Despite early mainstream hits such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio, Walt Disney chose to pursue his avant garde sensibilities when he selected Fantasia as the third full length feature film to be made under the Disney label.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of Fantasia, essentially the film is made up of seven classical music segments which have been translated to the animated artform. The most famous however is the films centerpiece; 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice', which finds Mickey Mouse in the titular role of the apprentice who despite his sorcerer talents, manages to manufacture a disaster.
Despite my growing age, I've always been a Disney fan and whilst nothing will ever top The Little Mermaid for me, I've always enjoyed the experience of Fantasia and how perfectly the Disney animators managed to capture the essence of these classical pieces, and translate them for the viewer. It's probably worth noting that allegedly many of the Disney animators were high on LSD at the time of production, which no doubt helped. Keep in mind also that Fantasia is now 70 years old, made and released during World War II. It just goes to show how timeless the film is.
For those reading that don't immediately feel this is something they'd be interested in seeing; I'd strongly suggest to attempt a viewing before passing up the opportunity to see one of the most experimental, yet pleasing animated films yet made.
Fantasia is presented in a full screen aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (its original aspect ratio), encoded with AVC MPEG-4 compression.
The last time that Fantasia was released on home video was 10 years ago for the 60th anniversary DVD set. It featured a decent but now very aged transfer, rife with noise and grain. Now with the passing of digital restoration, rather than celluloid restoration, Fantasia looks better than ever with the significant restoration performed by Lowry Digital. Colour balance is very good; the image is relatively sharp and detailed. Due to the Lowry grain removal algorithm, the film looks a bit soft and more pastel like, but I find this far less objectionable than the noise filled previous release.
Overall, fans will be most pleased with the image on offer here. It's never been bettered.
The main audio track is encoded in lossless DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, at 24 bits.
A lot rides on the soundtrack for Fantasia and unfortunately it's not all good news. The soundtrack was re-recorded for a theatrical re-release in the early 1980's, but I can't confirm whether the Blu-ray features this score, or the original 1941 score. Regardless, the soundtrack is pretty aged, with some pretty strangled high frequency response, and some muddied and hollow bass response.
With all the effort that went into the video transfer, it would have been nice to have the soundtrack re-recorded by a competent orchestra - not as a replacement, but as an alternative audio track. Maybe for the next release?
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Overall, a pleasing effort and likely the best that could be extracted from the original sound elements.
Unfortunately, Disney Home Entertainment has failed to port over almost any of the fantastic extras that were produced for the 60th anniversary DVD. It's extremely weird too, because it seems that those original extras are meant to work in tandem with these new ones. I strongly suspect that a second disc was cut during production. So if you still have the original disc I'd suggest holding onto it, because there's some gold there. At any rate, what do we have? Let's jump in.
First up are the two Audio Commentaries; one provided by Walt's nephew Roy E Disney, animation historian John Canemaker and Disney film restorer Scott McQueen. Roy Disney, whom passed away last year, was always a joy to listen to. He took the Disney legacy very seriously and his presence was always noteworthy through some trying times for the company, and he's always a joy to listen to. The second commentary features a cobbled together commentary from recordings left by Walt Disney, and 'hosted' by Disney historian Brian Sibley. It's a compelling experience and it's nice to hear Disney from beyond the grave.
Next up are two featurettes. First is a virtual tour of the Disney Family Museum, which features Walt Disney's daughter Diane Disney-Miller taking us to the San Fransisco based museum filled with some amazing concept artwork and priceless other works. This would be a simply amazing place to visit and certainly I hope to some day. Next up is a featurette on a specific piece from the museum; the Shultheis Notebook: A Disney treasure which takes a look at the Fantasia special effects bible created by engineer Herman Schultheis, spilling secrets that have been covered for decades. Pretty fascinating stuff, but the history behind it, and what happened to Shultheis himself is even more so.
Finally, the Interactive Art Gallery shows a lot of original concept art and stills from the production of the film, but I grew tired of watching these on screen. Give me a beautiful coffee table book any day.