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Fantasia (Special 60th Anniversary Edition)
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|Format||Animated, Closed-captioned, Color, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC|
|Contributor||Walt Disney, Franz Schubert, Deems Taylor, James Algar, Paul Dukas, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Mickey Mouse, Igor Stravinsky, Samuel Armstrong, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Leopold Stokowski, Ford I. Beebe, Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra See more|
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Fantasia (Special 60th Anniversary Edition, U
Groundbreaking on several counts, not the least of which was an innovative use of animation and stereophonic sound, this ambitious Disney feature has lost nothing to time since its release in 1940. Classical music was interpreted by Disney animators, resulting in surreal fantasy and playful escapism. Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra provided the music for eight segments by the composers Tchaikovsky, Moussorgsky, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Ponchielli, Bach, Dukas, and Schubert. Not all the sequences were created equally, but a few are simply glorious, such as "Night on Bald Mountain," "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," and "The Nutcracker Suite." The animation ranges from subtly delicate to fiercely bold. The screen bursts with color and action as creatures transmute and convention is thrust aside. The painstaking detail and saturated hues are unique to this film, unmatched even by more advanced technology. --Rochelle O'Gorman
- Aspect Ratio : 1.33:1
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- MPAA rating : G (General Audience)
- Product Dimensions : 7.5 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches; 3.2 Ounces
- Director : James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford I. Beebe
- Media Format : Animated, Closed-captioned, Color, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC
- Run time : 2 hours
- Release date : November 14, 2000
- Actors : Leopold Stokowski, Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Walt Disney, Deems Taylor, Mickey Mouse
- Studio : Walt Disney Video
- ASIN : B00003CX9W
- Number of discs : 1
- Customer Reviews:
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Another supposed "strike" the film has against it is its choice of conductor: Leopold Stokowski. Stoki was the P.T. Barnum of transplanted Euro conductors residing in America. Mention him to any "serious" classical music lover and he'll make a face like he's heard fingernails scraping down a chalkboard. Stokowski was known for his Bach transcriptions, one of which--"Toccata and Fugue in D minor"--opens the film. Essentially,he romanticized Bach, making him sound more like Tchaikovsky. One wit described such tampering as "High Cholesterol Bach." It's a dishonest reaction, molded by unimaginative attachments to "historical correctness" and hyper-realism. Avoid such persons like the plague (they probably started life by pulling the wings off butterflies). For those of us who have no qualms admitting that we like plenty of syrup on our musical flapjacks, embracing this wizard's transcriptions presents no problems. Seeing only Stokowski's brazen self-promotion amounts to blindness. This former organist had one of the most prodigious gifts in drawing color out of every orchestra he worked with, which made him the quintessential choice for Fantasia. Compare his achievement in this film, awash in personality, to the comparatively monochromatic conducting of James Levine in Fantasia 2000.
The meeting of Stokowski and Walt Disney, in 1937 at Chasen's restaurant, is the stuff of legend. Disney was starstruck with the conductor's celebrity, mysterious accent, and fierce mane. The seed of an idea for a "concert film" sprang from the meeting. At this time Disney had only produced and released one previous feature: Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937). The idea of an animated feature had seemed risky and radical, with the naysayers predicting bankruptcy. The profits and critical acclaim from Snow White forever silenced those constipated doomsday prophets. Now, Disney was ready to take another risk. 1940 saw the release of Disney's second and third feature films. Artistically, it paid off as Pinocchio (1940) and Fantasia are, to date, Disney's two greatest films (yes, I said that), released only nine months apart. The former was a critical, box office hit. The latter did not make money for nearly twenty years. Disney had proven one can go indeed broke overestimating the American public.
The Fantasia deal signed, Stokowski was excited and predictably offered numerous ideas about the use of color. A later biographer wrote that the conductor's fascination with color was sincere, describing his various experiments with mixing alcoholic drinks for color effects. Stoki did a similar thing with "sound color" by incessantly changing the orchestra seating layout. Even visually, "Toccata and Fugue" is pure Stokowski. The opening piece is introduced via the superb narration of American composer Deems Taylor (to the public he was primarily known as a commentator for the NY Philharmonic Radio Broadcasts). This "absolute music" is total abstraction. Entirely hand painted, at times the watercolors almost appear to still be wet. Vibrant with texture, this is far removed from contemporary slick and soulless computer animation. Stokowski used no baton, so his beautifully powerful long hands are highlighted, jabbing through the splashing backdrop. The french horns are hauntingly lit in diaphanous color before the violin bows transform into silvery beams of light reaching for infinity. Sound and vision collide, producing crashing tides, ending in a literal fireworks display.
For those, like myself, who have overdosed on Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite," Fantasia serves up a refreshing alternate vision, the most incandescent and sensual vignette of the entire program. Naturally, it is abridged and rearranged like one of Stoki's infamous "Symphonic Syntheses." Unwittingly, Disney tailored this Nutcracker Suite for the upcoming hippie acidhead generation (who eventually elevated Fantasia to masterpiece status). Darting fairies, spectral spider webs, and psychedelic mushrooms are followed by larger, dew-shaking `shrooms engaged in a Chinese tango. Being a ballet, naturally there is plenty of dancing, but the Disney team imaginatively improve on the yawn-inducing holiday imagery that we have come to associate with Tchaikovsky's most famous music (which, as Taylor reminds us, the composer himself detested). Guaranteed, you will not find blue fairies, Russian Cossacks, pink fairies, waltzing flowers, orange fairies, or rhythmic goldfish mating with fairies (?) and swimming through an erotic Busby Berkeleyesque aquatic Arabic dance sequence at your local ballet company anytime soon.
Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice is justifiably Fantasia`s most famous segment. Having a narrative (albeit a wordless one) to work with inspired the team to great heights. It is possibly the last time we will see Mickey Mouse before he succumbs to total blandness.With its narrative of white magic and sorcery, it is remarkable that the evangelical zealots of the day did not hone in on this segment (the way they did more recently with the Harry Potter series). It's either that such types are somehow even more de-evolved than they were seventy years ago (possible, but not likely) or they stayed away from anything with the tag of "classical music" attached anyway. Since they didn't see it, they didn't know to get their feathers riled. Regardless, Stokowski had no such qualms. This being a tone poem, it is tailored for his bag of tricks. Even the most art-constipated among us can enjoy our once favorite mouse in the expert choreography composed by the Disney team.
Igor Stravinsky's ballet "Le Sacre du printemps" ("The Rite of Spring") is served up here for the eternal dinosaur-loving eight-year-old boy. Actually, the ballet is about pagan sacrifice and is so dissonant and barbaric that it caused one of the biggest scandals of music history in the form of a violent riot during the 1913 premiere at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. Regardless of the ballet's narrative change (and the necessary abridgment), the composer (the only living composer chosen for the film) at first loved the Disney/Stokowski version. Years later, he did an about face (as he was apt to do), vilifying it. Still, given the time, the Darwinism included here was a damned provocative decision. This was only fifteen years after the Scopes trial, yet Disney and team are showing us the beginning of life on earth as science has revealed. Fish mutating into amphibious lifeforms show the artists clearly siding with Scopes and Clarance Darrow. Naturally, the dinosaurs come, and no Creation Museum is going to stop them. While the Le Sacre du Printemps (2004) film by the tragically short-lived Oliver Herrmann might be aesthetically truer to the avant-garde nature of Stravinsky's masterpiece, Fantasia`s interpretation is rousing (and exhausting). After carnivorous lizards and the extinction of much life on earth, we deserve an amusing intermission with the soundtrack and, again Taylor is the host for the job.
Fantasia`s treatment of Beethoven's "Pastorale" symphony has always been a point of debate. Skinny dipping centaurettes are lured (by mooning cherubs) to square jawed, beefcake centaurs. Fortunately, the centaurettes do manage to squeeze into their garland bras because their male counterparts don't seem to know what to do next. Confused libidos and a bacchanal (where the wine is pouring) is rudely interrupted by none other than Zeus himself (wielding a lightening bolt forged by Vulcan). This is the famous "storm" movement of the Pastorale. Helios' chariot brings forth a much-needed sunset, and Selene tucks the Earth in with the night of her cape. Stokowski's reading, like Disney's animation, is anything but subtle.
Ponichelli's ballet "Dance of the Hours" (from the opera "La Gioconda") becomes what may be the most eccentric burlesque in the history of cinema. This is also a highly debated segment, which is to be expected with an amorous alligator cavorting with a hippo, alligators riding ostriches, and elephants riding alligators. Perhaps the Fantaisa-loving acid heads of the 1960s had a point.
Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" was part of Stokowski's standard repertoire. He has his own arrangement, as opposed to the Rimsky-Korsakov edition used in most concert programs. The Witches' Sabbath brings out the Satanic Chernobog (modeled, in part, on Bela Lugosi and Wilford Jackson), descending on the town below like the Angel of Death terrorizing Egypt in the Moses narrative. Chernobog's demons join their master in this violent, surreal nightmare, which, unfortunately for the victims, features a fiery pit to rival the worst of the gnostic apocalypses. The sadistic, phantasmagoric mayhem retreats with the chiming of the church bells that herald the segue into Schubert's "Ave Maria." Some have held these last two conjoined segments as the film's best.
Walt Disney had planned more editions of Fantasia (which included a collaboration with Salvador Dali), but its initial failure laid such plans to rest until sixty year later when Walt Disney Productions released Fantasia 2000. Fantasia 2000 had fleeting moments of brilliance, but was mostly a disappointing sequel; too clean, too crisp, lacking the risk-taking intensity and provocativeness of the original. Pinocchio may have had boys turning into jackasses, and Dumbo (1941) had it's mind boggling "pink elephants on parade," but Walt Disney's Fantasia is chock-full of progressive weirdness and an ardent embrace of art for the sake of art.
*Review originally published at 366 weird movies
If anyone has seen the 1990 restoration that appeared on video in 1991, they will know to what I'm referring. In that edition we only see Taylor's face in the opening prologue. Later on, we hear his comments as a voice-over to medium shots of the orchestra as they tune their instruments. Those players on the screen, by the way, are not members of the Philadelphia Orchestra: they are actually studio musicians. The music for Fantasia was pre-recorded months prior to shooting in the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.
The DVD presents what was then known as the "roadshow" version of Fantasia, which toured a limited number of cities upon it's initial release. The film's distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, balked at the added expense involved in setting up special amplifiers and speaker systems to accomodate the requirements for the Fantasound soundtrack. The decision was made to trim some of the film's length, beginning with altering the narrative links, but also making horrendous cuts in some release prints (indeed, some later prints do not even contain the Bach Toccata and Fugue sequence.) At one point, Disney decided to take matters into his own hands and handle the distribution of the "roadshow" version himself. That version differs from subsequent release prints in that Taylor's face is visible throughought every linking narrative; and that the blue title card appears at the start of the intermission that follows Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. In the 1990 restoration the title card appears at the start of the film. Also, the original release had no screen credits: special programs with those details were distributed to patrons. The DVD edition also doesn't have screen credits, but information about the animators is touched upon during the commentary by Rudy Behlmer, et al.
With regard to the soundtrack, the original optical, nine-track elements (which were mixed down to three tracks for the master print) have been missing for several decades. In 1955, the decision was made to transfer the extremely fragile and potentially unstable nitrate soundtracks to a four-track magnetic tape, because it was feared that the original tracks might not survive for much longer. This was done by playing the original tracks at RCA in Los Angeles and relaying the audio over telephone wires to the Disney Studios in Burbank. Unfortunately, during the transfer electronic hum and other noises ended up on the tape. Also, the telephone wires cut off at 8,000 Hz, so many viewers have never heard the full frequency and dynamic range that was capable utilizing the Fantasound system (which was a precursor of today's Dolby Surround-Sound.)
For the 1990 restoration, Terry Porter of YCM Labs had reportedly removed 2,000 clicks and pops from the four-track magnetic copy. Also, using technical data from the Disney Archives, he managed to replicate the mixing format of the original optical tracks; so that the sound would eminate from the left, right, front and rear speakers as originally planned.
I viewed my VHS copy of the 1990 restoration first, so that I could make my own comparisons. The 1990 edition suffers from too much use of noise-reduction software, which makes the violins and high wind instruments sound "glassy" and distorted. I also listened to my CD copy of the 1990 restored soundtrack album. The sound on the CD was a little cleaner and well defined, but the DVD has the most improved sound. One must remember that Fantasound was an experimental process. Optical tracks, in general, while offering an expanded dynamic and frequency range, were often quite noisy. All this means that what we hear is a 60-year-old recording that is by no means state-of-the-art by today's standards, but nevertheless remains impressive in its own right.
I don't remember seeing any negative racial depictions in the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony sequence, either in 1975 or in 1981 (which had a newly-recorded digital soundtrack). Then, again, Disney wouldn't have allowed anything like that in his films. The only questionable scene shows Bacchus entering with two nubile, African Zebra-type centaurettes. I can see how that might draw an unfavorable response from viewers. In fairness, however, they are not depicted doing anything of a derrogatory nature. They come in, toss some petals, and then they're gone... Some who reviewed the DVD edition claim that something was cut from the Beethoven sequence, but I can't imagine what that could be. Certainly the music itself has been truncated, but Stokowski did that only for dramatic reasons and to maintain story continuity. All of the music in Fantasia, except perhaps the Bach, was edited from the original scores in one way or another.
I said that the DVD itself rates only 4 stars. That is because the good folks at Disney are only offering the pencil tests, unused animation, and alternate music pieces as part of the 3-DVD "Legacy" set. The extras on the single DVD are good, but one wishes the archival materials had been included as a second disc.
Since I first wrote the above review, I have learned that there was indeed a negative ethnic stereotype that was excised from subsequent release prints of Fantasia. A black centaurette, by the name 'Sunflower' could be seen originally waiting on one of the white centaurettes (polishing her hoofs in the manner of a shoe-shine boy, braiding her hair, etc.) as they prepared to meet with their male counterparts. In subsequent prints the images of Sunflower were often obscured by zooming in abruptly to the white centaurette (which unfortunately resulted in a temporary blurring of the picture). Original character sketches of Sunflower and frame-grabs of her excised scenes in Fantasia may be viewed on the "Snopes" website, under "Disney".
Top reviews from other countries
I bought this for my partner but I did buy the expensive one and not the cheaper Japanese versions everyone seems to complain about. I suppose you get what you pay for and nothing comes free.
On this DVD you actually get more than the original in that there are added scenes not even included in the original film.
My partner enjoyed it while I went out fishing so although I myself can't admit to have seen it all I did see the beginning and it appeared to be well up to standard.
She liked it, anyway!
Buy the Original Release if possible - you will not be disappointed.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on November 9, 2011
Buy the Original Release if possible - you will not be disappointed.