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If nothing else, Walt Disney was a pioneer of a moviemaker and something of a risk taker, but then again, perhaps those things are one in the same. In 1937, Walt Disney took a big risk with the production of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, which at the time, was the first feature-length animated motion picture ever produced and a totally unproven type of entertainment. By 1940, Disney was yet again ready to break new ground with FANTASIA ($46), which married animated images to classical music. A collaboration between Disney and famed conductor Leopold Stokowski, FANTASIA germinated from a specialized Silly Symphonies cartoon that would feature Mickey Mouse in an adaptation of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. High production values were lavished upon the The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which resulted in an animated short that could never hope to recoup its negative cost. Ultimately, The Sorcerer's Apprentice was expanded into a feature length concert film entitled FANTASIA that would feature a number of highly notable classical music pieces. Ever the pioneer, Disney upped the ante for the film’s sound reproduction. FANTASIA was originally a roadshow release that featured Fantasound- the very first multi-channel sound system created for motion picture presentation.

Opening on a live action concert hall stage, FANTASIA features a narration/explanation by composer and music critic Deems Taylor, who appears before each classical selection, describing what the audience is about to hear and see with animated accompaniment. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata And Fugue In D Minor is the opening composition in FANTASIA, which utilizes abstract animated images as it lacks any kind of formal narrative. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite features fairies, mushrooms, flowers, fish and leaves performing various dances that comprise the suite. Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer's Apprentice places Mickey Mouse in the title role, with said apprentice finding that he lacks the skills to stop his attempt at labor saving magic… which spins wildly out of control. Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring is utilized to depict early life on Earth, which culminates with the reign and extinction of the dinosaurs. The Intermission is followed by the Meet The Soundtrack sequence, which shows how sound is represented by waveforms. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony features the creatures and gods of Greek mythology attending a festival for Bacchus, the god of wine, which is interrupted by Zeus, who throws lightning bolts at the revelers. Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance Of The Hours is a personal favorite, as I find it impossible to resist the hilarity of piece- especially the hippopotamus dancers and their dainty tutus, adding to the humor are the ostriches, elephants and alligators. Finally, Modest Mussorgsky’s Night On Bald Mountain and Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria are combined into a single contrasting piece depicting the darkness of evil giving way to the goodness of light.


Walt Disney originally envisioned FANTASIA as an ever-evolving film that would see new segments replacing older segments, as the film incorporated different classical compositions on a regular basis. It wasn’t until FANTASIA 2000 was produced that Disney’s vision was at least partially realized. FANTASIA 2000 is again anchored with The Sorcerer's Apprentice, but adds different compositions and new animated sequences. Introductions to the various musical sequences are handled by Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn and Teller, Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones and Angela Lansbury, who lend star power and recognizable faces for modern audiences. Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 In C Minor is an abstract piece, without an animated narrative. Ottorino Respighi's Pines Of Rome depicts flying whales soaring to the heavens. George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue has an appropriately depression era narrative. Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 In F Major adapts Hans Christian Andersen's tale The Steadfast Tin Soldier. Camille Saint-SaŽns's The Carnival Of The Animals, Finale finds the dull routines of a flock of flamingos vastly disturbed when one member begins playing with a yo-yo. Paul Dukas's The Sorcerer's Apprentice is revisited at this juncture. Edward Elgar's Pomp And Circumstance serves as the accompaniment to a tale featuring Donald Duck as first mate to Noah, as he musters the animals to the Ark. Lastly, Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite is a tale of life, death and renewal as a spring Sprite accidentally awakens a fiery spirit from a volcano, which erupts and consumes the forest.

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has made FANTASIA available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. The 1080p presentation is fantastic, thanks in no small part to a digital rejuvenation that restores the film elements virtual pristine quality. FANTASIA is an exquisite animated achievement that is crisply and oh so beautifully defined. Even the live action sequences, which are intentionally shadowy, are more detailed than they have ever appeared. Blacks are perfect, while the whites appear crisp and clean. Contrast is very smooth. The film elements from which this presentation has been mastered are free from blemishes. FANTASIA 2000 is also encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec, but is framed at 1.78:1. This is another excellent 1080p presentation. Image sharpness and detail are impressive Colors are rich and vibrant, with even the pastel hues look wonderful. Blacks appear inky, while the whites are crisp. Contrast is delightfully smooth. The elements from which FANTASIA 2000 has been mastered are without flaws.

FANTASIA is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 7.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. For a film that is now seventy years old, the soundtrack proves itself to be pleasant enough. Even with the care that went into creating the multi-track Fantasound soundtrack, musical fidelity has decided limitations. The music can sound a little thin and there are moments of mild distortions, but the lossless encode still brings out all that the vintage recordings have to offer. For its 1982 theatrical reissue of FANTASIA, the Disney studio completely re-recorded the film's music, with that fully digital recording being arranged and conducted by Irwin Kostal. I still have the soundtrack CDs and am disappointed that those recordings were not utilized on this release as an alternate soundtrack option. FANTASIA 2000 is also presented with a 7.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. This is a completely modern soundtrack that sounds wonderfully rich and dynamic in its lossless encode. Of course fidelity drops down during The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which features its original sound recordings. French and Spanish Dolby Digital monaural tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across this set. Starting things off on FANTASIA are three running Audio Commentaries; the first is with Disney historian Brian Sibley; the second is hosted by historian John Canemaker and features archival comments from various interviewees; the third is with Roy E. Disney, conductor James Levine, historian John Canemaker and film restorationist Scott MacQueen. A Disney View mode is also included, which replaces the black bars on the sides of the image with related artwork. Featurettes and other programs include the following: The Schultheis Notebook (fourteen minutes) and The Disney Family Museum (four minutes).

Starting things off on FANTASIA 2000 are two running Audio Commentaries; the first is with Roy Disney, James Levine, and producer Don Ernst; the second is with the directors and art directors of each animated segment. Dali And Disney: A Date With Destino is an eighty-two minute program that looks at an animated short began as a collaboration between Walt Disney and Spanish painter Salvador DalŪ in 1945, which was abandoned and ultimately unearthed by Disney's nephew Roy, who put it back into production for a 2003 release. The Destino short itself is also featured on the disc. Musicana is a nine-minute look as a modern variant on FANTASIA that never came to fruition. FANTASIA / FANTASIA 2000 is also BD-Live enabled (requires a Profile 2.0 player). DVD editions of FANTASIA and FANTASIA 2000 are provided on discs three and four of the collection.

FANTASIA is a true masterpiece of classic animation that is unlike anything else in the Disney vault other than FANTASIA 2000. The Blu-ray presentations of each are magnificent. Very highly recommended.


Fantasia / Fantasia 2000 (Four-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright © 2010 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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