Saturday, November 21, 2015

FANTASIA/FANTASIA 2000: Blu-ray (Walt Disney 1940-1999) Disney Home Video

For me, it is virtually impossible to hear even one note of Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours without instantly conjuring to mind visions of lithe and balletic hippos, ostriches and alligators cavorting together in one of the lighter moments from Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940). What a miraculous achievement it remains; ensconced somewhere in the darkened recesses of my memory banks and likely to have been absorbed into at least a part of my DNA since that first viewing so long ago. Exposed to Walt’s masterpiece for the very first time at the age of eleven, I can honestly say I was instantly, and as equally, enthralled and bemused; in hindsight, two reasons I suspect the picture did not go over as it ought to in 1940 – first, because, at eleven, the scope of my child’s comprehension of what animation was – or rather, could be – was unaccustomed to what I was about to see; also, my expectations for the art of animation then had been primarily weaned on, and gleaned from, Saturday morning cartoons and other Disney features, following the conventional wisdom of interjecting plot into these colorful pictures. But a ‘concert feature’…what was that?!?
With great certainty, I could then profess to never having seen a movie like Fantasia before. Later, I was to discover no movie like Fantasia, in fact, existed. Walt’s unique vision for his ‘concert feature’ was meant to be an ever-evolving series of fanciful experimentations and lushly exuberant meditations. That Fantasia miserably failed to find overwhelming favor with audiences in 1940, and together with Pinocchio’s spectacular implosion at the box office, fiscally handicapped Walt’s creative freedom to pursue more elaborate projects for the duration of WWII, would continue to preoccupy my overall beguilement with Fantasia over the years, perhaps as much as it stuck in Walt’s craw, perplexedly and begrudgingly to haunt him to his grave. Indeed, in Walt’s own lifetime he was never again to test the creative waters so unreservedly, falling back on lucrative ‘packaged’ entertainments like Make Mine Music and Melody Time (the poor man’s pop-art version of Fantasia) while diversifying his empire into live-action movies, and later television and finally, theme parks to stabilize his company’s fiscal security. Arguably, Walt would gamble only once more with ‘cartoons’: 1959’s lavishly appointed Sleeping Beauty – the second highest-grossing picture of 1959 that, alas – due to Walt’s own extravagances in preparing the picture – did not make back its production costs either.
With subsequent theatrical reissues of Fantasia in the late sixties, its’ reputation as a cult classic grew. Today, Fantasia is readily and rightfully regarded as a magnum opus; one of many made under Walt’s inspired leadership, cementing our communal understanding of childhood, both its daydreams and nightmares as no filmmaker before or since has even dared with such audacity, consistency and purpose. Walt Disney remains one of the most instantly recognizable and influential filmmakers – nee, geniuses – of the 20th century.  If we can agree that the purpose of animation is to illustrate that which otherwise cannot be expressed in the cinema arts, then Fantasia endures, and must unequivocally be considered the purest form of self-expression, surreal and sublimely artistic, monumentally engrossing, and, supremely satisfying. Walt’s ‘concert feature’ surpasses all expectations, though chiefly, in marrying the intangibleness of some of the world’s most exquisite orchestral compositions with the finitely detail of hand-drawn cell animation. 
Merely to reconsider where Walt’s extraordinary gifts as a storyteller might have taken us, if only Fantasia had been both the critical and financial zeitgeist he had hoped for, saddens me. But the pall of the nation’s more highbrow musicologists, casting their aspersions upon his brainchild in 1940, forced Walt into a sort of resentfully apologetic retraction of his passions, issuing a statement to the press that, in part, read “Perhaps Bach and Beethoven are strange bedfellows for Mickey Mouse, but it’s been a lot of fun.” Yet, even Walt would disagree with this assessment of Fantasia; the experience of making it proving as uncertain to downright hellish as anything he might have anticipated at the outset. Having spent far too much in development on his latest ‘Silly Symphony’ short subject in order to resuscitate the lagging popularity of his most famous creation – Mickey Mouse – Walt had effectively passed the point of no return when a chance meeting with renowned conductor, Leopold Stokowski seemed to offer him a way out. Why not make the short a feature and build an entire series of vignettes around ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’; the only commonality between them, their adherence to classical music and a running commentary provided by no less an authority, than noted critic and musicologist, Deems Taylor? From the outset, Fantasia was begun as a highly cerebral and thoroughly impassioned project and its’ concept was nothing less than revolutionary.
But by the end, Fantasia had drained every last drop, not only of Walt’s creative energies, but equally, depleted the coffers of his studio. Looking back now, one is even more humbled by Walt’s fervor to elevate the art of animation to a level as yet unsurpassed.  It was risky business even back then, in fact; too risky for RKO, the studio usually distributing Walt’s pictures to partake. Indeed, RKO wanted absolutely nothing to do with Fantasia, forcing Walt to incur the spectacular costs to produce and distribute it himself for a limited roadshow engagement – and in Fantasound no less (a precursor to modern-day stereo). The creation of Fantasound alone is a staggering innovation, decades ahead of its time. Today, we reflect on such achievements from a vantage truly spoiled by our technological miracles. But in 1940, Walt and his sound mastering technicians were nothing short of burgeoning with the true pioneer spirit. Modern era Dolby owes a great deal to Fantasound and to Walt Disney for having the guts to invest in a virtual unknown commodity. 
Over the years, an insidious rumor has evolved to suggest Fantasia was both a critical and fiscal fiasco. Nothing could be further from the truth. In New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, the roadshow engagement of Fantasia played for a year to sell-out crowds with tickets sold months in advance. In these larger metropolitan centers Fantasia was exuberantly greeted by the public too with giddy excitement. The New York Times, San Francisco Herald and Chicago’s Chronicle ladled their high praise on the picture, calling it ‘magnificent’, ‘stupendous’ and ‘a miracle’.  Nevertheless, Walt was to endure a double whammy with Fantasia’s release; first, to meet the crippling cost of retooling a select few theaters to accommodate the experimental six-track ‘Fantasound’ – also, to produce a collectible programme befitting a night out at the ‘legitimate’ theater; second, to realize the very nature of Fantasia’s conception virtually prevented it from reaching the smaller markets in a manner befitting its initial design.  Point taken: Fantasia was practically designed to fail.
Yet, it was the utterly tepid audience reception outside of these big city venues, compounded by the authoritative ennui of music critics that ultimately frustrated Walt. Having failed to grasp his concept – either labeling it as Walt’s ‘lowbrow’ attempt to do highbrow proud, or chastising Walt’s sheer chutzpah to aspire to highbrow – inadvertently alienating the longhairs and their middle class counterparts who, presumably, had only come to the movies to see a glorified Mickey Mouse cartoon; the net result of their temerity to chastise what they obviously had not understood left Walt defeated and vowing never again to chase after such an single-minded vision. The same critics who had heralded Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938) as an incomparable masterpiece were now suggesting Disney’s reach had exceeded his grasp; small-town America – the ‘bread and butter’ barometer by which all movie-land product was either judged a winner or a dud – giving Fantasia their ‘thumbs down’; apparently, agreeing with these critics.
Barring the ‘jam session’ and introduction of the soundtrack as a living entity, effectively inserted as an ‘intermission’ midway; Fantasia is divided into seven distinct musical vignettes; each quite unlike the one preceding or following it and, even more incredibly, divergent from anything yet achieved in the medium of hand-drawn animation; the final sequence consolidating two contrasting pieces of music (Modeste Moussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, and Franz Schubert’s Ave Marie) to illustrate the struggle between the forces of good and evil. Walt virtually defied conventional wisdom in his own time to explore some of the most progressive avenues, bringing unprecedented scope and complexity to his 20th century ‘world view’ of these ensconced concert pieces.  Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor opens Fantasia with homage to German-American abstract animator, Oskar Fischinger; Walt, unable to resist taking his pseudo-Fischinger impressionism into periodic bouts of more concrete visualizations with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Symphony sometimes superimposed into these interpretations; brightly colored spots casting colorful overlapping shadows upon the walls or illuminated kettle drums at precisely the moment their taut canvases are struck.
From this conjectural interpretation of sound as sight, Fantasia explores more easily identifiable imagery to tell its next vignette. Eschewing the centuries old interpretation; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet; Suite, Op. 71a is devoted to the four seasons; the screen filled with fairies, water lilies, highly stylized goldfish and ice-skating sprites. Beginning with spring, we transition to early morning in a dense forest, dew sparkling on the newborn foliage; following a cascade of twirling lilies over the edge of a bubbly waterfall. The most famous of these vignettes has unintentionally taken on a phallic representation in more recent times; Walt’s Busby Berkeley-inspired array of fan-tailed goldfish forming geometric patterns below the water’s surface, chased away by flesh-colored oriental dancing mushrooms. These are immediately chased away by Cossack-kicking gladiolus. The final episode in The Nutcracker is devoted to a late autumn frost, transforming nature’s bounty into an azure oasis, populated by glistening snowflakes and pincer-legged sprites. Disney’s version of The Nutcracker is perhaps Fantasia’s most visually spectacular sequence, which is stating a great deal, considering the myriad of treasures yet to follow it.   
Now, the animators introduce us to Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; the whole reason for Fantasia’s coming into being in the first place; Walt adhering to the time-honored tale; re-cast with Mickey Mouse as the amiable novice of the title. Determined he should elevate his status to be more than simply the fetch-and-carry for his Teutonic master, Mickey borrows the sorcerer’s cap after he has retired to bed, commanding a small army of brooms to perform his menial task of filling the cistern with fresh water from a nearby well. Alas, the magic invoked takes on a life of its own; the neophyte rendered powerless as his maniacal minions flood the workshop; thus threatening to destroy everything. At the last possible moment, the sorcerer is stirred from his slumber and, with a mere wave of his hands, ends this deluge, using the now inanimate broom to hasten his presumptuous trainee outside. The sequence is charming in its own right. But in 1940 it also introduced audiences to a radically redesigned Mickey Mouse from the one to which most had grown accustomed; the animators adding new and more realistic facial expressions; also, pupils to Mickey’s eyes.
The first half of Fantasia concludes with Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, composed in 1913 and, by far, the most recent piece of music in its repertoire; Walt determinedly tackling the creation of the earth and the plight of the dinosaurs as his subject matter. With all the realism invoked by Spielberg’s marauding dinos in the Jurassic Park franchise, we forget that, barring Windsor McKay’s rather fantastic and comical Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) and some brief start-stop animation glimpsed in King Kong (1933), Hollywood had not endeavored to resurrect these towering creatures from the Cretaceous period on film for obvious technologically implausible reasons, and certainly never with such awe-inspiring and pseudo-realistic graphics. For decades thereafter, high school science teachers would utilize Rite of Spring to illustrate the early evolution of this planet to their students. Indeed, looking back on this sequence now, one can only marvel at the exacting purity of its vision; Walt inspiring his technicians to explore virtually all the experimental SFX technology created at his studio for over a decade; rotoscoping wind effects, smoke and bubbling mud to simulate volcanic activity with startling results.
The ‘jam session’ intermission is a brief chance for Stokowski’s finely disciplined musicians to cut loose with an impromptu vamp; a highly amusing mini-vignette that feeds into the old cliché about ‘when the cat’s away…’; Stokowski’s reappearance on the conductor’s platform, suddenly quieting everything down. Deems Taylor introduces us to the soundtrack, a rather introverted, occasionally neurotic and decidedly camera-shy thread running vertically down the center of the screen; coaxing this unassuming chord to perform various sounds, graphically illustrated with zig-zagging lines of lurid color. Fantasia’s musical program gets back on track with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 ('Pastoral') Op. 68; the Disney artisans taking their cue from Fred Moore to indulge in a bit of Greek mythology. However, the creation of the centaurs, frolicking in a nearby waterfall, became cause for some minor concern regarding censorship. While the male figures sport brawny bare chests, much belabored debate ensued over the equally as bare-breasted females of their ilk. To be sure, these remain in the picture, although they are quickly and decorously outfitted with Hawaiian-styled leis, artfully draped by amused, and equally as nude, winged baby cherubs. From this rather audacious opener, Walt delves into a bacchanal; the revelry cut short by the gods of ancient mythology; Zeus firing up the storm clouds and forcing everyone to take refuge. At storm’s end a fabulous rainbow is swept away by Helio’s chariot and the advancing cover of night; Diana shooting her arrows into a night sky glistening with stars. Rite of Spring remains Fantasia’s most decadent vignette, immediately followed by what is assuredly its most farcical.
Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, from the opera, La Gioconda, had suffered the slings and arrows of critical backlash for being one of the most repurposed pieces of music in recent history. As such, Walt’s interpretation of a literal ‘dance of the hours’ took Ponchielli to task one step further; transforming the clumsiness of ostriches and the formidable girth of elephants and hippos into the quintessence of tutu and bubble-blowing lithe ballerinas; the corps de ballet invaded by a Ali Ben Gator and his crocodilian entourage. Dance of the Hours is undeniably, Walt’s most Disney-fied sequence; the term not yet coined, but in hindsight, veering towards the kind of cutesy/cuddly animals we have come to expect from a Disney animated film. The trick in the exercise is that it never seems a strange bedfellow for either the documentarian Rite of Spring or the even more deadly serious battle between good and evil immediately to follow it. 
Modeste Moussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain had most recently been heard at the movies – in part – in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) as a repurposed cue to mark Dorothy’s rescue and escape from the wicked witch’s castle.  Yet, its ominous strains were hardly ‘a standard’ outside of the concert hall venue and, even then, rarely resurrected. The interpretation of Moussorgsky’s symphony took to task no less a threat to the human world than the devil himself, rechristened ‘Chernabog’ and largely animated by one artist – Vladimir Tyla – whose undiluted conjuring of pure evil has arguably never been rivaled. The inspiration for Chernabog was German artist, Heinrich Kley whose drawing of this gigantic winged demon forcing workers out of a factory by blocking its chimney was eventually picked up by artist, Albert Hurter, who refined various sketches of this fallen angel, indiscriminately tossing tortured souls into a live volcano. From Hurter's initial sketches, artist, Kay Nielsen created more detailed pastel illustrations, as well as the official model sheet for the creature, passing it along to Tyla to animate.
Drawing on his own Ukranian ancestry and classic European folklore, Tyla’s Chernabog emerges from the peak of Slovenia’s Mount Triglav on the Witches’ Sabbath; Tyla incorporating the natural landscape into his character’s design; the mountain ‘unfolding’ to reveal two gargoyle wings and a muscular/horned anti-Christ, invoking the restless spirits from a nearby graveyard to rise from their tombs as his minions for a night of revelry around his fire pit. Viewed today, Night on Bald Mountain remains a supremely unsettling sequence; Tyla infusing his demon with a grotesque animalism. Few movies outside of Universal’s initial spate of gothic horror classics from the early thirties – made prior to the installation of the Production Code of Ethics – have been as bold in their depictions of the supernatural world. Certainly, nothing like a Night on Bald Mountain has ever been achieved in the realm of animation; the spirits, hellacious, vengeful and terrorizing the small Tyrolean village at the foot of the mountain.
The minions swirling about are graphically depicted; bare-breasted witches, exposing themselves from beneath tattered, flowing robes and skeletal, fanged crusaders riding bareback on haunted steeds. The resurrection and the light, introduced at the height of Cherabog’s sinful merriment by the soothing toll of a church bell and steadily creeping dawn, set to the calming strains of Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria, Op. 52 No. 6, restores normalcy to the earth and draws order from this chaos. And yet, the hallowed, darkly cloaked and faceless figures, who lead this candle-lit processional through a forested cathedral and into the glorious burst of sunrise, are somehow less impressive by contrast and comparison; Fantasia concluding on an almost listless note of purity.  While technologically a masterpiece of the multiplane camera, first pioneered by Walt for 1937’s Silly Symphony short, The Old Mill, the last act finale to Fantasia remains its most bloodless and dissatisfying.  
It has often been said Fantasia was ahead of its time; Walt’s ‘grand and gutsy experiment’. Yet, Disney had very little pretensions toward high culture. At least, from a technical perspective, this much is true; whether considering the effects animation pioneered and/or elevated to a new level of craftsmanship, or, in conceiving an entirely new form of aural experience in the theater, equipped with no less than thirty speakers to envelope the audience in Stokowski’s rich orchestrations, and, even still, in humility of Walt’s somewhat ballsy progressivism, a collision between high and, arguably, low culture; Fantasia marked a staggering departure from the status quo. In 1940, surely it ranked amongst the rarest wonderments in modern cinema.  We would, of course, be remiss in not mentioning at least a handful of the highly skilled artisans whose work on the picture has influenced a new breed of animators; Norman Ferguson’s mastery of broad staging; Hamilton Luske’s analysis and streamlining of procedural duties that helped promote the company’s assembly line output, but with an unprecedented attention to quality and detail; Vladimir Tytla’s emotional intensity, and finally, Fred Moore’s delightfully ‘cute’ endearing appeal for the warm and fuzzy creatures only sporadically populating Fantasia’s backdrop.  
Unfortunately for Walt, the music critics were all but unkind to his grand gesture. Those anticipating furry forest animals and sweetness of the Silly Symphonies ilk were instead subjected to a fairly adult interpretation on everything from the creation of the world to demonic possession. Bewildered at how best to review such an bold and unprecedented break with tradition, many newspapers sent both a film and music aficionado to review Fantasia; only to have the former emerge considerably alienated by the plot-less experience; the latter, much offended by Walt’s cheek in depicting hippos, minotaurs and goldfish indulging the likes of Dukas, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Walt had intended that his ‘concert feature’ should always be evolving with new segments constantly being added. However, following Fantasia’s epic disappointment, all such plans were immediately scrapped. Henceforth, Walt would regard the picture as a painful personal failure. Time, however, was on Fantasia’s side. Largely due to its resurrection on college and university campuses, and two theatrical reissues to bookend the 1960s (first, in 1963, then again in 1969) Fantasia’s reputation as a bona fide work of art steadily snowballed.
As a one-time animation student, I can recall meeting several Disney animators at Sheridan College for a Q&A back in 1991, where one of the most readily repeated inquiries was "when will there be another Fantasia?" The response then was both cordial and cryptic; but even suggestions about a possible ‘follow up’ on the horizon (though hardly in development) were met with spontaneous applause. By the end of the decade, the rumored resurrection of Fantasia had become fact: Disney Inc. debuting Fantasia 2000 in 1999. In hindsight, Fantasia 2000 is an epitaph to the studio's second golden epoch in hand-drawn animation first inaugurated in 1989 with the startling success of The Little Mermaid and ostensibly capped off by a decade's worth of mind-boggling returns to the Disney tradition with Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules, and, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Fantasia 2000 is a little worse for the wear because of its adherence to ‘star’ introductions. Perhaps in reconsidering that contemporary movie audiences were even less likely to know any of the noted musicologists of their own generation, Fantasia 2000 is instead anchored in various cameos from former Disney Inc./Touchstone Pictures alumni; Steve Martin, Bette Midler, Penn and Teller, Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones among them. James Levine conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; a curious choice, especially when considering the higher profile and thus mainstream marketability of The Boston Pops, by then under the baton of Keith Lockhart. 
As it had served as the inspiration for the original Fantasia, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is now the centerpiece of Fantasia 2000, excised from its predecessor, slightly cropped and matted to conform to the new 1:85:1 aspect ratio of its successor. The Sorcerer's Apprentice is bookended by some of the most visually arresting animation yet achieved at the studio. The Pines of Rome, as example, is an engrossing undersea ballet with graceful killer whales serving as weightless titans of the silvery surf. Carnival of the Animals is an obvious homage to the irrepressible humor in Dance of the Hours; with a flock of jealous flamingos – caught in conformist mode – vehemently attempting to censure one of their own who has recently discovered the joys of a Yo-Yo. The Steadfast Tin Soldier Concerto No. 2 is a relatively faithful adaptation of the classic fairytale about an unlikely romance between a one-legged toy soldier and the music box ballerina he adores from afar.
Stylistically speaking, Fantasia 2000 is all over the place. While the original movie had a sort of homogenized look to it, by this, I mean to suggest all of the hand-drawn art follows a lucidity based on the time-honored principles of hand-crafted cell art known to the Disney artisans until then, the goal of the various directors toiling independently on Fantasia 2000 seems to endeavor to make each sequence as startlingly unique as all the technological prowess gleaned since 1940 will allow. Fantasia 2000 is capped off by two truly inspired artistic moments; the first - a story of rediscovering childhood simplicity in adult life; the set of circumstances necessary to procure ‘a happy life’ in cluttered downtown Manhattan, circa mid-1950’s, ranging from the successful procurement of gainful employment for a down-on-his-luck welder, to a wealthy – and rather snobbish – middle-aged couple, rediscovering why they fell in love with each other by adopting a puppy, to a harried upper middle-class mum and dad frantically reunited with their wandered off prepubescent daughter; George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is a veritable feast for the heart and eye, melding together one of the all-time great pieces of music from the 20th century with the finite, yet equally as free-flowing, linear artistry of celebrated caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld.
Arguably, the picture’s pièce de résistance remains its finale, The Firebird Suite, (owing a great deal to the forest fire sequence from Walt’s own Bambi, 1942); a no holds barred and nothing short of mesmerizing sequence, begun when a spark of lightning ignites the mythological fiery phoenix, who lays waste to this majestic forest, only to have the green earth goddess, nee Mother Nature, resurrect the land to its former natural splendor. The greatest of all animation stirs the heart as it beguiles the eye; The Firebird supremely satisfying on both counts; its themes of rejuvenation, both earthy and spiritual, concluding Fantasia 2000 on a powerful note. The animation in virtually every sequence featured in Fantasia 2000 is exquisite. A pity it is bookended by self-congratulatory introductions; some, like Angela Lansbury - rising above the triviality of her scripted narration, while others – particularly, Penn and Teller and Bette Midler, foundering badly with virtually nothing to contribute except a feeling of unease that settles in even before their brief moments in the spotlight have begun. Nevertheless, Fantasia 2000 is compelling entertainment - a sumptuous visual feast brilliantly conducted by James Levine and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Prepare to be astonished! For just as publicity of its day declared "Fantasia will amaze yah!" Disney Home Video’s 2-disc Blu-Ray is geared to impress in every way. Quite simply, the image quality on both features exhibits superior resolution; a gorgeous and grain-preserving image on the original Fantasia and a markedly more creamily smooth - yet as sumptuously sharp – hi-def transfer on Fantasia 2000. There’s really nothing to complain about here. Colors on both features pop as they should. A monumental preservation and restoration effort on the original Fantasia has yielded an impressive clarity, with boldly saturated Technicolor oozing from every inch of the frame. More than ever, Fantasia is a visceral and eloquent 'experience' not to be missed. Startlingly beautiful, with all but a handful of minor hints to belie its 70+ years, Fantasia sparkles as the crown jewel of this bygone era in hand-drawn animation. The original Fantasia's audio - named 'Fanta-sound' by Walt – was decidedly ahead of its time.  And it remains a testament to Walt’s faith in burgeoning technologies, even more so since the advent of true HD 5.1 stereo, these original audio stems, recorded with decidedly primitive equipment back in 1940, have nevertheless retained their aural integrity, given renewed life in repurposed 5.1.DTS as few soundtracks from this vintage are able to reproduce. The meticulous attention paid to Stokowski's orchestrations back in 1940 have weathered exceptionally well in the interim. 
For its 1982 reissue, Fantasia was re-recorded by noted conductor, Irwin Kostal to produce a Dolby Spectra-Sound ‘true stereo’ experience. Alas, at the time, this impressive endeavor was judged the lesser to Stokowski and dropped from all subsequent theatrical reissues of the picture. It would have been prudent of Disney Inc. to include the option of listening to both the original and Kostal’s orchestrations, purely as a comparative analysis. But no – Kostal’s re-orchestrations are nowhere to be found on this disc – a minor oversight. Something else to consider: the bookended sequences hosted by Deems Taylor – the noted musicologist who serves as MC– were dropped from subsequent truncated reissues of Fantasia until 1982, at which time it was regrettably discovered Taylor’s original recordings were in such a delicate state of disrepair they could not be preserved and/or represented in any satisfactory way to contemporary audiences. Instead, the studio hired Corey Burton to mimic Taylor's vocalizations. To be sure, Burton’s work is credible – even a valiant effort – and, those never having heard Taylor are apt not to notice this dubbing job.
Extras are a bit of a mystery: we lose the comprehensive ‘making of’ hosted by David Ogden Stiers that accompanied the DVD release – replaced on this Blu-ray by a new audio commentary from Brian Sibley. It is comprehensive to say the least, but I still would have preferred the original ‘featurette’, rife with vintage outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage. Herein, we get 4 ½ minutes devoted to the opening of the Walt Disney Museum as well as 14 minutes on Herman Schultheis' technical processes as ‘effects coordinator’. On Fantasia 2000, we get another audio commentary by Roy E. Disney and James Levine, a brief featurette on Salvador Dali and Walt, and the short, ‘Destino’ original begun in 1945, but only more recently completed in 2003. Bottom line: and quite simply, Fantasia is a masterpiece. Its sequel falls a little short of this benchmark, though not by very much. This 2-disc set comes very highly recommended for lovers of animation in general, of Disney animation in particular, of Stokowski and Levine, or simply to devotees of classical music. Walt’s original intent to bridge the gap between high and low brow, with Fantasia becoming all things to all people, has arguably come to pass. Some 70+ years too late for Walt to appreciate, the fruits of his labors have decidedly been recognized. It took the rest of us far too long to catch up to you, Walt. But God bless you for trying to improve our minds.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Fantasia  5+
Fantasia 2000 4
(both movies) 5+

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