fantasia blu ray 


By Bill Kallay

"Fantasia" is brilliant cinema.   

"Fantasia" is now available on Blu-ray. It is part of a 4-disc set that includes "Fantasia/2000." That review is here.

What a mad genius. Walt Disney challenged his animation staff to interpret classical pieces of orchestral music into breathtaking segments of animation. Out of all the Walt Disney animated features, "Fantasia" has elegance and class. And that's how Walt wanted it to be. It is one of those rare films that causes audiences to clap politely after each segment. People actually dress up a bit to see the film. It has a profound effect on people.

The original title, "The Concert Feature," speaks volumes of how audiences reacted to Walt's masterpiece. The film was designed to mimic a night out at the symphony hall. As a result of the animation staff's choices in music pieces and animated interpretations, some segments completely bore some audience members, while others completely grab the audience's attention.

I've seen the film five times in a theatre since 1985, and each and every time, I've been totally engrossed by it. Indeed, some of the segments leave me a bit bored. The opening, "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by Bach, is hypnotic yet slowly paced. The film shifts gears once Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite" appears. The "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is sublime.

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (Dukas) is perhaps the greatest Mickey Mouse cartoon ever made. It is difficult to pinpoint, at least for myself, a single Mickey cartoon with as much artistry and magic as this cartoon. This is a tour de force in not only highlighting the appeal of Mickey, but also the amazing animation done by Walt's staff. When I was a teenager, I bought a Super 8mm version of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and used to spool it up on my Bell & Howell projector. Either I'd play the digital re-recording of the film's soundtrack on my LP record player, or a song from the soundtrack of "Street of Fire" called "Sorcerer." I ran the film, synced up the album, and watched the film in amazement on my closet door. Of course, Super 8mm film runs at 18 frames-per-second, so the film and the music were not totally in sync. Nonetheless, I always loved watching this segment.

"Rite of Spring" is a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Stravinsky's brutal composition in tandem with Disney's prehistoric ballet is brutal and awesome. The dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park" aren't as realistically portrayed as they are in "Fantasia." I'm still astounded by the accuracy of the opening outer space shot that opens the segment. Mankind had not even been into space when the film was made!

"Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral), Op 68" lightens up the film, and here is some fantastic animation. The centaurettes are delightfully sexy, especially for a Disney feature. It's funny to hear that some people think that Disney films were all sanitized, but they weren't. This segment shows romantic interludes, "artistic" nudity, and public drunkenness. And it's all brilliant and entertaining.

"Dance of the Hours" still makes me laugh out loud. Disney wasn't always known for making cartoons that elicited big laughs like some of the later "Looney Tunes" did. But when the Disney animators mined comedy, they did it well. This is just plain fun and usually wakes the kids up in the audience. There's nothing more funny than watching the ballerina hippo and a crocodile dance away with grace.

My favorite segments are "Night on Bald Mountain" and "Ave Maria." With the devil (Chernabog) calling out the dead at night, and Mussorgsky's composition blasting into the cool night air, the "Bald Mountain" segment soars. The animation, the color scheme, the haunting darkness, the dynamic staging, all combine for some of the greatest animation ever put on film. The segment fades, quite naturally, into Schubert's beautiful "Ave Maria, Op. 52 No. 6." This is the perfect way to close such a brilliant masterpiece of filmmaking. The entire segment is haunting and beautiful.

The Blu-ray picture quality is stunning. I've seen the film a number of times, from Super 8mm to 70mm (the 1990 restoration), and I've never seen it this sharp, this colorful, this bright. But keep in mind that Disney digitally cleaned the film. This is not how it has been shown in theaters. As I recall, the film has always appeared grainy, regardless of film format. It has also appeared somewhat soft and diffused--almost dreamy. In particular, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" has always looked very grainy, but very filmic. The film now looks more like high definition computer animation than painterly hand-drawn animation.

Viewers who are familiar with the film will also notice how suddenly bright and sharp looking narrator Deems Taylor now appears. In fact, he appears like he was filmed just yesterday. The lighting is now much brighter and we can see his face with total definition. 

Some may argue that the film now looks better than ever. Talking about how "Fantasia" should look is walking on a thin line. Out of all the Disney animated features, this is the one that was meant to be tinkered with. Walt always said the film was going to have new segments and new ideas cut into the original film. Older segments would be taken out.

But how does Walt's desire to change "Fantasia" pertain to the film's technology? In the 1950s, when the film finally was finally embraced by audiences, the film was given "Superscope" treatment. It was turned into a widescreen film, cropping much of the original imagery. In 1982, the soundtrack was digitally re-recorded to take advantage of new audio technology. The film was then released in Dolby Stereo. In 1990, Disney restored the film to its original visual splendor and the Fantasound soundtrack was restored. In special 70mm prints, the film appeared soft and grainy.

My preference is for films of this era to appear as they did in theaters. They should appear as they were filmed. If the lenses were soft, if the film was grainy, if the sound was a bit strident, then so be it. That's the way the film was made.

The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is excellent and seemingly faithful to Fantasound. This is by no means going to sound like any of today's modern soundtracks. At times, the orchestra sounds strident and as though the recording is being filtered through a tube. But for a 1940 recording (it may have been recorded actually in the late-1930s), it sounds very good.        

My normal qualms aside about the current "restoration," every segment of "Fantasia" shows Disney animation at its best. There is not a single segment that lacks any imagination or skill. The studio was firing on all cylinders and it shows.                   

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photos: © Disney. All rights reserved.


Quite simply a masterpiece, though still not meant for kids

Director: Various

Cast: Deems Taylor, Walt Disney 

Not enough extras but the two documentaries included are excellent, DVD copy included


Picture: Excellent
Sound: Excellent

Aspect Ratio (1.33:1)


November 30, 2010

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