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Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 dazzle in high-definition video. The version of Fantasia available on a new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack is as close to the original theatrical version as you’re likely to see. Fantasia 2000 pays tribute to its predecessor and gives Disney’s animators a chance do something different. This set includes the long-awaited video release of Destino, a Salvador Dalí-inspired short film that was begun in 1946 and completed in 2003. The bonus features for both movies provide glimpses into the artists’ creative processes.

Fantasia

Fantasia was a big leap in artistic sensibilities for commercial films
Fantasia was a big leap in artistic sensibilities for commercial films

A curtain opens; musicians in silhouette walk onto a stage and begin warming up. In their midst is a middle-aged man in white tie and tails who tells the viewers what they are about to see. If you haven’t seen Fantasia for awhile, you may not have realized this guy was in the movie.

His name is Deems Taylor, and his part was largely cut from the film six decades. (For more information about the numerous versions of Fantasia, check out the the Blu-ray commentary tracks.) Taylor was a composer, but was best known in 1940 as a radio commentator for classical music programs.

Various cuts to the Fantasia were restored for a DVD release in 2000, which is same version on the 2010 Blu-ray edition. Unfortunately, the original track with Taylor’s narration was unrestorable. The voice on the video is that of a sound-alike actor.

Sprites and Demons

Disney’s Silly Symphonies series has surreal and even artful moments, but Fantasia represented a big leap in artistic sensibilities for commercial films. Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue and Meet the Soundtrack flirt with abstract imagery, though purists might disagree. Other segments are fanciful, but grounded in the familiar — forest sprites work their magic in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite; Stravnisky’s Rite of Spring traces the natural history of Earth, from volcanoes through the death of the dinosaurs.

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, with its frolicking satyrs, cherubs and centaurs is a little too Disney-cute, while Mickey Mouse takes on a more serious role in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The last sequence, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain followed by Schubert’s Ave Maria gives the movie an emotional climax that will cleanse your mental palette.

Fantasia 2000

Walt Disney had envisioned Fantasia as a film that could be updated over the years. New sequences could be added, and others cut. This plan was abandoned in light of Fantasia ‘s initial box-office failure. But the idea of doing a new Fantasia never completely died.

Fantasia 2000 has a segment inspired by Al Hirschfeld
Fantasia 2000 has a segment inspired by Al Hirschfeld

Fantasia 2000 follows the same format as its predecessor. The interstitial segments acknowledge the collaboration between musicians and visual artists by having the orchestra seated on the right side of the stage, while animators work at their drafting tables on the left.

Many of the segments refer back to the original Fantasia. The abstract butterflies and bats in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony are reminiscent of musical imagery that accompanies Tocatta and Fugue. Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite follows a similar emotional arc as Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria.

Onward and Upward

The other intent of tweaking Fantasia over the years was to give animators the chance to try new things. The energetic Rhapsody in Blue uses line drawings and caricatures inspired by artist Al Hirschfeld. Firebird has images and a storyline reminiscent of Miyazaki.

Computer-generated imagery is also very much in evidence. It’s used on the toys in The Steadfast Tin Soldier, to give them a manufactured look. It’s clear in this segment, that Disney hadn’t caught up with Pixar in the use of CGI. The technology is used more effectively to create the soaring whales in Pines of Rome.

Destino

In 2003, the studio released the 6 ½-minute Destino, a film based on Salvador Dalí’s art. It played at some festivals, and earned an Oscar nomination. It’s on the Fantasia 2000Blu-ray disc (but not the DVD) along with its back story.

In 1946, Dalí began working on Destino with Disney story artist John Hench. After several months, the project was scuttled, and the drawings and 17 seconds of test footage lay forgotten in the studio archives. In 1999, the project was revived by Roy Disney (Walt’s nephew). Dominique Monféry, an animator at Disney’s Paris studio, was chosen to direct. Hench, in his 90s and still working for the studio, helped piece together the sequence of storyboard drawings and offered insights on what Dalí was trying to convey.

The long-winded Dalí & Disney: A Date with Destino (82 minutes long — 12 times longer than the film and 7 minutes longer than Fantasia 2000!) tells the story of Destino and more. It begins with the childhoods of Dalí and Disney, follows their careers, then traces Destino ‘s back story. It could have been about 20 minutes shorter.

The completed film, which includes the original 17 seconds, takes place in a familiar Dalí desert landscape. There is a story of sorts, of romance, loss and struggle. The original recording by Mexican singer Dora Luz plays on the soundtrack. And yes, there are melting clocks.

Fantasia Blu-ray Extras

Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 dazzle in high-definition video
Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 dazzle in high-definition video

There are three commentary tracks; two are from the 2000 DVD release, and one is new. In addition to filling in the movie’s back story, the best thing about these tracks is the commenters recognize the uncredited artists who worked on the movie.

One commentary track brings in Walt Disney himself in the form of recorded interviews. Extensive notes were taken at story meetings, and a sound-alike actor reads Disney’s comments. At times, “Walt” seems to be narrating what we are seeing on the screen, and that’s not particularly interesting. Animation historian John Canemaker fills in the gaps more informatively.

The other track from the 2000 DVD has Canemaker; Roy Disney; James Levine, conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Fantasia 2000; and Scott MacQueen, manager of the 2000 restoration of Fantasia. Canemaker does the most talking and his observations are the most interesting. Roy, who would have been about 10 years old when Fantasia was released, shares some memories of the time, but his and Levine’s comments often tend to be along the lines of “isn’t this scene great?” or “wow, how did they do that?” MacQueen mostly discusses the purpose of Deems Taylor’s segments.

The new commentary for the Blu-ray release is by Disney Historian Brian Sibley. His informative and concise comments cover the history of the film, the development of ideas, and animation techniques. Inevitably, some information is repeated by different commenters on different tracks. I heard the story of composer Igor Stravinsky’s reaction to the use of his music in the film (he liked it at first, then bad-mouthed it later) three times.

The Interactive Art gallery has the usual gallery of concept art from both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. Select the “intelligent index” option and up comes a list of categories of images from which to select (Abstract, Animals, Ark, etc.).

The Schultheis Notebook: A Disney Treasure (14 minutes) looks inside a detailed notebook kept by special effects animator Herman Schultheis. He and others were responsible for things like dewy spiderwebs, erupting volcanoes, and spirits rising from the grave. Many of the techniques were long forgotten until the notebook was found decades later among his widow’s personal effects.

Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray Extras

This Blu-ray has two commentary tracks from the 2000 DVD release. The first has Roy Disney, conductor James Levine and producer Don Ernst. The commentary is lively and has a conversational tone. The best parts talk about their choices for music and story, while too much time is spent praising the movie.

The second commentary track has the director and art director of each segment. If one segment isn’t interesting, you can skip to the next. The first and last animated segments had the most interesting commentaries. Just for fun, Mickey Mouse joins Roy Disney for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice commentary.

Musicana (9:20) was an idea by Disney development artist Mel Shaw to make a new version of Fantasia, but with modern music. He made concept art, but the project was abandoned.

Destino (see above).

DVD Extras

All of the DVD extras can also be found on the Blu-ray discs.

Fantasia has Sibley’s commentary and a four-minute promotional piece about the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

Fantasia 2000has Musicana. Both DVDs have promotions for other Disney properties.

Both DVDs have the “Fastplay” option, which bypasses the main menu to play the movie and a selection of bonus features.

Picture and Sound

Fantasia ‘s picture is excellent on both discs. The movie is presented in the original 4:3 aspect ratio, which means there are black bars on either side of the image on widescreen televisions. The Blu-ray offers the Disney View option, which fills the gaps with artwork that is meant to extend the image. These are unnecessary. Choices made by the animators were based on the screen dimensions. Adding more art off to the side does not enhance the viewing experience. Don’t choose this option.

Fantasia ‘s sound has been restored from an older soundtrack (the original sound negatives had deteriorated and were unusable). On both the Blu-ray and DVD, it sounds rough in spots, as if the tape stretched and then was restored.

Fantasia 2000 is presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. It looks better than the IMAX theatrical version, where pixilation was visible. The picture and sound are excellent on both the DVD and Blu-ray discs.

How to Use These Discs

Watch the movies. This is best spread out over a couple of nights.

After watching Fantasia, watch The Schultheis Notebook to get an idea of the challenges involved in making special effects in 1939. Want to know more? Listen to Sibley’s commentary track, but save it for another time.

After watching Fantasia 2000, check out Destino. Save the rest of the bonus features for another time. Give the second commentary track a try (the one with the directors and art directors), if you start getting bored, just skip to the next section. Check out A Date with Destino to learn the extensive back story of this short film, but skip the first 15 minutes.