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Fantasia & Fantasia 2000: 2-Movie Collection Special Edition (Blu-ray Review)

19 Nov, 2010 By: John Latchem

Street 11/30/10
$39.99 two-DVD set, $45.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo pack
Rated ‘G.’

Fantasia’s historic impact cannot be overstated. It influenced numerous filmmakers in the years since its debut. It was the first film created with a multichannel soundtrack, dubbed Fantasound, which eventually led the way to surround sound. And it introduced the world to a redesigned Mickey Mouse, the one with the smaller eyes that today remains his standard design.

Putting the film in its proper context in the timeline of Disney’s career, the birth of Fantasia is perhaps not as much of a surprise as it was an inevitability. Prior to the release of Snow White in 1937, Disney animation had been primarily known for Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies, a series of shorts with pictures set to music. With Mickey’s popularity being eclipsed by Donald Duck, Disney conceived of casting his famous mouse in an adaptation of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Composer Leopold Stokowski was brought in to conduct the music, but the expense of the piece worried Disney’s accountants. So he expanded the project to include a whole range of animated shorts set to classical music.

Of all Walt Disney’s mold-breaking projects, perhaps Fantasia was a bit too ahead of its time. Audiences were slow to embrace Disney’s blending of animation with classical music, putting the studio in dire financial straits during the 1940s. Indeed, Fantasia took nearly 30 years to turn a profit for the studio, though now it is considered a timeless classic of cinema.

The initial idea was to create a piece of moving art that could be re-released every few years with a mix of new segments and old favorites. But a lukewarm response from the public nixed that idea for nearly 60 years, when Fantasia 2000 would be released with a variety of new segments while keeping “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in the line-up.

While the films look amazing in high-definition, the real selling point of this Fantasia re-release might be the animated short film Destino, which is included with the Fantasia 2000 disc.

Destino began as a collaboration between Disney and Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí in the mid-1940s, but it wasn’t completed for whatever reason. According to a thorough 90-minute documentary about the project, work halted either because Disney thought Dalí’s surrealism was too disconnected from the storytelling, or he wanted to use the marketing power of a partnership between Disney and Dalí for something bigger, such as an adaptation of Don Quixote (which, again, never happened).

The long-dormant project was eventually revived by Walt’s nephew Roy Disney, who discovered the concept art during prep work for Fantasia 2000 (a segment in that film shows a few of the sketches). The studio completed Destino in 2003, and it went on to earn an Academy Award nomination.

All the extras from the previous DVD releases are here as well, sort of. They are accessible via a BD Live portal called “Disney’s Virtual Vault,” which consists of a menu and a player that takes up about one-sixth of the screen. While in theory this is a good use of the BD Live system, it might have been worth it just to throw these extras on a bonus disc.

The original Fantasia also includes an enlightening new commentary by Disney historian Brian Sibley, in addition to the two commentary tracks from the DVD released in 2000. New extras include a profile of the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, and a featurette called “The Schultheis Notebook,” about the production logs of Herman Schultheis, who chronicled the process of creating visual effects for Fantasia.

In addition to Destino, Fantasia 2000 contains a featurette about a proposed 1970s film called Musicana, a precursor to Fantasia 2000 that would have updated the Fantasia concept much earlier.

This re-release of Fantasia is tied in with a number of other Disney discs due Nov. 30. Most notably is the live-action (and critically panned) adaptation of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel. Of particularly lower profile is a documentary called Walt & El Grupo, which chronicles Walt’s expedition to South America in 1941. This trip would influence such films as Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, and put Walt in enough of a Latin state of mind to begin work on Destino in the first place.

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