Fantasia is a film that was meant to evolve considerably over the years. It was meant to be a live show and a unique theatrical experience. It was also meant to be a continual work in progress, but until Fantasia 2000, that aspect fell by the wayside. Instead, the minor changing landscape of the film came from different editions. After a time, the 15 minutes of black-pony girl catering to beautiful white-as-a-Lily pony girl were deemed (rightfully) racist and were removed. At some point, vocals were overdubbed because the initial Deems Taylor audio was ruined. The gap between the making of the two separate films meant a change in musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This new-generation DVD and Blu-Ray features a short planned by Disney and artist Salvador Dali in the '40s and not completed until now. The reason why this vision was continually punctured is nothing if not financial. The live show and unique theatrical experiences were cut because they were too expensive to produce. And hell, even after Roy Disney pushed for years until they created Fantasia 2000, it was a box office flop. I would argue, though, that the two films’ evolution into this Blu-Ray might well be the most successful change yet.
Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 are like no other films ever produced. They are not really films, even, merely a set of performances by an orchestra, carefully merged with animated sequences that match the music rather than each other. Both films were at the cutting edge of animation during their respective times; in fact, several of the shorts for Fantasia 2000 were completed CGI pieces before Toy Story had even hit the market. Fantasia is special. It marks the only time a Disney Film has run over two hours in length. It marks the return of Mickey to popularity. It’s a film for everyone, but somehow marketed expressly for adults -- the original showings were supposed to be like orchestra performances where audiences were expected to dress to the nines.
Deems Taylor, narrator, tells us at the beginning of Fantasia that there are three kinds of music present: the kind that tells a definite story, the kind that creates definite pictures but no story, and music that exists simply for its own sake. Because of this, Fantasia can’t be an easy watch for everyone. It requires a lot of flexibility; for every music piece that lends itself to storytelling there is another where the images are more or less superfluous (this is less true of Fantasia 2000, which is more story-focused). Coupled together, Fantasia represents more than three hours of film that demand patience and rapt attention. There is no dialogue, save for the narration between segments, and that narration is super star-studded in the 2000 version. Its audience fits into a narrow niche, a group who can find the joy in juxtaposing cartoons with classical pieces without scoffing at the concept as per over-intellectuals and rubes. In that context, it's easy to see why such a high-budget, narrow-audience film never garnered enough enthusiasm to be continually revamped or revised, to be a bestseller even; but that doesn’t mean the idea behind Fantasia isn’t brilliant, or shouldn’t be cherished.
Which brings us beyond Fantasia as merely an idea. Each individual segment in Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 speaks for itself. There are some segments that have become classics (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Dance of the Hours,” or what I like to call Hippos and Alligators), and there are some that are seriously pretty heavy to show your kids (“Bald Mountain” and “Rite of Spring”). Fantasia 2000’s segments are mostly kid friendly, with its flying whales, flamingos playing with yoyos, and tin soldiers saving the day. But Fantasia 2000 has its moments of awesomeness, too, namely its Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” feature, prepared by Aladdin’s Genie animator Eric Goldberg and based on drawings by American caricaturist Al Hirschfield. The animation is key to the Fantasia franchise; without it you’d have a lot of fobbed and chopped-up classic pieces on a blank screen. Disney was never trying to give its audience a musical education, merely a musical experience, and in that it doesn’t disappoint. So give the films a try, find the segments you like most, and go ahead and evolve your own version of Fantasia for personal use. You’d do ol’ Walt and Roy proud.
Both Blu-Ray copies have the same previews and initial menu screens. However, the features on the disc for Fantasia are different than those on Fantasia 2000. This Blu-Ray release is two films in one. Each film also includes the now-standard accompanying DVD and a digital disc. This means there is a lot of information to maneuver through. Luckily for us, Disney did not attempt to go kid-friendly/interactive for these discs. The result is a well laid out, direct, and fun set of discs.
Charmingly, when you scroll over the different menu options, the choices each play a different note, reminiscent of that scene in Big where Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia play a giant in-store piano. For the initial Fantasia film, Disney has included a short on the Shultheis notebook. Shultheis was Walt Disney’s number two during the creation of Fantasia. A crazy-meticulous German dude, he kept a notebook containing information on the tricks the animators used in the filming process. At one point he walked into a jungle and never came back. At that point the notebook was lost, until…well, I won’t ruin that for you. The disc also features an interactive art gallery, and a short on the Disney Family Museum.
The Fantasia 2000 disc also features an interactive art gallery for its film, as well as a feature called “Musicana -- Walt’s inspiration for the sequel to Fantasia.” There’s also an extremely long documentary called “Dali and Disney” (1 hour and 22 minutes to be exact) which is super informative, but you have to care an awful lot about Walt Disney and his relationship with surrealist artist Salvador Dali to get on board for the whole segment.
Which leads us to “Destino,” Roy E. Disney’s pet project, which is present in entirety on the Fantasia 2000 disc. It’s probably the weirdest piece of animation I’ve ever seen. Too bad this short wasn’t featured in the 1969 theatrical re-release of the film when some audience goers were heard to have taken hallucinogenic drugs and lain on the front floor of the theater to experience the film. On second thought, it’s probably better the film short wasn’t created until 2003.