32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Fantasia was produced at just the right time for the Walt Disney studio. Due to the success of 1937's Snow White (the film with so much color, sceptic's believed viewers may be blinded!), three major projects could be funded; a brand new studio at Burbank, the production of Pinocchio and then the grandest yet, Fantasia, released November 1940.
As a brief synopsis, Fantasia takes the guise of a Concert Hall, presenting eight famous pieces of classical music and decoding them into a set of visual images or stories. The only speech heard throughout the entire film is that of Mickey Mouse (voiced by Walt Disney), the singer for the song `Ave Maria', and the narrator/music critic of the time Deems Taylor, who accompanies musicians on screen in between each segment, and provides a nice explanation of what we should expect from each segment. In true style of such an epic film (125 mins long) there is also an Intermission slap bang in the middle, so you can go water the flowers as it were... (tee-hee)
If you've seen the film on DVD/VHS before, then you may want to read on. Deems Taylor's vocal sections are still over-dubbed due to complications during the restoration. Since Disney re-discovered film elements and didn't have their matching audio elements (as they've been lost for years), they made the choice of over-dubbing all of Taylor's appearances, rather than having the mismatch of a voice actor and the original surviving footage itself. Given these newly discovered film elements were in the original 1940 release, it makes sense that they've been included, though of course it's disappointing that the entirety of Taylor's live-action scene's are not original. Can't be helped, though.
Secondly, the title card is now the original RCA version (as Disney distributed the film in its first year), and is only present during the intermission. Amazingly, this has never been seen by anyone since mid 1941!
Lastly, censorship [provoked by so called 'Disney Buffs']. It is still present on this release, and thanks to modern technology, has been edited better. In the case of the red carpet rolling up the staircase, 'Sunflower' has been digitally removed so that the frame didn't have to be zoomed in, whilst on the shots that had to be zoomed, they are again seamless. An objection to the cuts is that the society (and indeed, the world) of 1940 was very different to now, but we shouldn't forget that an organization like Disney, whom have developed great power, also require great responsibility in feeding the modern family audience who in many cases, will not have seen Fantasia before.
So in short, "demand" for an un-cut version seems like wasted energy when;
1. It has been present since 1969.
2. They add up to less than 15 seconds in length.
3. People have a right to be offended in life. The images are crude, and have no relation to the plot or narrative of the film.
End of story.
Fantasia has such deep significance in thatre history for its contributions to art and sound production. Consider watching this film in November 1940, and its the first time ever you've heard stereo. Imagine the excitement that was Fantasia - the worlds first commercial film to 'place' sound in relation to what was happening on screen. This excitement hasn't left, for as one New York Time's critic said, "...there is nothing quite like Fantasia... It is one of the strange and beautiful things to have ever happened on screen". I really couldn't have put it better myself.
This relationship between sound and art is what makes Fantasia so special, and the restoration only makes the experience more beautiful. Right from the opening of Toccata and Fugue, conductor Leopold Stokowski directs the sound from ear-to-ear, leading us into the abstract visions of the Fugue. It is here that we leave the concert hall as a space, and ascend into the imagination. It is the most daring sequence of the film, for not everyone has the ability to decode and enjoy such abstract imagery. The beauty is not in trying to understand what is on screen through a literal sense, otherwise, the viewer is just as clueless as the next person that says "Picasso should'a gone to Specsavers."
The beauty is in being open-minded enough to understand how a musical composition can be disassembled and then given a visual life through new, creative possibilities. This is just one of the running motifs in the film.
From the twist and turns of rushing shape and colour, we move from the absolute music to program music - that being it evokes a narrative. The Nutcracker Suite provides a beauty and grace that, at many points, required up to 4-levels of Cel animation. The theme of nature and changing seasons is beautifully captured - so graceful that its hard to fathom the images were painted by hand.
Mickey arrives next, deciding to be mischievous and, after 'acquiring' his masters Magician hat, has some fun. At first, all is well when he gets his chores done by the enchanted broom, but going to sleep and dreaming of his power wasn't the best idea... The sequence is a favorite among film fans, and the inspiration for an otherwise drab live-action movie staring Mr Personality himself, Nicholas Cage. As far as restoration goes, I was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty revealed as Mickey ascends to the night sky. The newly discovered artwork from the backgrounds are, quite frankly, gorgeous.
Then we have The Rite of Spring - a cut down interpretation of "how science believes life began". At over 20 mins its certainly the longest of the film, but features some wonderful animation and has an exciting dinosaur battle.
Of course, the T-Rex would just have to win!
The transformation of this sequence from the VHS/DVD is wonderful, and finally reveals a much brighter picture quality. This is the most 'changed' scene from the restoration, and I'm thankful for this as its far more enjoyable now that one can seem background paintings that, previously, didn't even know existed.
After the frolicking of Beethoven's 'Pastoral Symphony' and its beautiful mythological setting, the film provides comical relief with 'The Dance of The Hours' - a purposefully silly set of movements that act as total counterpoint. Elephants dancing like delicate ballerinas? Alligators thinking they're majestic dance-partners? You better believe it!
'Night on Bald Mountain' is chosen for what at first appears to be a powerful and haunting end, represented on screen by Chernabog; a nocturnal demon who comes to life from a mountain top (and whom is now red/maroon, which makes perfect sense as he is of course a devil), and precedes to spread darkness over a nearby village, whilst toying with his merciless power. Bill Tytlas animation of this terrifying character is truly outstanding - quite easily some of, if not, the greatest work the Disney studio offered during this era.
But 'Ave Maria' wraps up the film breathtakingly, causing me to well-up every time I hear those lush vocals. The beauty of choosing this very song and to then place it right after 'Night on Bald Mountain' is that it not only provides an artistic narrative of retaliation, but it contrasts so wonderfully the power and intensity of the evil beforehand; so much so that it is the only piece of music in the film to feature vocals, and to then sing them so captivatingly. Without the visual content, 'Ave Maria' is a nice piece of music, but when placed alongside a calm recession of people who slowly track across screen with their individual lateens, it becomes something quite beautiful, almost jouissance.
The biggest light of all is the sunrise that precedes fill your screen; a message of hope, and the one message that is used throughout the entire film.
Fantasia, to me, was the one film that restoration and HD was made for and it clearly shows. Just about every scene in the film is different in some way, revealing artwork never seen before, colours that suddenly pop out and make sense, and brush detail that is so gorgeous, you can even see the texture of the card many backgrounds were painted on. During the live action scenes, whereas past prints have shrouded the musicians in darkness, the detail now lights up individual faces, hair, clothing, instruments... Its fair to say that the viewer finally does feel like they're at a concert, which was what the film intended in the first place!
Audio - a bit hit and miss. Because the Disney technicians were so obviously engrossed in drowning out noise and hiss (a lot of which was original in the first place), the final soundtrack sounds very thin/plastic-like when the entire orchestra is in full power. The problem is that filtering out noise to drastic measures lessens the dynamic range of the recording, and thus natural elements such as hall reverb have been completely drowned out. Yet on the other hand, many sections of the film rival modern recordings, which is particularly surprising - the best example being the Pastoral Symphony. The stereo panning of this soundtrack is also very poor and does not reflect the original Fantasound output; as is best heard on the VHS.
The improvements visually come down to restoring the film in the correct method; using the original RGB Technicolor camera negatives rather than old CYMK prints. The result is that the colour timing is now correct for the first time on a home media, and suddenly, everything just makes that bit more sense on screen. The live action shots of Taylor, previous in darkness, now show him up as a character that could have been filmed yesterday, he's that bright and clear.
The product is far from perfect though. Be as it may the flawless restoration, Disney released a trailer stating this film would be a 'Diamond Edition' (their top-tier for releases), and that it would include a feature called 'Fantasia World', amongst other un-seen shorts. This was sadly all dropped, and after at least 3 delays since the start of the year, the result is that the film has had a very lousy treatment when it comes to extra features, in comparison to Disney's other Blu-Ray releases. In fact, it would be easier to list the features that aren't even included on disc:
No 'Making of...' documentary[s] (Every other Platinum/Special/Diamond Edition has had one)
No Deleted Scenes (Which in Fantasia's case, was 'Claire de Lune')
No alternative concepts (Ride of The Valkeries...)
No alternate soundtracks (The 1982 release?)
No 'Classic DVD Extras', aside from Commentaries.
It would appear that Disney have been biased towards their 'family favorites', for the sheer amount of content on the recent 'Beauty and The Beast' release makes this Fantasia product look ultimately drab. Whats more frustrating is that, historically, Fantasia is a far more significant film for its contributions to cinema.
An upside is that 'Disney B.D Live' (the online service) is now active and you can access much of the Anthology material, but in my view, this simply doesn't make up for not even including a new 'Making of...' feature at the very least. Especially when it only fills 25% of the screen.
To make matters worse, this 'Virtual Vault' is only available on the Fantasia 2000 disc from the Combo Pack - despite the fact it contains features for the original Fantasia, too! Now how does that make any sense?
"The Schultheis Notebook" for the 15 mins its lasts is also interesting, but why-oh-why not just make a virtual/interactive version of it so that users can explore this book on the disc? The Notebook is packed with secrets about the film, yet the documentary only talks briefly of a handful of effects.
With new schemes such as 'Double Play' and the two-tier system of 'Special' and 'Diamond Edition', I can't help but feel that Disney is focusing more on quantity of sale rather than quality of the product. Why this film was abandoned from the Diamond Edition line, we'll never know, but it was obviously a close call since placing the disc in a PS3 console reveals the title "Fantasia: Diamond Edition". Great quality control.
Regardless, the film is undoubtedly Disney's folly and is truly the realm of art and animation. Alongside Pinocchio, it is one of the masterpieces of film-making for its contributions to both multi-channel sound re-production and avant-garde qualities. This ultimately highlights the biggest conundrum of all; had Fantasia of succeeded as being a commercial triumph, there is no telling what the studio could have gone on to produce in later years.
Hopefully, it wouldn't of been Hannah Montana.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 17 June 2005
Fantasia is a film that has stood the test of time thanks to its originality and the magic that is Disney. Unlike most movies, this one has no story to follow. Instead what we have is vignettes of Disney animation set to some of the best classical music to be found, played by the Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by the renowned Leopold Stokowski).
The film begins with Bach's Toccata and Fugue being played to a backdrop of kaleidoscopic images. There are no real forms to see, just random moving images that fit the music perfectly. The second segment uses more 'classical' animation, and shows fairies, fish, and flowers, and so on through the changing seasons. This section has Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker suite as its theme. Particularly good is the 'Chinese Dance' featuring dancing toadstools.
Segment three is the best known by far, Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer's apprentice which is set to Paul Duka's music of the same name. Here we see the famous cartoon of Mickey trying to use magic on brooms in order to lighten his work load only for it all to go disastrously wrong as the brooms run out of control. From here, the film moves on to 'Rites of Spring', by Stravinsky, and this animation shows evolution, from the beginning of the universe through to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
There is then a short 'respite' in the form of 'The soundtrack', a thin beam of light that changes pattern as the music alters of the instrument playing changes. Soon the movie is back in full flow with Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony set to idyllic country images, complete with cherubs, unicorns and centaurs. This section includes a dramatic scene of a thunderstorm complete with the god Vulcan hurling his lightening bolts.
Segment six has the wonderful ostrich and hippo ballets, who wouldn't laugh at the sight of an alligator trying to run off with the hippo he has 'fallen' for. All of this is played out to Ponchielli's 'Dance of the Hours'. Finally we end up with the dramatic 'Night on a Bald Mountain' (Mussorgsky) which depicts evil being celebrated during the witches Sabbath. This section is actually divided into two and in the second half we hear the beautiful, haunting Ave Maria (Schubert) and see pilgrims crossing a bridge into a picturesque meadow. The image is one of good triumphing over evil.
This is a truly magical film, matched only by Fantasia 2000, and one that should be in any film/music lovers' collection.