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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Fantasia / Fantasia 2000

November 27th, 2010

Fantasia / Fantasia 2000 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack

Disney studio has been making animated films longer than any other studio in the world. One of the very earliest feature-length animated films they made was Fantasia, which was not so much a film as it was a compilation of short films set to classical music. It was Walt Disney's original intent that Fantasia would be an annual event and that every year one segment would be retired and a new one would be added in. However, its initial run was not as financially successful as the studio had hoped, and it took 60 years for that idea to came to fruition with Fantasia 2000. Now a decade after its sequel hit theaters, the two films are coming out on Blu-ray for the first time on a 4-disc combo pack.

Fantasia

Each segment starts with a short introduction by Deems Taylor and there are seven segments in total, starting with...

  1. "Toccata and Fugue" by Johann Sebastian Bach
    The first segment has no plot and is merely abstract images and color set to the music. That is not to say it is not fascinating to watch, but there's no plot to describe.
  2. "The Nutcracker Suite" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    There's really no plot for this segment either, but instead there are a series of dances performed by fish, faeries, flowers, and fungi. Only the final dance has any real plot. It shows the seasonal faeries at work first turn a forest into autumn and then into a winter paradise.
  3. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by Paul Dukas
    The first segment with a plot. It is based on the 18th century Germanic poem called Der Zauberlehrling, which is in turn based on a second century Greek story, Philopseudes. In this version, an inexperienced sorcerer, Mickey Mouse, uses his master's spell to animate a broom to carry water to a cauldron, a chore he was given. At first the spell works brilliantly, but soon he loses control and the spell gets out of hand.
  4. "The Rite of Spring" by Igor Stravinsky
    A history of planet Earth from the time before life existed, right up till the end of the dinosaurs. Considering how much we've learned in the 70 years since this film was first released, it's still quite accurate.
  5. Intermission/Meet the Soundtrack
    The first half of the film ends with an intermission, while the second half starts with a stylized look at the sound waves generated by various musical instruments.
  6. "The Pastoral Symphony" by Ludwig van Beethoven
    While The Sorcerer's Apprentice is the most famous segment on this program, this is the second most famous segment, but for entirely different reasons. The segment tells the story of a festival held in honor of the Greek God, Dionysus, whose portfolio included getting drunk and partying. Some of the mythical creatures that attend this festival were some female centaurs, which are shown nude, briefly. Apparently this upset some people, which is strange, as the faeries in The Nutcracker Suite were also naked. On the other hand, the character of Sunflower the servant is undeniably racist. It's Sambo level racism. I can see why they cut it. I would have preferred it be included as an option, but it hasn't been part of the film since the original release, so perhaps the original cut is no longer available. Or perhaps Disney is just trying to bury this one deep enough that people will forget.
  7. "Dance of the Hours" by Amilcare Ponchielli
    Four sets of animal dancers perform dances meant to evoke the various times of the day. Morning it represented by a group of ostriches, for instance. The segment is most well known for the parts with Hyacinth Hippo dancing with Ben Ali Gator.
  8. "Night on Bald Mountain" by Modest Mussorgsky / "Ave Maria" by Franz Schubert
    Two diametrically opposed musical scores are used to tell two parts of a story. In the first part, a demon named Chernabog summons his followers for a Halloween like festival of evil, only to be driven away for the sounds of a churchbell and the morning light. This is when the uplifting "Ave Maria" starts.

Fantasia 2000

This sequel was originally made for IMAX, and the first thing you will notice is that due to the limitations of the technology at the time, it is shorter, by almost an hour. However, is has the same format.

  1. "Symphony No. 5" by Ludwig van Beethoven
    Like the first film, this one starts abstract, but still has some semblance of plot. Colorful butterfly like triangles do battle with dark raptor like shapes (that's raptor as in birds of prey, not the dinosaurs).
  2. "Pines of Rome" by Ottorino Respighi
    A humpback whale family learns to fly thanks to the power of a special star. The calf becomes trapped after being chased by some seagulls, which causes him to crash into an iceberg.
  3. "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin
    A look at the depression-era New York City. The stories are told through a day in the life of a construction worker, an unemployed man with no money, a hen-pecked husband, and a little girl trying to learn ballet (and about a dozen other things).
  4. "Piano Concerto No. 2" by Dmitri Shostakovich
    An adaptation of the fairytale The Steadfast Tin Soldier, which was originally written by Hans Christian Andersen. In it, a defective tin soldier (he's missing a leg) falls in love with a toy ballerina, but has to battle an evil jack-in-the-box to be with her.
  5. "The Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saëns
    A group of flamingos perform a highly choreographed routine, but one lone flamingo would rather play with his yo-yo, and causes a massive disruption in the process.
  6. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by Paul Dukas
    The same as before, only with an introduction by Penn and Teller.
  7. "Pomp and Circumstance" by Edward Elgar
    The story of Noah's Ark, starring Donald Duck as Noah's assistant.
  8. "Firebird Suite" by Igor Stravinsky
    It's the end of winter and an elk awakens a forest sprite, which flies through the forest bringing new life. However, she unwittingly also brings life to a firebird, the spirit of a nearby volcano, which in turns destroys all that she gave life to. It's a story of life and death, and rebirth.
While it is not part of the main program, this disc also has a feature-length documentary called Dali and Disney: A Date with Destino. This film spends a great deal of time on the two men's careers before they met and how they started working on Destino, a short film that first began in 1946. Also included on this disc is the the final short film, which was completed im 2003. Technically they are found under the bonus features, but they are significant enough that they warrant mentioning on the main feature.

The two discs combined have about 16 shorts. (You could argue whether or not Meet the Soundtrack is a short, or whether or not you should split "Night on Bald Mountain" and "Ave Maria" into two shorts, or whether or not you should count Destino as a special feature and not part of the overall program.) Not all of these are classics, or even great, but they are all worth checking out. The Sorcerer's Apprentice is the most famous, and for good reason, but I also really enjoyed The Nutcracker Suite and the combined Night on Bald Mountain / Ave Maria from the first film. Meanwhile, Firebird Suite is my personal favorite from the second film, while Rhapsody in Blue comes a close second. Add in the feature-length documentary and there's more than enough here to be worth picking up, and that's before you get to the extras.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include a four-minute look at the The Walt Disney Family Museum and an audio commentary by film historian Brian Sibley for Fantasia. Meanwhile, Fantasia 2000 has a nine-minute featurette on Musicana, which was set to be the follow-up to Fantasia and was started in the mid-1970s.

The Blu-ray comes with these two DVD, while the Blu-rays themselves have a number of exclusives. Fantasia comes with two additional audio commentaries, plus a 14-minute look at The Schultheis Notebook, which holds an amazing amount of secrets to the animation innovations needed to create this movie. There is also an interactive image gallery. You can also watch the movie with DisneyView, which is about 90% less impressive than it sounds. Because Fantasia was made before widescreen movies were developed, there are black bars on either side of the movie. With DisneyView, those black bars are filled in with artwork. Fantasia 2000's extras include the two I mentioned above, plus two audio commentary tracks, and a BD-Live Virtual Vault. This is essentially all of the extras from the previously released DVD.

The technical presentation of both films is amazing. Fantasia 2000 looks and sounds better than Fantasia, but that's not surprising, given the age difference between the two. The fact that Fantasia is comparable to a modern block buster, especially its surround sound track, is astounding. Meanwhile, Fantasia 2000 is at times, reference level material.

The Verdict

Fantasia is widely considered a classic, and while most people will agree that Fantasia 2000 is not quite as good, there's more than enough entertainment value to make it worth owning, especially with the added bonus of Destino. The Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack far outstrips the DVD in terms of value and it is a clear Pick of the Week contender.

The only complaint is the censorship on The Pastoral Symphony, but I honestly think there's a chance the exorcised footage may no longer be in Disney's possession. Someone obviously has a copy in their personal collection, because I've seen it online. But even then, the copy might not be high enough quality to salvage.


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Filed under: Video Review, Fantasia, Fantasia 2000 (IMAX), Fantasia 2000 (Theatrical Release)