Review - Fantasia/ Fantasia 2000 (BR DVD-2010)
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Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 (BR - 2010)

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Fantasia/ Fantasia 2000 (BR DVD-2010)

Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski


It’s safe to say that Walt Disney’s great Fantasia is one of the most highly-anticipated releases on Blu-ray DVD!


This groundbreaking cinematic blend of classical music masterworks brilliantly interpreted in animation by the Disney artists with stunningly beautiful imagery cries out for the enhanced clarity and detail of sight and sound that Blu-ray DVD offers to the viewer.


The story of Fantasia’s theatrical releases is quite quite a dramatic one and bears repeating here.  When Fantasia premiered in 1940, it played for over a year in single theatres in New York. Los Angeles and San Francisco.  But the outbreak of World War II obliterated the possibility of foreign-market release and the film was so far ahead of its time that it was neither widely seen nor commercially successful. 


Although Fantasia’s legendary reputation grew steadily over the years with an occasional re-release, it was only when the film was reissued in the late 1960s - not long after Disney’s death - that Fantasia was embraced by millions of viewers who could finally appreciate the innovation of Disney’s breathtaking achievement.


The film’s new-found popularity resulted in a line of successive re-releases in theatres.  In the 1970s it was released in stereo (the film had actually been recorded - and premiered - in surround-sound stereo in 1938—nearly twenty years (!) before stereo phonographs would make their appearance in homes, and thirty years before surround sound would find its way onto record albums and well over forty years before surround sound would begin to solidly establish itself in movie theatres).


Then, in the early 1980s Fantasia was released in theatres with a digital soundtrack.  The original stereophonic music tracks recorded by conductor Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1938 were deemed to have deteriorated too much to be used, so a new score was recorded under the baton of Disney alumnus conductor Irwin Kostel (of both Mary Poppins and Sound of Music fame).


But by the time of Fantasia’s 50th anniversary in 1990, advancing sound technology allowed for the restoration of the original Stokowski music tracks and so the film was released in theatres with both a restored image and its original soundtrack and Fantasia enjoyed critical and audience acclaim once again. 


In some select theatres, special 70mm prints were even made that attempted to recreate the original complex, elaborate (and expensive) surround sound system which Disney had pioneered for Fantasia’s premiere which was known as Fantasound.


Then, in 1991, with some additional sound restoration, Fantasia was released on home video (and laserdisc) and it instantly became the biggest and bestselling video ever up to that time. 


Finally, in the year 2000, Walt Disney Studios made for theatres a sequel which was in line with Walt Disney’s original intent to add new sequences to Fantasia.  The new film, consisting almost entirely of new sequences was called Fantasia 2000.  Like the original Fantasia, Fantasia 2000 was an enormous hit initially when it played in a limited number of IMAX theatres worldwide.  Later that same year, both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 were released on DVD for the first time.


Each of the versions and restorations of Fantasia over the years have had their own integrity—their own strengths and weaknesses—and in their own ways have added to the awareness and the preservation of this unique masterpiece. 


The 1980s and 1990s releases contributed vividness and starker contrasts to the imagery.  Even the somewhat misguided version with Irwin Kostal’s re-conducting of the score, which was not fully successful due to problems with synchronization, tempo changes and missing sound effects, was at least a worthy experimental effort which brought renewed awareness to the film and its score.


And now comes Fantasia on Blu-ray.  If you think you know the film, think again.  Nothing will prepare you for the experience of Fantasia on Blu-ray.  


Not only does the touted ‘immersive’ quality of Blu-ray pull you into the film - you won’t be able to stop watching it once you’ve started the disc - but the high definition picture reveals for the first time a plethora of details in both the image and the sound. 


The color palette is more vivid and varied than ever before.  Where color in the 1990 release could have been described as dramatic, on Blu-ray the words pastel, exquisite and infinitely nuanced describe the look of the film now.  The restorative work is spectacular and the screen explodes in color and clarity.


The poster for the late 1960’s release of Fantasia featured psychedelic artwork and billed the film as ‘The Ultimate Experience’.  That kind of sums up Fantasia on Blu-ray.   Also, graininess has been removed from the image along with artifacts, dust and speckles and other defects from earlier releases.


Some of the sequences shot with multi-plane cameras, such as the Ave Maria sequence, now look almost three-dimensional.


A knowledgeable critic complained some years back that the earlier Fantasia DVD failed to capture the full range of colors inherent in the original Technicolor image.  It’s hard to imagine a similar complaint here.  The Beethoven Pastoral sequence now contains a phenomenal range of color previously unrevealed and the same is true of the rest of the film. It’s like it was sort of there before, kind of, but you just didn’t notice it because it was buried.


The sound restoration is also something of a miracle.  Much of the distortion inherent in some of the original recordings has been cleaned up beyond even earlier restorations.  As with the image, the sound improvements are sometimes subtle but more often spectacular.


The Stokowski recordings now contain more bass, more presence and reverberation as well as an extended dynamic range, additional clarity and a fuller more satisfying orchestral sound. 


The Russian Trepak in The Nutcracker segment sounds brilliant and the booming chords heard when the evil god Chernobog unfolds his wings in the Night on Bald Mountain sequence are so powerful that conductor Stokowski himself (a noted sound specialist) would have been most impressed and pleased.


Also included on a separate DVD in the set is the more recent film, Fantasia 2000 which also looks and sounds wonderful on Blu-ray.  Fantasia 2000 is an excellent film in its own right and a worthy sequel to Fantasia.


Extras on the Fantasia disc include an informative new commentary by Disney historian Brian Sibley as well as a fascinating extra called The Schultheis Notebook about an effects man who worked on Fantasia and kept a detailed notebook of how all the special effects were done.  The notebook’s recent discovery was a true treasure; without it, so many of the ingenious special effects would remain a mystery to this day.


The Fantasia 2000 disc extras includes a documentary about a short-film project known as Destino that Disney worked on with Salvador Dali in the 1940s.  The project was never completed, but Disney’s nephew, Roy E. Disney completed it in 2003 and the finished film is included as well. Both discs also contain a number of other extras.


Fantasia was one of the most influential films of the 20th century.  On Blu-ray it is revealed in all its pristine glory along with its striking successor—Fantasia 2000.  The experience of Fantasia on Blu-ray will both overwhelm and uplift you and will truly elate your spirit.  A must-own DVD set?  You bet!

2010 Dennis Kwiatkowski/Celluloid Dreams


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