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|Kevin Krock, editor|
Over 60 years ago, Walt Disney had a unique vision that was far ahead of its time: Create a "Concert Feature" that combined time honored classical music with wondrous animated visuals provided by his talented artists. In its initial release on Broadway, it was an idea that wasn't widely accepted by audiences or critics. In fact, most of the sequences created quite a bit of controversy, mostly from music purists. However, over time it has become recognized as an animation masterpiece.
During its life, "Fantasia" has been presented in a number of different versions as Disney tried to find a general audience. The original 1940 running time was a tad over 2 hours with an intermission at the mid-point, and it required special "Fantasound" audio capabilities that most movie theaters of the time lacked. In order to shorten the movie and simplify the presentation, Disney trimmed out the Deems Taylor "Interstitials" (the narrator sections, like in "Fantasia 2000") that went between the music sequences.
For this 60th Anniversary DVD release, Disney has restored "Fantasia" to its original running length (still minus a couple of quick "negative stereotype" scenes in "The Pastoral Symphony" that were removed in the 60's). The Interstitials were fully restored, and because the soundtracks of Deems Taylor, the narrator, were lost or beyond restoration, they were re-recorded with a Taylor sound-alike. A lot of time and effort was put into this version, and it shows. Now, for the first time in decades, we can see "Fantasia" pretty much the same way that Walt had intended it to be seen... at least its first release.
Walt's original vision for "Fantasia" was to periodically add and subtract segments to keep it constantly changing, much like an orchestra's concert lineup. Unfortunately, a variety of timing and economic problems prevented this from happening until several years ago when Walt's nephew, Roy E. Disney (the son of Walt's brother and business partner, Roy O. Disney), picked up the vision. Through the 1990's, Roy E. championed the eventual realization of Walt's dream, and at the beginning of 2000, Disney released "Fantasia 2000" to IMAX theaters throughout the country to mixed reviews from critics and a relatively cool response from audiences.
While it follows the same concert format as the original, only Mickey Mouse's appearance in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" was kept from "Fantasia." In some sequences, the new musical selections seem a bit odd, and parts of the computer animated segments look a bit dated relative to recent computer animated features. However, there are a few fantastic segments that must be seen - "Rhapsody in Blue" and the "Firebird Suite" instantly come to mind. Overall, it is a likable feature that seems to grow a bit on the viewer over time.
One unique aspect about this box set relative to other recent Disney Collector's Editions is that the two movie discs are the same ones that you can buy separately! So, if you are a big fan of only one of the movies and you don't want or need the third goodie disc, you can still get the cool goodies on each of the movie discs reviewed here! It makes economic sense, and it is nice to see a good selection of bonus material included on the individual discs.
As with the "Toy Story" box set review, we'll cover the collection of goodies disk by disk. As usual, the full list of goodies are listed in the side- bar, and we'll just touch on a few notable ones below.
Disc #1 - Fantasia
There are really three main goodies that are worth mentioning. The first is the commentary track with archival interviews with Walt Disney. Some of the interviews pertain to a particular segment, but others are simply reflections on the making of "Fantasia." The quality of the audio varies from pretty good to marginal, but it's impossible to expect high quality recordings from 60 years ago... It's great though just having this audio record of Walt's thoughts available!
The second is the commentary track with Roy E. Disney, Conductor James Levine, animation historian John Canemaker, and Disney Manager of Film Restoration, Scott MacQueen. The track is well organized, and each musical segment has pertinent information provided by the experts. It has a formal, lecture- like feel to it, but I liked this organized approach much better other, more disorganized commentaries which have people talking over each other or getting a bit "off- topic" during a scene. This is a particularly insightful track that deserves a good listen.The last goodie on this disc is a 50 minute "Making of" featurette. This was specially made for the DVD release, and it provides a nice overview of how "Fantasia" was put together. There are several interviews with artists, animation historians, producers, etc., and they very nicely provide the appropriate historical context for "Fantasia." The featurette also acts as a nice introduction to the bulk of the supplemental material on Disc #3, but because of that, a little bit of the stuff on Disc #3 will seem a bit redundant.
Disc #2 - Fantasia 2000 (Rob Meyer)This DVD also has some really nice features, but the two best are the Artists' Audio Commentary and the two animated shorts. If you do nothing else with this DVD, listen to the Artist's Audio Commentary. You'll be glad you did. The Producers' commentary is okay, but in many ways it repeats much of the material presented in the 50 minute "Making of Fantasia 2000" featurette on the disc.
The two animated shorts are "Melody" and "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom". They were originally created to provide some basic music education for kids, and they are done in a wonderfully simple and humorous way. I grew up watching these and I thought it was particularly nice to have these included. [Kevin's Note: Wouldn't it be fantastic to have a DVD with all of Disney's classic animated educational shorts? Bring back Professor Von Drake, PLEASE!!!]
There is also a Commemorative Booklet included in the case. This booklet is written for kids to encourage them to think about how they might create a new Fantasia. Apparently someone really did pay attention to how many of the artists who worked on "Fantasia 2000" had been inspired by the original as a child.
Disc #3 - Fantasia Legacy Supplemental Material
After the wonderfully comprehensive Toy Story Box Set, I was wondering how Disney was going to follow it up. Fortunately, after spending several hours sifting through this box set, I can say that they've exceeded my expectations. Disney sure opened the vaults for the supplemental material disc! It's packed with cool, cool stuff...
The material on this disc is divided into "Fantasia" and "Fantasia 2000" sections. Each movie is subdivided into the individual musical segments with a special section for the Interstitials. Each of the segments for both movies usually contains an introduction by the filmmakers, the visual development for the sequence, background information on the music the sequence, and the character designs.
The "Fantasia" supplemental material is simply amazing. Each of the segments are covered in a comprehensive manner with still galleries, reference text, and more. One of my favorite aspects of this material is the use of excerpts from the old Disney TV series that were originally used to show viewers how film making was done at the Disney studios. There is some very neat behind the scenes material in these clips - special effects, live action reference, painting and layering... All of it makes you really appreciate the stunning images these artists were able to produce by hand years ago.
Also included is a fantastic section on the "Fantasia" that never was. Included in this section are storyboards and rough animation put to the intended music for segments like, "The Ride of the Valkyries," "The Swan of Tuonela," "Invitation to Dance," and "Adventures in a Perambulator." From an animation restoration perspective, one of the neatest sections is "Clair de Lune." Originally animated for "Fantasia," the animation was cut, rearranged and put to different music for "Make Mine Music". For the DVD, Disney reconstructed the original animation with the "Clair de Lune" music, and it is quite a treat to see it, for the first time in decades, the way it was intended.
The "Fantasia 2000" material covers the same general areas as in the "Fantasia" section. Each segment has a concise "Creating..." featurette that introduces the rest of the supplemental material. Among those are proof of concepts tests and story reels, storyboard- to- film comparisons, abandoned concepts, and "angle"- enabled production progression demonstrations. It's all pretty interesting stuff, and like the "Fantasia" material, it makes you appreciate the amount of work that went into making each of these segments.
Here's a quick summary of some of my personal favorite goodies from Disc #3:
Overall, these discs provide you with an incredible amount of reference material. Some of it is really cool, some of it is very similar to those found and expected on other DVDs, and some of it is a bit redundant between the three discs. Similarly, some supplements you'll only watch once or twice, but there is a good amount of material that you'll probably watch repeatedly over the years.
The Video, Audio and Interface...
Both of these movies are visually presented in the best manner they could be. "Fantasia" has been digitally re-mastered and restored, and then transferred to DVD. This process eliminated many of the film imperfections that have cropped up over the decades, and while it shows its age in some parts, the color and detail throughout is amazing for a film of this age. Like many recent Disney "Feature" DVDs, "Fantasia 2000" was directly transferred from from the original digital files to DVD. This provides a flawless and beautiful color and detail. As much as I liked several of the sequences in the IMAX format, this movie shines on the small screen all the way through. Many of the problems I had with the IMAX presentation were eliminated by the move to a smaller format ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice" looks much better...), yet the images still maintain their texture and beauty.
In terms of frame formats, "Fantasia" was theatrically presented in the full-frame format (1.33:1), so the DVD maintains that format and looks great on any TV. "Fantasia 2000" is presented in a widescreen format (1.85:1) which has been enhanced for widescreen TVs, but even on a standard TV, the widescreen image does not require intrusive letterboxing. The black bars really aren't that noticeable once the movie gets going.
The audio soundtracks for both of these movie are presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS. The DTS is a nice to have for some, but many people don't have decoders for this soundtrack yet. If you don't know what it is, don't worry, you'll still get great audio on either disc. The "Fantasia" sound tracks were re-mastered in 5.0 surround sound, and even in the most basic of home theaters, the audio sounds great - surround or not. Similarly, "Fantasia 2000" is presented in 5.1 (it has a separate subwoofer track) surround sound, and it too will sound good on any system.
I should also mention that both movie discs contain the THX Optimode tests to ensure your home theater is operating in its optimum condition. You simply step through the audio and visual tests and make the proper adjustments to you system, and you're done! For the video, you will need a blue filter that you can get from THX. It is handy to have, but you will probably rarely use it once your system is set up correctly.
The menu system is very elegantly done with a concert theme. Transitions between menus are animated with curtain swipes or other animation, and the menus generally have some sort of animation associated with them, like scenes from a particular musical segment. The menus are logically arranged, and usually easy to navigate. The musical segment selection menus on Disc #3 have overlapping panes around the screen showing clips from each of the segments and little else. It took me a few seconds to figure out where the menu cursor was and how to select the various sequences. It's not a major pain, it just took some getting used to. Overall, they are a great example of how Disney DVD menus should be - all the time.
The Final Evaluation...
As I mentioned in the Goodies section, the way that Disney structured these discs opens up more high quality options for viewers than before. If you love all the details, the behind the scenes information, and the stuff that never made it in the movies, get the Anthology.
However, there is enough great stuff on the individual movie discs that I can easily recommend them to those folks that are only interested in one of the movies or on a budget. Either way, these movies will make enjoyable additions to your DVD collections - I certainly made them part of mine!
- Disc #1 - Fantasia
- Disc #2 - Fantasia 2000
- Disc #3 - Fantasia Legacy
- Region 1 Encoded
- Disc #1 - Fantasia
- Disc #2 - Fantasia 2000
- Disc #3 - Fantasia Legacy
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