astounding. The small technical anomalies, don't really detract from the overall beauty and majesty of this classic animated feature.
'Fantasia 2000' – even with its brightly hand-drawn segments – seemed to be more geared toward showing off CG animation and what it was capable of. A decade ago CG animators were just barely scratching the surface with what was possible. The whale sequence in particular shows the medium's limitations of that day. Even with the whales, which soar out of the ocean and into the air, looking slightly hokey, much of the CG used in these segments looks magnificent in high-def. Still it is the hand-drawn animation like Donald's personal attendance at the filling of Noah's Ark that looks the best when it comes to HD.
'Fantasia 2000' is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, which fills the whole screen with life and color. This film is just as colorful as its original. The colors during the New York scene, especially, leap off the screen with stunning clarity. You can see each line of the animators steady hand, which brings the characters to life. You can even see tiny specks within the girl's hair that weren't quite as colored in as the rest. Blacks are stunning and deep throughout from the inky blackness of the ocean the whales fly over to the dark smoke that rises from the Firebird. Aliasing is a slight problem during many of the computer animated scenes, but it isn't downright noticeable unless you're really looking for it. 'Fantasia 2000' like its predecessor, is also free of source noise.
Both of these movies have never looked better. They've been restored with that signature Disney attention to detail. Sit back, and just enjoy the ride. DisneyView is also available for those who want the black bars on the sides filled in.
When I first heard the two 'Fantasia' movies were finally making their way to the Blu-ray format, each of them with their own newly minted 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, I thought to myself that these have to be two of the most amazing audio presentations we're ever going to hear. I'm glad I wasn't far from that dream.
The sound, oh the sound! Classical music rings throughout the entire eight speaker soundfield. 'Fantasia's new 7.1 soundtrack sounds as natural as any other audio track ever created. The depth and life of this sound is unrivaled. Trumpets burst from the side speakers as pianos and string instruments blare from the front channels. Directionality works wonders. Cymbals crash from side to side as Apprentice Mickey calls forth huge waves that lap the side of the rock outcropping he's standing on. The sound ebbs and flows, creating an all encompassing presentation that makes full use of the rear speakers. Not only adding ambience, the rear speakers are constantly alive with instrumental sounds, which make you feel like you're sitting smack dab in the middle of an orchestra. LFE is generous and healthy as heavy drums beat away during the more intense scenes like when the dinosaurs are facing extinction. If I had to use one word to describe the sonic feast that is 'Fantasia' it would be "Wow!"
'Fantasia 2000' doesn't let up in the sound department either. With equal ferocity, 'Fantasia 2000' and its lineup of famous classical tunes are given more than enough room to impress. LFE is even more pronounced here, especially during the Firebird sequence as the life-like lava engulfs everything in sight. What a scene that is. From the tiny tinkling sounds of chimes, to the blaring or trumpets and horns, 'Fantasia 2000' gets everything right. Directionality is also wonderful. Take for example near the end, where Mickey goes to find Donald. As one of the narrators speaks to us on screen, Mickey's voice can be heard traveling from channel to channel looking for his feathered friend. My wife commented about how in the theater, when she saw the movie, she thought that part where Mickey traveled around the room was amazing. It's reproduced here with the same clarity and the same token of fun and whimsy.
Suffice it to say that there's nothing at all wrong with either of these wonderful audio presentations. They're some of the best you'll ever hear in the format.
Special features for this set are spread across the two discs. Some may notice that the making of features didn't find their way onto these discs. While that's annoying, they are available on the BD-Live feature included on the 'Fantasia 2000' disc. You can watch both making of documentaries if you go there, but people with slow or no internet connections for their Blu-ray players will find this to be more of a nuisance. There's also no telling how long those features will actually be available. At least if they were on the disc you'd know they're staying around and that you own them. Sadly, going online is the only way you can revisit these features with this set.
The first commentary features Roy E. Disney, conductor James Levine and producer Don Ernst. This is the original commentary from the previously released DVD. It's good to see it included here. The three of these guys offer a wonderfully in-depth commentary. I love how Roy talks about how the Mickey in Sorcerer's Apprentice, he thinks, is the best Mickey animation that's ever been done.
The second commentary can also be found on the original DVD and it's comprised of the directors and art directors from each segment of the movie. What a great way to do a commentary. Even Mickey's voice makes an appearance during his segment as the apprentice. All of the different directors is able to convey their vision of the movie and what they were trying to do.
'Fantasia' remains an animation pinnacle. It's a monument to the vision of Walt Disney and how far he would go to create what he had stored away in his imagination. It's complete restoration for Blu-ray is something to behold, it really is. The video and audio are tremendous, some of the best you'll see and hear on Blu-ray. The special features, with the numerous commentaries, give you a perfect idea of what Walt and his team wanted 'Fantasia' to be like. This is just an amazing release all around, and is a must own for anyone's collection.