Fantasia (1940)/ Fantasia (2000)
Unfortunately one of the most lamentable victims of the bad economy and government austerity budget cuts are the school programs that expose children to the arts. While that may sound trite in this modern era beset by a score of serious social issues the fact is children flourish when afforded an opportunity to learn about music and art. We used to have a class call art appreciation where we would learn about masterpieces in the worlds of music, painting and sculpture. Playing in an orchestra occupied significant amount of my teen years and I have cherished that experience ever since. Thankfully there is a mini course in classical music that has been around since 1940 which has become as beloved classic piece of cinema; Walt Disney’s ‘Fantasia’. Both the original and the 2000 sequel have been re-released on Blu-ray and the simple fact is this set is a must have. It contains some of the most beautiful music ever written set against the background of images and characters that have become a part of our cultural collective consciousness. I have seen many versions of the original from a viewing in a great theater to the previous DVD release but this high definition edition along with its companion sequel bring out the best in a high definition system. ‘Fantasia’ still grandly achieves its original mandate to enthrall the entire family with a feast of remarkable sights and sounds that transports the audience to another realm. Sure Blu-ray is fantastic depicting explosions and gun fights with the sounds of action surrounding you. You really can’t appreciate the wonder of this technology until you experience both ‘Fantasia’ films in high definition video and modern DTS audio. I am certain you and your family will be instantly mesmerized by these incredibly well crafted films. You will use them to show off your system to the neighbors definitely making them jealous. I was so anxious to finally see these films in this format that I ran through my calibration disc just to make certain my video and audio were perfectly tuned. If you have never seen these films now is the perfect time to do so.
The first ‘Fantasia’ back in 1940 was as ground breaking for its day as ‘Avatar was last year, perhaps more so. Not only was the concept of a feature length film combining orchestra music with both character and abstract animation a novel concept but the audio utilized was nothing short of revolutionary. Publicized as ‘Fantasound’ this was an early stereophonic audio method that highlighted the differences between the left and right tracks. Walt Disney was ever the innovator and was dissatisfied with the then current optic sound tracks employed by most movies. Along with composer and early pioneer in multichannel recording, Leopold Stokowski they devised a method of placing microphones in strategic places in the orchestra in order to get the full, rich sound. Several re-recordings have been used in various editions of this film but for this Blu-ray edition the original Stokowski soundtrack was brought back. This gives you a chance to hear this marvelous music in a fashion better than most theatrical attendees were treated to.
Fantasia is hosted by American composer Deems Taylor who not only introduces the segment but provides a little peak at what was being attempted in each piece. He explains that some music tells a definite story while other works fill your imagination with forms and colors. Both would be explored here. Since the original film was presented in the Academy ratio of 4:3 modern sets would require those infamous black bars on both sides. An imaginative way around this is provided through something they call ‘Disney view’ which replaces the black bars with painting by Harrison Ellensha. They reflect the mood of the piece and slowly vhange over time. For example the first piece of music, Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor’ transitions from focusing on the audience to an abstract explosion of forms and color. During this time the side painting start out as members of the orchestra. Next up is the first of many iconic examples of animation blended with classical music. The Nutcracker Suite", composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky contains a Disney staple, brightly colored fairies flying around a woodland ushering in the change of seasons. A particularly endearing scene is the ‘Chinese Dance’ performed by Mushrooms in long robes. The dance is intricate and perfectly performed except for the smallest mushroom who struggles to keep up. This theme is extended with goldfish performing the Arab Dance and flowers coming alive for the ‘Russian Dance’. Of course the most famous segment of the film feature the Disney front man, Mickey Mouse in ‘The Sorcerer's Apprentice’ showcasing music scored by Paul Dukas and animation by Disney regular Les Clark. The world’s most famous rodent plays with magic that quickly gets out of hand.
While the original ‘Fantasia’ is a treat on its own the addition of the 2000 sequel makes this set and unbelievable bargain. The second ‘Fantasia is fundamentally the same concept with a few major departures. First of all there is extensive use of the piano including a personal favorite, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ from the legendary George Gershwin. There is also an amazing rendition of Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102 by Dmitri Shostakovich. Also changed here is the inclusion of several well known celebrities to introduce the segments which includes Steve Martin, James Earl Jones, and Itzhak Perlman. Animals are portrayed more realistically including a poignant scene of a humpback whale calf separated from his mother. For old time sake the original ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ is included and keeping with the magic theme this segment is introduced by Penn and Teller.