WHAT ELSE CAN ONE SAY? FANTASIA ASTOUNDS! @ 8 December 2010 07:17 PM
Some of us can remember a time when it seemed unthinkable that a classic Disney animated feature would ever be broadcast on TV at all, and with the rare exceptions of Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland (which was edited), they were not broadcast for decades but only reissued to theaters.

When home video came along, again it seemed out of the question that Snow White, Sleeping Beauty -- and especially Fantasia -- would ever, ever be released on VHS tape. Now it's become a nostalgic memory to recall the fervor that arose when, one by one, they all did become part of many home libraries.

The release of Fantasia was always an event when I was growing up because Disney didn't release it nationwide with a big ad campaign. It just suddenly appeared every few years in theaters and each time, seeing it was like living through a multi-sensory experience. It's not like a movie, per se, but more of a journey.

When it was issued on VHS, it was a huge seller. Surely Walt Disney, who was apparently disappointed throughout his life that the public never embraced Fantasia the way he dreamed they would, might have felt some closure. It was the success of the VHS sales that helped Roy E. Disney convince Michael Eisner to green light what became Fantasia 2000.



This new multi-DVD/Blu-Ray package combines both films for the first time. If you didn't get the DVD last time, do not hesitate this time because it should be in every home. If you want to see and hear it as never before -- plus finally get a look at the fabled Disney/Dali collaboration, Destino, this may be the thing that tips the scales in favor of getting that Blu-Ray player for a holiday gift.

There is nothing like Walt Disney's Fantasia, including its countless imitators. You never run out of things to notice with each viewing. And thanks to the generous audio commentaries and supplemental materials, you can gain an even greater insight into what a mammoth enterprise Walt Disney had the tenacity to take on. It was produced during a period when his artists were at the peak of their form and right before the strike and the war changed things forever.

Some of my own little notes about the original Fantasia:
Ever notice how many characters are waking up and going to sleep? What's that big blocky thing going down the hallway in "Toccata and Fugue?" (Even Roy didn't know.) How many action, horror and sci-fi movie scores must have borrowed elements of "The Rite of Spring?" And was I the only person in the late '60s/early '70s who burst out laughing during "Dance of the Hours," not because of the funny hippos and ostriches, but because Allan Sherman used the tune for "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh?"

It's fitting that Fantasia 2000 is being reissued to the public after Waking Sleeping Beauty, in which we learned more detail about Roy E. Disney's pivotal role in turning the Disney corporate tides, and then seeing and hearing him as a major guiding force behind this film, which was very much a personal triumph for him.

The miracle is that such an ambitious project as Fantasia 2000 is excellent, too, combining reverence for the original film and its techniques with the newest innovations. How can you not admire the brilliant "Rhapsody in Blue," the hysterical flamingos, the lush and lovely "Firebird" sequence, and the rest?

The live-action 2000 "interstitials," though largely amusing to diffuse the stuffiness that one might have found in the 1940 Deems Taylor hosting duties, will probably date 60 years from now, too, with several of the celebrities being obscured by time and generations, but they are there merely for marquee value and are fine.

My only quibble is that Bette Midler seems a little too flip and dismissive of the early Fantasia sequences that were considered then dropped from the original. Nothing against Ms. M, but the approach comes across as if these lost concepts were all "losers," reducing these ideas to mere eye-rollers, like the one about "Salvador Dali and baseball." It kind of flies in the face of the years of effort Roy put into restoring Destino and to the countless artists whose work was deleted for reasons other than "dumbness." It's a cute segment, and she is charming as ever, but it just seems a little insensitive.

The new audio commentary by the always welcome historian Brian Sibley is, as expected, richly detailed with endless facts about every minute of the 1940 film, along with mini bios on the artists involved. Some of it overlaps with earlier commentary from other historians, particularly John Canemaker, but if you don't have a Blu-Ray, you only get the new one and not the two earlier ones.

The two earlier Fantasia commentaries are wonderful because they feature Roy, Canemaker and "2000" Conductor James Levine on one, and Canemaker again on the other one with none other than Walt Disney himself in various clips, plus spot-on readings of his notes by an astonishingly gifted voice actor, who also redubbed Deems Taylor when the restored footage was found to be missing a lot of original audio.

[Note to collectors: If you have the three-disc Fantasia Collection DVD set, you'll probably still want to keep it, though, because there are still a lot of extras, like all the concept art and background materials, that were included on the Fantasia Legacy disc that are not in the new package.

The most touching moment, for me, came when the audio commentary for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" started, and there was  Roy talking with Mickey Mouse, performed in the vocal persona who we have had the pleasure of enjoying for the past several decades. This was the Mickey I have personally witnessed doing radio interviews at various Disney events, filled with good humor and crackling wit. What a wonderful treat and what a irreplaceable treasure to have now.

So what's the big deal with Destino? Well, it is a big deal because it was considered unfinished and never to be completed. With the help of John Hench, who worked with Walt and Dali originally, and again Roy's dogged determination, it was completed with the original soundtrack intact (it's a Latin pop love ballad, by the way, sung by Dora Luz, who sang "You Belong to My Heart" in The Three Caballeros. It is strange? Weird? Disturbing? Nutso? Oh yeah! But how cool! And what a miracle that this once-in-a-millennium collaboration survived and we can actually see it at home!

One last note : on the commentary for the interstitials for Fantasia 2000, producer Don Hahn talks about the design of this otherworldly concert hall, with its "sails" carrying images around the frames (and on the selection menus).

How appropriate that a film that is so much a result of the teaming of Roy E. Disney with great Disney artists, past and present, should have "sails," since sailing was his passion?

Along with Disney heritage and legacy, of course.

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