Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Fantasia

It's time for another installment of Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly perusal of my DVD library where I watch one of my movies and "go off on it," as my friend who suggested I do this described it.  Today, we get to one my favourite Disney animated films, Fantasia.  In my notes, this entry carries a date of September 1, 2012.

Disney's Fantasia.  This movie poster is for the 1990 re-release.

Ah, Fantasia.  The artsy-fartsy of the Disney animated film canon.  I've always been fond of it myself.  It was actually one of the first DVDs I bought.  10 years ago or so, when DVD was new and exciting, Disney released this very prestigious boxed set called The Fantasia Anthology, which contained Fantasia, Fantasia 2000, and a third disc dubbed The Fantasia Legacy which had all the bonus features you could ever ask for on the making of those two films.  And that boxed set was one of the first things I bought to watch on my shiny first DVD player.  For some reason, though, I started having this paranoid delusion that my Fantasia DVD might be suffering from disc rot and not playable anymore.  So I figured I should watch it to make sure it still works.

I'd seen bits and pieces of Fantasia during my childhood.  Disney released the individual segments as 16MM films, and as such, they were popular in my elementary school music classes for rainy afternoons.  I finally saw the whole film from beginning to end back in 1990, when it was finally released on VHS.  With Fantasia's release on video in 1990, Disney really tried out their "vault" concept for the first time.  It was only available for 50 days, and then never again.  My Mom picked it up, and i watched it quite a bit as junior high rolled on.

I remember when I was showing off my first DVD player and showing off Fantasia to my friends.  One made the comment that she always felt that the famous Sorcerer's Apprentice sequence felt out of place...like it belonged in another movie.  Well, that's kind of the case, and that's kind of how Fantasia came to be.  The Sorcerer's Apprentice began production before the entire film.  It was originally meant to be a prestigious animated short.  But, as production continued, Walt Disney and legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski, who was conducting the orchestra for The Sorcerer's Apprentice, really fell in love with the concept of merging animated images with classical music.  The decided to make a whole film like that, with the working title The Concert Feature.

For the 2000 DVD release, Disney went to painstaking lengths to restore the "Roadshow" version.  Roadshow versions of movies were common in the Golden Age of Cinema.  They played only in the major cities.  Sometimes, like in the case of Fantasia, they ran a little bit longer.  And they were meant to be prestigious events, with souvenir programs and the like.  So, if you were seeing Fantasia when it first hit theatres in New  York City in 1940, this is the exact film you'd see.

Well, Disney had to make one change.  The film is narrated, and each segment introduced, by Deems Taylor.  Apparently, back in 1940, he was a pretty big deal in classical music circles...working to bringing it to the masses, and doing a very popular radio show about the classics.  Perfect choice for Fantasia.  However, the main bit of restoration work for the roadshow version meant his longer introductions to the segments.  Disney found that the audio was degraded beyond repair.  So, they brought in legendary voice actor Corey Burton (Brainiac on Superman: The Animated Series) to re-dub Taylor's lines.  It's a little off-putting, because Burton does get a little Brainaic-esque in some parts.

So let's get into the segments, shall we?

I forget the name of the music, but it's your generic spooky castle music.  This one plays out a bunch of abstract shapes.  Always kind of weird for my tastes.  Fantasia had a resurgence in popularity in the 1960s as part of the psychedelic movement....this was a great way to open it, then.

Next is the Nutcracker Suite.  Probably my favourite.  Rather than the Christmas tale we're all familiar with, we see sprites and pixies dancing in a garden throughout the seasons. 

The Sorcerer's Apprentice.  What more needs to be said?  I'm sure we've all seen it and/or are familiar with it.

Rite of Spring.  I find this one weird as hell.  We're treated to prehistoric times, and the origins of life on Earth.  We got dinosaurs in this!  And as it was made in 1940, some of the science is now hilariously out-of-date.  Back then, rather than an ice age that killed the dinosaurs, they thought it was a massive global warming event.  So it ends with all the dinosaurs going on this death march across an endless desert.  I guess it's not so much weird, as it is scary.  And the T-Rex that shows up just seems a little cartoonish and out of place, but still, very scary.

The Pastoral Symphony.  Roman mythology is theme for this one.  I remember seeing this for the first time.  There's topless female centaurs in this, right?  I saw it and went, "OH MY GOD!  BOOBS!  IN A DISNEY MOVIE!"  Yeah...I'm immature.  The boy centaurs show up, and they all pair off.  Bacchus shows up, and they proceed to eat, drink, and be merry.  Then Zeus shows up and he has to be a dick and blasts everything with his lightening bolts.  But the little baby pegasuses are cute.  According to The Fantasia Legacy, Disney did seriously giving the baby Pegasus a couple of animated shorts.

Dance of the Hours.  Ostriches, hippos, elephants, and gators doing ballet.  The most pure Disney cartoon out of the bunch.

Night on Bald Mountain.  More well-known spooky castle music.  But again, dancing demons in a Disney cartoon.  And some of the demonesses are topless! 

Ava Maria.  And Hell gives way to Heaven as we follow a procession through the woods. 

But that's Fantasia.  It had been a while since I'd watched it, and I'm glad to say that it still captures the imagination.  Sounds really good on the surround sound, too.  Apparently, when it first came out in 1940, it was recorded in a process Disney invented called "Fantasound," which was a very early attempt at a surround sound system.

But yeah.   Still liking it.

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