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Fantasia (1940) / Fantasia 2000 (1999) Print E-mail
Monday, 06 December 2010
Image"Fantasia" is arguably one of the best animated musicals created by Disney or any other animation studio.  It put forth a number of technological advancements, including surround sound and feature-length animation.  That being said, "Fantasia" does lose some audiences due to its length, and some musical selections.

Without a doubt you have to be a classical music fan in order to enjoy these films, well at least the original "Fantasia."  "Fantasia 2000" is much more manageable and kid friendly.  The segments are shorter and the music is a bit more engaging.  With all due respect, I don't think the tag "'Fantasia' is timeless" is accurate.  If it was timeless then a new version would not have been made to attract kids of the past generation.

Nonetheless, "Fantasia" does remain a masterpiece given the time period in which is was conceived.  Walt Disney had the idea to create a feature length film of animation that was inspired by classical music.  At a chance meeting, Disney approached Leopold Stokowski, a widely known conductor/composer.  The two struck up a partnership, from which came "Fantasia."

The original film contains three types of animation/music partnerships.  Basically, the music can tell a definite story, inspire a set of images or simply exist for its own sake.  The artists at Disney used the music to create visions of art.  With good reason many still believe that the animators actually started the acid revolution as there is no way most of these images could come simply from musical inspiration.

"Fantasia's" first segment is set to Bach's "Toccata and Fugue," which is simply a series of abstract images in space.  Back is followed by Tchaikovsky's the Nutcracker suite.  In this section the animators take the audience through a journey of the seasons.  This is best segment of the entire two plus hours of "Fantasia" in my opinion.  The most popular segment in "Fantasia" is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," starring Mickey Mouse.  In this case, the story came before the music.  While this is a good segment, the music only really has a couple memorable moments.
Stravinsky's "The Rite Of Spring" is next and tells the story of the evolution of life from inception to the rise and fall of the dinosaurs.  This marks the intermission and a segment known as "Meet the Soundtrack."  The next big segment is set to Beethoven's 6th symphony or Pastrole.  The animators take this section to Greek mythology involving cherubs and centaurs.

The final two sections are not favorites of mine but do attract many viewers.  Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" is a good piece of music, but I didn't connect with the animation.  The last section is a clashing of classical music from Mussorgsky's "Night On Bald Mountain" and Schubert's "Ave Maria."  This is probably the most frightening segment for children and you may want to spare those with sensitive dreaming habits.

"Fantasia 2000" tries to live up to the magic of the original 60 years after the fact.  While I believe children like this one more and the musical selections are certainly better, there is a major flaw.  The animation is horrendous.  The jagged edges produced by digital animation is blocky and clunky.  The original film was completely hand drawn and that provides the artists' visions much more accurately than computer animation.

The film also features celebrity introductions that we could certainly do without.  The segments in "Fantasia 2000" are much more manageable, which is probably what keeps kids interested.  Personally, I found the sequel to be more enjoyable.  The first segment is based on Beethoven's 5th and is abstract.

"Pines Of Rome" is my least favorite section in the sequel.  The animation of the whales looks horrible and the music selection is not one of my favorites so there was nothing to keep me interested.  The film picks right back up with Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue."  This is segment ties for first place in "Fantasia 2000" for me.  The next two sections, Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Sainte-Saens' The Carnival of the Animals left me neutral.

The film then repeats the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment from the original "Fantasia" film.  A waste of time there.  Next comes Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" (known as the graduation march).  This is my favorite of the bunch.  Bringing Daisy and Donald Duck to the screen in a Noah's Ark rendition is a brilliant segment.  The film ends with a Stravinsky segment based on his Firebird Suite (1919).  This is another life and death segment, mixing Bambi with the "Rite of Spring" segment from the original film.

While neither film is perfect, they both offer some great classical music set to innovative animated sequences.

You all probably here because you want to know how the video and audio qualities have turned out for these films.  Well, I am pleased to report that they are top notch.  None are perfect, but they come darn close, especially given the age of the film.

"Fantasia's" video quality is the best is has ever been and is the best it will probably ever look.  The originally hand drawn animation is faithfully preserved and restored.  Just like with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" Blu-ray, the edges are razor sharp.  Each line is accurate and definitive.  Colors are bold and vibrant.  There is some bleeding, particularly with the reds, but it is never distracting.  The film is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio.  However, I found that the Disneyview presentation was much better visually, adding seamless and changing side bars instead of black bars.

"Fantasia 2000" is much more of the present, but the sterile digital animation leaves me cold.  I hate perfectly straight lines of the wireguide animation of which this film is comprised.  That being said, the digital animation is faithfully restored for this Blu-ray.  Colors are nicely rendered.  Black levels are not the best I have seen in digital animation transfers.  They can be murky, particularly in the whale segment.  There are a few instances of banding, aliasing and artifacting.  However, these will also go unnoticed by the majority of audiences.  Overall, you will be entirely satisfied with both films' video transfers.

The audio ranks right up there with the video transfers, falling just short of perfection.  I command the studio for including DTS-HD 7.1 audio tracks.  The more films that get released in 7.1 the better it is.  The original "Fantasia" film has a terrific history in audio.  A system known as Fantasound was developed by Disney in order to provide a multi-channel audio soundtrack.  The system provided front left, center and right speaker channels.  A fourth, control track was used to manage the surround channels of the orchestra recording.  This was the first surround sound film of the 20th century.  The restorers at Disney have used magnetic transfers of the original, now destroyed, optical audio tracks.  The 7.1 audio track on this Blu-ray is magnificent, but certainly problematic.  The recording was made before there were advancements in microphones, recording techniques and an understanding psychoacoustics.  The result is an audio track that can get rather brash, with tonal clashes.  A lot of this has to do with the conversion to 7.1 and frequency clutter with the two additional channels.  The other problem is that the noise reduction performed on the orchestra recordings leaves a lot of artifacting, akin to MP3 artifacting.  Also, the noise floor falls in and out of the audible range.  Don't be mistaken.  This is a fantastic 1940 audio track, but it is still plagued with issues.

The sequel, "Fantasia 2000" has a much cleaner audio track, naturally.  The LFE channels is magnificent here.  It fills the room with a solid orchestral performance.  This 7.1 audio track is fully utilized.  Next to "Toy Story 3," this is the best 7.1 audio track I have heard.  The only issue I found with this track was the dynamic level between the music segments and then the celebrity introductions.  The speech is clear, but the level and tonal difference is jarring.  The vocals are thin and uninspiring.  However, we don't really care about those segments.  The music is the important part, and it is well executed on this Blu-ray. 

"Fantasia" and "Fantasia 2000" comes in a deluxe package that is certainly worthy of the Disney label.  This is a four-disc.  However, it is not as much as you might think.  There are two Blu-ray discs, one for each of the films, and there are two DVD discs, one for each of the films.  The DVD discs are simply DVD versions of the films with select bonus features.

There is one major problem with this release.  While it doesn't exactly bother me, the large majority will probably feel robbed due to the cost of this package.  There are numerous bonus materials that are not available on the disc, but were part of the past DVD releases.  For example, there are a couple of 45-minute or so making-of featurettes that are absent.  They are still viewable but they require you to log onto the BD-Live section and view them through the Disney Vault.  There is no question that these featurettes should have been put on the disc.  There is no excuse to make owners have to access stuff through BD-Live.

Ok, now onto the special features.  There are three audio commentaries on the "Fantasia" disc.  These are fantastic commentaries, particularly the commentaries with the film historians and archival recordings.  The third commentary with Roy Disney, James Levine and others is repetitive and not nearly as informative as the first two.  As I mentioned earlier, the original film comes with the Disneyview function, available on other early Disney film Blu-ray releases.  This adds some color to the sidebars instead of leaving the black sidebars.  "The Schultheis Notebook: A Disney Treasure" brings out some of the lost tips and tricks used to create the original film.  Lastly, the disc contains some art galleries and a brief promo of the Disney Museum in San Francisco.

The "Fantasia 2000" disc comes with two audio commentaries.  One is with film historians and the other is with Disney and Levine.  Both are interesting in their own right, but neither is as informative as those from the original film.  "Fantasia 2000" just wasn't as pivotal.  A begin deal is being made about the short film "Destino," originally designed by Disney and Dali and now finished being included here.  This is followed by "Disney and Dali: A Date With Destino," which is a far too lengthy documentary on the collaboration.  "Musicana" looks at a segment that never made it into the sequel.

It is undeniable the impact these films, in particular the original "Fantasia," have had on animation history and musical conceptual films.  Lucky for us, the films have been preserved nicely and are now available in all their glory in high-definition.  It goes without say that this is a must own for all film collectors.  Highly recommended.

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