Finally together and on both DVD and Blu-Ray format, the deluxe, 4-disc, release of FANTASIA and FANTASIA 2000 is more than the chance to see both features in all their glory. It’s a chance to marvel that the old-fashioned hand-drawn animation, for all its limitations, has none when it comes to imagination. It is the emotional response that the animators evoke in the audience that is the mark of a master artist. Technically, it’s startlingly bright and crisp. Original interstitial commentary by Deems Taylor, which was cut almost in half after the road show release of FANTASIA in 1940, has been restored, though the narration is spoken by an actor simulating Taylor’s original.
Much has already been written about the original, with its dancing hippos, pure abstraction, and still heart-stopping Night on Bald Mountain, not to mention that iconic image of Mickey in mystical robes, pointed hat, and magically ambulatory brooms that don’t know when to stop. It would be almost presumptuous to add more here. For that, there is the audio commentary an engagingly narrated wealth of information by Brian Sibley, who starts by dubbing FANTASIA the most intriguing film of its era.
The original concept for FANTASIA is well known. Walt Disney’s original vision was to constantly update what he called a concert film. New sequences would be introduced with each re-release, and old ones dropped. A tepid audience response put that idea on hold, and it wasnt until 2000 that a new, digital version was released. The result is fully rewarding, with its inclusion of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the original, a piece that in concept and execution is at the pinnacle of animation. The newer film, though, is stunning with the detail of whales departing the watery depths to swim through the clouds to the strains of Respighi’s The Pines of Rome, poignant in telling the story of toy soldier’s romantic longing, spare in illustrating Gershwin’s bold syncopations of Rhapsody in Blue, which reduces the animation of characters and settings to essential lines in fluid motion. Yet there is the nagging regret of all those sequences that were never produced because the ongoing project was shelved. Bette Midler touches on some of them while introducing The Steadfast Tin Soldier segment, but one must turn to the bonus features to find out more.
For that there is Musciana, which recounts the abortive attempt in the 1970s to produce a FANTASIA-like feature that brought together Disney veterans like Mel Shaw, who was the development department for Disney before there was officially such a thing, and a rising star that would later put his own distinctive stamp on the history of cinematic animation, John Lasseter. Film historians and animators, including Shaw, tell the story, their comments illustrated with the original concept drawings from the Disney archives. One cant help but see a jazz segment with frog musicians as a precursor of THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Don Hahn, of LION KING fame, describes Shaw’s shop-vac method of creating layer upon layer of chalk in his illustrations that made them glow the way pain never could. The artwork is so extensive for this film that was never made, the music all but locked in, that it can’t help but spark a hope that one day it might find its way to full production. Are you listening Disney?
There is a precedent along those lines included, the short Destino and a full-length documentary about the unlikely collaboration between Disney and Salvador Dali that inspired it. Astute biographies of both men are intercut leading to a brilliant analysis of the imagery of Destino. The denouement tracks how the film was finally completed with the insistent efforts of Roy Disney. In this one feature-length documentary is a history of 20th-century art, that of the Disney studios, the juxtaposition of high- and low-brow art, and the love of the art that transcended time.
Destino and the documentary about it are only on the Blu-ray disc, not the DVD, but not only is it worth the price of the deluxe set, it’s worth the price of buying a Blu-ray player to watch it. The short features Dali’s surreal landscapes in which the sinister is a palpable element as a man and woman morph in and out of reality as they search for one another, and the use of baseball as a metaphor is integrated seamlessly into the action. Unlike those dancing hippos, or even the abstraction of Bach, this work is more sophisticated, employing the full range of Dali’s discomfiting style and using adult nudity that is not coy, and that in live-action piece of the time would have been forbidden. It is a piece so beautiful that it brings tears to the eyes.
This deluxe edition is packed with many more extras, all produced with intelligence and featuring treasures from the Disney archives, as well as a look at one of the most accessible archives of Disneyana to be found anywhere, the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.
FANTASIA and FANTASIA 2000 are cultural treasures, and Disney has packaged them in a way that more than gives them their due.