Both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 look achingly breathtaking on Blu-ray, courtesy of Disney's AVC encode. You would have to be mad to think they would look otherwise, really. The Studio's output in hi-definition has been utterly exemplary to date.
Fantasia is presented with Disney's now staple viewing option for such vintage 1.33:1 fare – the Disneyvision custom-painted panels that transform the pillars either side of the square-box picture into theme/mood accompaniments to the film. You don't have to view it with this feature activated, but I can't think of a good enough reason why you wouldn't want to. Harrison Ellenshaw's artwork is fitting and complimentary.
The restored image for this classic film looks amazing.
There is some ringing around the people during the live-action interludes that, to be honest, I found a little distracting. Whether this is some rather unnecessary edge enhancement – it does look like basic EE – or whether it is just down to the lighting and the photography, I mean Stokowski is silhouetted against a lushly saturated background, I’m not entirely sure. Banding is in very slight evidence a couple of times in the intensely colourful image, but I encountered nothing in the way of untoward artefacts or any aliasing taking place.
With the nature of the animation, there isn’t the clinical attention to finite detail, but with a picture this good, this smooth and this positively radiant, this is not even an issue. Fine line detail, patterns and backgrounds lose nothing. A Night On Bald Mountain, for me, seems to offer the best and most varied styles of animation, and also the most intricate, clearly promoting the best of all worlds that the transfer has to offer – fluid motion, massed activity, splendid fidelity, exotically eerie shadow definition and spot-on contrast – look at the demon’s eyes, and his infernal fire. The colours are entrancing right across the board – thick, opulent and rich with the warm gleam of Technicolor. The primaries do not pop from the screen as they would with Pixar, but Fantasia is bathed in the sort of just-melted rainbow that you just want to dive into and never come up for air.
This is just as good, folks, in overall terms. Presented in its original 1.78:1, Fantasia 2000 contains glossy colours and an image that positively oozes class.
The live-action segments are not hindered by the haloing around objects or people that the original film suffered. No aliasing occurs that I could see, and the image is immensely warm and strong. The colour palette is impressive, with vibrant primaries, beautiful blues and smooth blending and shading, but there are elements of slight aliasing and blocking taking place that almost place this transfer of the film’s CG animation below the rich smorgasbord of the traditional hand-drawn counterpart found in the original. That flat, glacial blandness of early CG vistas is prevalent, though easily ignored once we are underway.
Detail, however, is much more acute than its predecessor. And this is where the CG elements provide the greatest difference over the hand-drawn. We lack the organic feel from the world before the computer, but we gain finite depth and detail in the backgrounds, the textures and the subjectivity. The whale sequence and the sprite story, especially, reveal this more stylised, yet deeper-delineated form. And just look at those colours – wildly deep reds for the cataclysm in the forest, for example, and lusciously cool blues and greens for the Antarctic seas. The fine-line animation during the Rhapsody in Blue segment and the flamingo-piece is tight and exacting. The fluid motion of the sprite as she flees from the Firebird, and the rolling tumble of animals during the Donald Duck story are also brilliantly transferred to 1080p.
In short, both films look astonishing and reveal the scope and beauty of Disney at its most sophisticated and diverse.
Both films in this programme are presented with DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio tracks.
People have been commenting on how immersive this 7.1 track is, but I didn’t actually find it very immersive at all. Sure, the reach of the orchestra is far and wide, but this is not a track that fully embraces the extra channels that, in this case, are supposed to provide the impression that you are sitting in the middle of a concert hall, with all of its appropriate reverb, echo and separation. Don’t get me wrong, though, this sounds wonderful – there is no argument there. But there is an immediate difference in width, positioning and musical depth when you then listen to how the sequel’s sound-design has been mixed. Of course, that shouldn’t be a surprise – Fantasia 2000 is a helluva lot more recent and has definitely taken advantage of the improvements in sound capture and design.
Instrumentation is fabulously well-realised. Exquisite strings float and flare. Rolling percussion sends tremors around the room. The brass cavorts and blurts and twists and soars, and the chimes shine out from beneath the massed energy of the orchestra, or sing out from the misty depths of tranquillity – as we hear in A Night On Bald Mountain. Voices during the Ave Maria section are delightfully rendered, although they do possess that sound of the, ahem, “olden days”, if you know what I mean. We get lots of decent bass with this presentation, though, with brass and heavy percussion shuddering through with the appropriate swagger and aggression. Clashing cymbals sound magnificent and high ends are clean and bright, with keening strings and horns. Separation is fine and effortless with that frontal soundstage nicely dimensional and dynamic at all times.
Now this is more like it. Here, the 7.1 configuration really comes alive with swirling, immersive orchestral vigour. This track provides ample detail and activity for the surround speakers to play with, plenty of oomph for the bass to chew over and spit out and smooth directionality for the different sections of the ensemble.
Once again, the instrumentation is sharp and crystal clear. The music sounds clean and robust. When it lulls, or falls away, the quiet, itself, that is left in its wake, is tangible. When sweeping, elegiac passages are called for – as in the humpback whales story – the music literally does flow at us and then all around us. And then, when all-out bombast is required, with the accompanying Donald and a multitude of animals escaping the Great Flood, say, or showcased with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 at the start, the audio track provides might and weight and grandeur. As I said in the main review, this former sequence is scored with the “wrong” music, but I cannot argue with its presentation here. The finale is suitably rousing, with blissful melody, then demonic fury, and finally exultant victory. The spread of the orchestra sounds more vital and all-encompassing than ever before, then individual players certainly getting their musical points across with unmistakable dexterity.
Dialogue, too, is much better. Warm and mellifluous and clear, as opposed to the starched and somewhat boxed-in speech from Deems Taylor in the original. This just sounds more “open” … and who doesn't love hearing James Earl Jones, anyway?
You'll notice straight away that there appears to be a lack of featurettes across the board with this release. Much of the material that has appeared previously has not been ported across to the discs themselves. However, it still exists if you have an internet connection and utilise the BD-Live function via Disney's Virtual Vault, that will take you to a vast array of supplements. There are introductions to each piece of music and film, making of's, abandoned concepts, animation run-throughs, a glimpse at the Fantasia That Never Was, trailers and other goodies. But, to be honest, this smacks less to me of Disney embracing technology and rather more of them indulging in a cost-cutting exercise. Call me a traditionalist, but personally speaking, I prefer these documentaries and extras to be on the disc. Anyway, the material is still there and can be downloaded and bookmarked as you like.
The package, elsewhere, is made up of two BDs and two DVDs and both films still feature some great stuff to be savoured in the conventional menu/click button fashion.
As well as a tremendously musical menu-screen, we get three commentary tracks. The first one is a solo affair from Disney historian, Brian Sibley. Now here is a guy who knows his stuff yet despite his love for the topic still remains marvellously honest about the Studio and about Walt's projects. He manages to combine fine detail about the film we are watching, what went into making it and its lasting appeal and impact with an engrossing overview of Disney's influence upon Cinema, and how the two evolved simultaneously. Obviously a devout fan, he is also able to speak about the topic without sounding fawning or sugary. Sibley even makes reference to the censorship that the film suffered, and the loss of those few racially controversial frames. The next commentary is one of those archival pick 'n' mix tracks that hauls in snippets and interviews with key members of the Disney stable to discuss various elements of the production process and ideology behind the film. This pretty comprehensive track is introduced by Roy Disney and hosted by historian John Canemaker. And the last chat-track, which I'm afraid does seem like a bit of overkill considering all the repetition that it delivers, puts Roy Disney together John Canemaker, conductor James Levine and one of the men who oversaw the film's glorious restoration, Scott MacQueen.
There is a 14-minute featurette devoted to the recent unearthing of a highly prized production notebook composed by Herman Schultheis, that offers up some of Disney's secret animation and special effects techniques in A Disney Treasure.
Interactive Art Galleries for both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 can also be found here, with a vast library of truly fantastic images, from concept sketches to full renderings to production stills, on offer. This is great stuff and almost addictive in its detail and variety.
And, finally, we can take a four-minute look at the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco in a little promo featurette.
We get to hear from the animators and directors of each of the sequel's vignettes in the first of two excellent commentaries, as they discuss the ideas and evolution of their tasks, and the mood they wanted to evoke. Roy Disney returns to chat in the second track, and he brings with him the bushy-haired conductor James Levine and producer Donald W. Ernst. Typically entertaining and informative, this supplies a wealth of production background to the making of the follow-up, their creative aims and how they tackled a continuation of Walt's inspiration.
In Destino (7 mins), we get to see the completed piece of weird and surreal animation that was the brain-child dreamed up by Walt Disney and Salvadore Dali, but something that the audacious pair never saw come to fruition.
Dali & Destiny: A Date With Destino is a feature-length documentary (82 mins) that delves into how the collaboration between these two artistic geniuses came about. Also serving as a potted history of the two and their work, this is an excellent piece that is well worth investigating.
And finally on this disc, we get a look at what became of Disney's originally intended follow-up to Fantasia in Musicana (9 mins).
Disney present two magnificent and unusual entries on a lavish Blu-ray platter that does full justice to the audio/visual splendour that their creators intended. Both Fantasia programmes are suffused with all the magic of the House of Mouse and a more scintillating introduction to worlds of classical music and of animation you could not hope to find. The original film was a gamble for Uncle Walt that took decades before it finally paid off. Now, it is quite hailed as a masterpiece. The imagery is incredible and mixes the slapstick with the satanic, and the cute with the chaotic. It is a riot for the senses that begs to be savoured on the biggest screen you can find and with the sound fully cranked up. The sequel is not quite up to the same high standards, but it creates a beautifully satisfying accompaniment, or second movement, if you will, to the sublime ideology that Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski envisaged in their strange and eclectic collaboration.
This four-disc Special Edition is almost everything a fan could ever want. The AV quality, as expected, is fantastic, and the extras go the extra mile … or rather, they would if they were all here in the package. Disney's decision to include a host of supplemental material only via a BD-Live portal is something that may cause consternation for those who are not internet-savvy, or for those who just prefer the good old fashioned way of accessing things. But, having said that, there are some tremendous features here, just the same. Great commentaries, a fabulous feature-length documentary and the inclusion of the Dali/Disney offshoot, Destino, certainly make this a package that is mouth-wateringly tempting.
Fantasia is something special … and it belongs in every BD collection.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.