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Fantasia (Special 60th Anniversary Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 November 2000

Fantasia (DTS)
Disney Home Video
MPAA rating: G
starring: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
release year: 1940
film rating: Five stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

Who hasn't seen 'Fantasia'? The number of those over the age of 10 who have yet to see this animated classic must be nearing the vanishing point. Not only has it been reissued time and again, but the Disney company has sent it forth on video over and over -- though never in the form it is on this new DVD release. It's available as a stand-alone disc, or in a special 3-disc package that includes 'Fantasia 2000' and a galaxy of extra material. We're reviewing the stand-alone disc here.

The movie itself is -- and isn't -- just the same as before, with brilliantly animated sequences illustrating/accompanying selections of classical music. Everyone has their own favorites, everyone has some segments they dislike; I myself would be happy never to see 'The Pastoral Symphony' again. But the great highlights, such as 'The Nutcracker Suite,' 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice,' 'Dance of the Hours' and 'Night on Bald Mountain' are as entertaining and almost impossibly beautiful as they have ever been. And a bit more, since the image has been restored to the best the movie has looked in decades.

And there's more. Stereo sound was invented for 'Fantasia,' for its initial "road show" engagements in 1940. Speakers were installed by the Disney technicians -- their usual distributor, RKO, opted out and the studio handled the distribution of the film itself -- in the handful of theaters around the country where it played. But it wasn't just stereo; it was "Fantasound." With stereo, care is taken to make it sound as though there's an orchestra installed just the other side of the movie screen; the sounds of the brasses always come from the same area of the screen, same for all the other sections of the orchestra.

But with Fantasound, this varied -- and the sounds of the various sections of the orchestra changed from speaker to speaker, however was best to suit the presentation at the moment. On this DVD, 'Fantasia' is presented in "Fantasound" for the first time in perhaps 60 years. The sound is also excellent, without any dated qualities; no hisses, crackles or pops.

Furthermore, even the lengthy introductions for each segment originally done by "host" Deems Taylor, a composer and expert on classical music well-known at the time the film was released, have been restored. (And you can see why they were cut from releases subsequent to 1940.) So much care and dedication has been lavished on this DVD that when it was discovered that the picture negative of Taylor's introductions was in great shape, the sound track had been lost, an actor was hired to imitate Taylor.

The DVD is rich with extras, including one of the most surprising in the history of home video -- more about that below. David Ogden Stiers narrates an excellent documentary on the making of the film, which includes interviews with animation experts John Culhane and John Canemaker, film historians Rudy Behlmer and Leonard Maltin, Disney animators Ollie Johnston, Mark Davis, Frank Thomas and Ward Kimball, and others as well. It is an especially good documentary, worthy of the film it covers.

There are two commentary tracks. The more conventional, but interesting, features Roy Disney (nephew of Walt), Canemaker, 'Fantasia 2000' conductor James Levine, and Disney archivist Scott MacQueen. Again, it's fascinating, full of surprising information, descriptions on how various scenes were done, and frequent low-scale boasting about how great this looks -- without any computers being involved.

But the real surprise is the other commentary track: it's by Walt Disney himself. MacQueen, Canemaker and others scoured through the Disney archives, locating every recording in which Disney talked about 'Fantasia,' as well as the extensive transcripts of the many planning sessions Disney and his crew conducted during the pre-production of the film. For these, an unidentified actor imitates Disney's distinctive voice and delivery. For animation and film buffs, this is one of the most intriguing and even touching commentary tracks in home video history.

'Fantasia' remains one of the most daring, creative and imaginative movies ever made in Hollywood. It includes some of the most beautiful, lyrical and unnerving images in world cinema history. It's been around so long, and we're so used to its images, that we can easily forget the imagination, creativity and sheer hard work that went into the making of this uneven but brilliant film. This DVD should help remind people that something this good never comes easily.

more details
sound format:
DTS 5.1
special features: Many outstanding extras
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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