60th Anniversary Edition, Special 60th Anniversary Edition
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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, r
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
- A commentary by Walt Disney (created from rare archival interviews with Walt Disney, spanning three decades)
- A commentary by Roy E. Disney, maestro James Levine and John Canemaker, animation historian
- "The Making of Walt Disney's 'Fantasia'" featurette
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I agree with some of the other reviews about the "edits". For example, there is a distinct scene where the scenery appears to "move" just for a second. Since I have never seen the "full" version with the supposed "racist" implications, I simply wrote that scene off as an animation mistake. It's noticeable, but just for about two seconds in a two-hour movie. If you're not a die-hard purist toward the "unedited" Fantasia you probably won't notice the difference.
Now to sound. During the Nutcracker Suite there is a sequence where the fairies are putting dew on flowers. On the VHS version, you hear violins as each flower is touched. All other versions are missing the violins. I guess this was lost during the digital transfer. Once again: newcomers to the film will never know any better.
During the Ave Maria sequence, as the worshipers walk along the water with their candles, my speakers couldn't handle some of the low tones and the sound distorted slightly at higher volume. I turned the volume down and the sound was better but not perfect. I'm not sure if having an expensive home theater system would cure this, but it's the only movie I've ever had a problem with. I will have to remember not to play this sequence at high volume from now on.
There are other barely noticeable shortcomings to the sound throughout the film. Still, it sounds amazing considering it was made over 70 years ago.
Yes, during the orchestral narrations, you can detect spots where the narrator's voice must have been overdubbed in spots. It's better in my mind to have the footage even if it's not perfect.
Having said all this, if you are a newcomer to Fantasia you will enjoy it as long as you keep a couple of things in mind:
1) It is NOT a traditional Disney movie with a plot and some music. It IS a series of animated videos set to classical music pieces.
2) Each music video is introduced by the "host" as if you were an attendee at an animation festival or something. These "introduction" scenes do get tedious after repeated viewings. After you see the movie all the way through a few times, expect to start fast-forwarding through the "introduction" scenes.
Other than that: the movie is fantasic. The animation is detailed and innovative. All ages will love it. View it with an open mind and don't expect it to be "Lion King" or "Frozen."
At some point, if Disney releases a version of Fantasia with the orchestral introductions edited out, I will probably own a copy of that version too.
For right now, though, this version of Fantasia is as close to perfection as you will get, and if you just enjoy it for the music, the colors, and the fantastic animation, you will not be disappointed.
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
The one thing that this laserdisc (and VHS counterpart) has that the DVD and Bluray doesn't have is the original Deems Taylor introductions (albeit the abridged versions). When this film was reissued in 1946, Taylor's wrap-around intros for each musical piece were shortened and remained that way for the next five decades. Unfortunately, when Disney was restoring the wrap-around segments in 2000, they were able to salvage the footage, but not the audio, so the narration had to be redubbed. Therefore, this is the only way to hear Deems Taylor's original narration. Even though it isn't 100% true to it's original presentation in 1940, this version I prefer, because it's what I grew up with. Not to mention that this is the version that most audiences from previous generations will be familiar with for the most part. And this transfer holds up very well too. The colors are vibrant and the sound is breathtaking.