Fantasia Review
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When most people think about animated Disney films, they think about fairy tales and cute talking animals. And, for the most part, that’s pretty much what you’ll get when you pick up a Disney movie. But not Fantasia. In this 1940 classic, there’s no doe-eyed princess, no handsome prince, no happily ever after. And it’s not the kind of movie that children everywhere watch over and over and over again, giggling all the way through. No, Fantasia is Walt Disney’s very own animated art film—a striking visual interpretation of beloved classical compositions.

Fantasia feels more like seven animated shorts than a full, cohesive feature, since each of the main scenes exhibits a different animation style, to match its classical inspiration. For instance, there are abstract swirls of color to illustrate Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” while “The Nutcracker Suite” is an iridescent display of flitting fairies and twirling flowers.

  
 
Some of the musical numbers are more whimsical—like “Dance of the Hours,” with its hippo ballerinas, or Mickey Mouse’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (which was so popular that it recently got its own live-action reimagining). And these are the moments that kids will enjoy the most—the playful, more traditional Disney moments that will make them giggle.

But the film has some dark—and surprisingly grown-up—moments, too. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is accompanied by images that travel through the planet’s evolution, from a time of fire and volcanoes through the fall of the dinosaurs. During Beethoven’s Pastoral “Symphony No. 6,” topless centaurettes frolic with a drunken Bacchus. And in the film’s finale, “Night on Bald Mountain,” a terrifying demon summons his worshippers—before their night eventually comes to an end with an angelic rendition of “Ave Maria.”

Fantasia is like a colorful music appreciation class, taught by Walt Disney himself. It covers a little bit of everything—from light and whimsical to dark and nightmarish, from the natural to the mythical, from the scientific to the spiritual. And it’s all wrapped up in a mesmerizing package. For each viewer, the experience will be a little bit different—and everyone will have his or her favorite moments.

Still, Fantasia definitely isn’t for everyone. I first saw it in theaters when I was young, during one of its re-releases—and although I was drawn in by the bold music and fascinated by the imaginative animation, I still remember losing interest before the end. It is, after all, two hours long—and that’s a lot of classical music for most young viewers to handle. Fortunately, though, now that it’s available on Blu-ray, it’s easier to pick and choose scenes—to play one or two at a time or to show your kids only the ones that won’t give them nightmares.

Disney’s Fantasia is certainly an unconventional (and unexpected) animated experience—like a night at the symphony with Walt and Mickey. But while it may not have the fairy tales and talking animals that you’ve come to expect from your favorite Disney movies, it’s a beautiful artistic experience.


Blu-ray Revew:
Disney’s Fantasia is now available in a massive four-disc, two-movie Blu-ray/DVD combo release, paired with the film’s sequel, Fantasia 2000.

Though the two movies themselves are reason enough to pick up a copy, the Fantasia disc also includes a number of special features—which, like the film itself, will be slightly more interesting for adult viewers. The two main features explore more of Disney’s history—both as it’s on display in the Disney Family Museum and as it’s preserved in The Schultheis Notebook, an early Disney employee’s remarkably detailed journal, which has been called “the Rosetta Stone of special effects animation.” There’s also a massive interactive art gallery, which includes gorgeous artwork, sketches, and more from both films.

Or, to hear more about the film from the people who know it best, you can choose to listen to one of two audio commentaries. One features executive producer Roy Disney and conductor James Levine, along with animation historian John Canemaker and restoration manager Scott McQueen. But my favorite commentary features recordings of Walt himself, taken from three decades of interviews.

Fantasia isn’t as feature-filled as some Disney Blu-ray releases—but if you’re interested in Walt Disney and his magical animation, you’ll want to take a few minutes to explore the disc’s extras.

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