Back in the 90's, my family and I owned a video store and I still remember the day we got in our stock of Disney's Fantasia. Of course, back then it was only available on VHS, but even so, I loved it so much that I forked out quite a bit of cash to eventually get my hands on one of the Box Sets – complete with certificate of authenticity, etc. I still have that VHS box set today in perfect condition – never viewed. Now I realize DVD was a step up from VHS, but it didn't inspire me enough to get the movie again in that format. But when it became available on Blu-ray hi-def, that was another story – I knew I had to have it. Low and behold I now have one of my favorite movies of all time as a 4-disc combo pack with both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 on both Blu-ray and DVD.
Fantasia / Fantasia 2000
I would find it hard to believe that anyone reading this review hasn't actually seen the movie already, but just in case… to put it simply, Fantasia is an animated interpretation of music. In actuality, it's much more than that. Fantasia is an artistic masterpiece that combines the soul of classical, instrumental music with the imagination and vision of Walt Disney and his animators. It was Walt Disney's dream to create a series of animated films based on this concept. Unfortunately, the movie-going public at that time just didn't understand (or maybe just didn't like) the type of film that Fantasia represented. Instead of a movie, it was more like going to a classical concert and animated art show all rolled into one entertainment experience. So the first 2-hour+ film was all there was, until the year 2000 when the more successful Fantasia 2000 was released.
Fantasia 2000 is a more modern take on the original Fantasia concept. The overall concept is the same, but with a more modern presentation and only a 75-minute playing time. Combine that with narrative appearances from stars like Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, and Steve Martin, and you have a film that actually did well at the box office. Even kids can enjoy this shorter, more contemporary version. What's great now that both films are available in one package is you have something for both adults and kids, and since both films provide different material (although some of the older sequences from the original are included in 2000) you get over 3-hours of main feature… plus, there are some very nice bonus features.
The Blu-ray 4-Disc Special Edition Combo Pack
In this pack, you get both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 on both Blu-ray and DVD for a total of 4 discs all contained in a single case with a beautifully illustrated slip-cover. The new adaptations of the films on Blu-ray are amazing. The video is a huge step up from the old VHS version. While you can still see some artifacts and banding if you really look for it, there's no noise whatsoever. Keep in mind that the original is very old material, so this transfer is excellent. Of course, the original was also only available in the square 4:3 aspect ratio, but you can watch on a widescreen using Disney View – this feature displays colorful artwork instead of the usual black bars. Fantasia 2000 is presented in widescreen, except for the parts where excerpts from the original were included (such as the Sorcerer's Apprentice).
As a musician, I'm always very critical of movie soundtracks, but as usual, Disney has done a great job with both Fantasia films. One thing that my prevent you from experiencing the wonderful immersiveness of the musical score, however, is if you don't have a 7.1 surround sound system. Sure, it sounds good in stereo, and 5.1 sounds good, but you'll only get the full effect with 7.1. Disney went out of its way to take advantage of the 7.1 sound field and this being a very musically-oriented movie, you really have to hear it in 7.1 to appreciate it completely. The original Fantasia soundtrack is especially less engaging without 7.1. However, Disney does provide a 5.1 home theatre soundtrack for each movie as long as you don't mind the narration being in French or Spanish.
Fantasia Bonus Features
Audio commentaries abound in the Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 bonus features. You'll find no less that five different commentaries, all of which are interesting and informative. You'll hear from Roy Disney, conductor James Levine, producer Don Ernst, Disney historian Brian Sibley, animation historian John Canemaker, film restoration manager Scott MacQueen, the directors and art directors, and you'll even hear some clips of Walt Disney himself (along with a special appearance by Mickey Mouse during the Sorcerer's Apprentice). You'll want to listen to them all.
There's also the Disney Family Museum, where Diane Disney Miller offers a short tour of the Museum in San Francisco. Musicana showcases Walt Disney's idea of how Fantasia was meant to be an ongoing feature. The Schulethesis Notebook: A Disney Treasure is a featurette about a fascinating book of notes kept by one of the animators, Herman Schulethesis. The Interactive Art Gallery provides animation and art work stills for browsing with background music. Dali & Disney: A Date with Destino is an 82-minute documentary about how Walt Disney and Salvadore Dali collaborated to create the short film, Destino. Also included is the 6-minute Destino film. And finally, there is a BD-Live feature called Disney's Virtual Vault, which gives you access to some making of features. Unfortunately, this feature requires high-speed Internet access and it's my only real gripe about the entire Fantasia package. I would have really liked to have the making of features included on disc.
Fantasia is Timeless – Walt Disney
Fantasia is one of those works of art that represents a milestone in entertainment history. Walt Disney wanted to do something that had never been done before, and not only did he create a great masterpiece, he innovated the field of animation to new levels in the process. If haven't seen Fantasia, you must buy this collection and watch it now. If you've seen it before, you've never seen it like this – the new Blu-ray rendition is wonderful. Both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 are two films that belong in everyone's home theater library.
Additional information: Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 on Blu-ray and DVD