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Fabulous Fantasia

I’ve always had a special affection for Walt Disney’s 1940 folie de grandeur, perhaps because it was the first film I was fully conscious of seeing as a film — to the point where, as a terrified three-year-old during the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence, I clearly remember looking away from the screen to find that mysterious beam of light coming from a hidden place in the rear of the balcony, the apparent source of all dreams and nightmares.

After a ten year home video moratorium, “Fantasia” has now been issued in a truly glorious Blu-ray edition based on the 2000 restoration of the more-or-less complete road show version, which Disney self-distributed to a handful of theaters, equipped with the first commercialized stereo sound system, “Fantasound,” in 1940. Spread over two discs, it’s a very full package, containing a rich array of supplementary material, including the ill-conceived sequel “Fantasia 2000” in its entirety, and the curious “Destino,” a short spun from a few images that Disney commissioned from Salvador Dali. My New York Times review is here.

122 comments to Fabulous Fantasia

  • tygreg

    “I’d add that Takahata’s “Little Norse Prince,” a crucial film in Japanese animation (I’d like to hear what you have to say on that, Junko) is available on Netflix streaming as well.”

    Takahata is actually apropos re: the ongoing discussion about Disney, too, as they are still sitting on his absolutely masterful “Only Yesterday” due to concern over a short scene in a bathhouse. Although, thankfully, there are DVD options from Europe and Asia for it, unlike “Song of the South”.

  • And yet Disney had no problem when it came to an American DVD showing the inflatable, malleable scrotums (scrota?) of the tanuki in Takahata’s subsequent film, ‘Pom Poko’!

    Incidentally, surely Takahata’s 8-minute, near-wordless sequence in ‘Pom Poko’ depicting the supernatural hyakki yakô parade (“night walk of one hundred demons”), when he references eight centuries of Japanese art, is the equal of any ‘Fantasia’ segment?

  • I believe Disney is also concerned about the segment in Only Yesterday dealing with girls beginning menstruation (and boys responding to this process).

  • Junko Yasutani

    TAIYO NO OJI is Toei studio anime. Making first feature movie Takahata was not interfered with for story, had support of studio to make good movie and taking long time to prepare and film. Otsuka was supervising animator but Miyazaki also making contribution to story beside also important animator for movie.

    TAIYO NO OJI was successful to critic but not released properly so it was box office failure, and Takahata was punished by studio. Because so many people who changed anime worked on this movie, it is key movie in history of anime.

    But because so new kind of story was acceptable from that time.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘surely Takahata’s 8-minute, near-wordless sequence in ‘Pom Poko’ depicting the supernatural hyakki yakô parade (“night walk of one hundred demons”), when he references eight centuries of Japanese art, is the equal of any ‘Fantasia’ segment?’

    Oliver C, I am glad you have seen, so wonderful sequence!

    OMOHIDE PORO PORO (ONLY YESTERDAY) should be seen. I did not know that Disney controlled American release. If European version can be seen, please see it.

  • Yasutani-san, I’m pleased to have watched ‘Pom Poko’ in Japan back during its original 1994 release, among a packed and appreciative audience. I didn’t understand a word of Japanese then, but Takahata’s rich images spoke for themselves.

  • Only Yesterday (Isao Takahata, 1991) is really good!
    Saw this subtitled on cable TV some years back. Don’t know which version this was.

    Only Yesterday is really educational. You learn all about traditional and farm life in Japan. It is very interesting. And fun.
    An animated short from Canada I liked:
    Madame Tutli-Putli (Chris Lavis & Maciek Szczerbowski, 2007)
    This is surreal and atmospheric.
    On those dancing hippos:
    The people who made the wonderful Fantasia understand ballet. The hippos and ostriches move like real ballet dancers, and the choreography genuinely captures the spirit of ballet. This is part of what makes the episode so good.
    I love films that merge two of my great loves, film and classical music.

  • Rick K.

    The offending FANTASIA pastoral footage has been on You Tube for quite some time for all to see and, as is apparent here, the Disney suppression of it will certainly not bury the issue. Is it modification or mutilation? … is it a righteous alteration, or simply indignant? We know that Disney’s transgressions of racial attitude were shared by others in the industry during the years in question, but the fact that their name and legacy are still so strong in contemporary culture, and still a POTENT force in “influencing” (or at least impressing upon) young minds unable to otherwise grasp the evolution of social enlightenment since that time, make FANTASIA and SONG OF THE SOUTH particularly vulnerable (in the case of SONG OF THE SOUTH, it is simply being avoided … but if you want that movie on DVD, probably copied from the Japanese laserdisc, its easy to find).

    I believe George Lucas was finally coerced (reluctantly, so they say, after fan insistence) to issue the initial STAR WARS trilogy on DVD without his “Special Edition” modifications, which had long since overrided the original versions, although the most ardent objections involved a relooping of dialogue which apparently redefined the Harrison Ford character as more of a maverick than a hero (perhaps a Star Wars cultist will correct me if I’m wrong here). I guess the question remains, are the ranks of cinema purists sufficient to launch a vocal tirade at Disney in the name of art (and to a lesser extent, commerce, since bootlegging that material is detrimental as well … in fact questions of commerce would probably be more convincing to corporate ears). It might not get them to reissue a corrected Blu-ray but, perhaps as someone here suggested, a mail order (isn’t there a “Vault Disney” online club of some kind?) for SONG OF THE SOUTH would be a safe and highly appreciated initiative to get the film out legitimately. Thus allowing home theaters across the country to schedule coordinated art house double bills with WONDER BAR, then immediately jump on line to a cinema chatroom and experience more of the spirited controversy which has obviously been shared here this week.

    The FANTASIA Blu-ray was a must for me because, like Dave Kehr, it was one of my very first movie theater memories as a child. It was a momentous event, though interestingly, the most startling memory for me was when those wonderful images on screen suddenly expanded (I think during the Nutcracker sequence) from standard to widescreen! It was only years later that I learned that the print I saw during that 60’s revival must have been a print which was created for a 50’s reissue, which was artificially revised/horizontally cropped during the initial CinemaScope era to take advantage of the sudden public acceptance and desire for widescreen movies (no doubt it was intended as a good promotional tool, creating a new look for an old favorite … I believe GONE WITH THE WIND was subjected to a similar stunt). As a youngster who was admittedly glued to a small b/w tube most of the time at home, I can in retrospect understand my awe at this spectacle, even though I may now cringe at the thought of trimming nearly half of all that magnificent animation to create the widescreen effect!

    I was also very intrigued by the inclusion of the Dali/Disney DESTINO, a short created from original artwork which actually would have been a very beneficial inclusion in the FANTASIA 2000 feature (adding to the highlight ledger of that very mixed endeavor), though it was not completed in time. But very curiously, it is only included as a supplement on the Blu-ray edition, not the DVD, so it may indeed be the first noteworthy release to be ONLY available on Blu-ray … though, curious again, the manufacturer will only sell the Blu-ray as a DVD/Blu-ray combo (retailing for $45!), even for those of us who already have the DVD from its previous availability.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Another neat non-western from Republic on Netflix – The Fatal Witness (1945), a rare mystery from Lesley Selander, starring Evelyn Ankers as the niece of a murdered wealthy woman, with another relative suspected on the killing. Just 59 minutes long, compact, again very atmospheric and inventive.

    My guess is that they keep track of what is being watched, so hopefully they’ll keep feeding the inventory with more of these.

  • Antti Alanen

    December 6 is Finland’s Independence Day and Sibelius is playing on the radio. A reconstruction of The Swan of Tuonela sequence is among the Fantasia bonus materials. The music performance is fine and the visualization is impressively austere (not at all Finnish but who cares, the subject matter is universal). Tuonela means “the land of death”, and it might have been too much for a film that already includes The Night on a Bald Mountain. Children still find it scary.

    About Sibelius and racial issues: the great singer Marian Anderson had a Finnish pianist, Kosti Vehanen. Sibelius admired Anderson so much that he wrote special arrangements of his songs for her, most importantly of the Jewish Girl’s Song in 1939. Anderson visited Finland several times, and when she met Sibelius for the first time in 1933 the composer said: “My roof is too low for you”.

  • Rick K. –

    I think you reversed the Han Solo issue. There’s a scene in the original version of STAR WARS where Han Solo surreptitiously unholsters and fires his gun under a table at a bounty hunter with whom, up to that point, he had been verbally sparring. Lucas changed this in the special edition to include an effect that made it look like the bounty hunter shot at Han first, so that Han’s shot went from a preemptive strike to an act of self-defense. Lucas changed things to make Han more heroic, but the fans demanded the return of the original characterization of Han as more of a scoundrel.

    The whole issue has its own Wikipedia page which is worth a look because of the different kinds of concerns raised by Lucas and the fans: Lucas was concerned with the message children watching the movie would get, the fans preferred more ambiguity and also felt that the rejiggered scene wasn’t plausibly put together.

  • Perhaps Dave was too modest to include it, but for the sake of Kehrian completion, here is a link to his review in the Book Review yesterday of Lethem’s volume on They Live.

  • Larry Kart

    Just re-watched “Pinocchio” and noticed the anti-chronological fact that in the scene where Gepetto, Cleo, Figaro, and Jiminy Cricket are washed ashore after escaping from the insides of Monstro the Whale, but Pinocchio is missing, until he is discovered face down, half-buried in the sand and seemingly dead, Pinocchio’s position closely resembles that of the dead U.S. soldier on the beach at Buna, New Guinea, in 1942, in the foreground of the famous photo that caused a sensation when it was eventually published in Life magazine in 1943, supposedly the first photo of WWII U.S. war dead to be released:

    three years after “Pinocchio,” of course. And yet, does not the atmosphere of dread and violence that permeates much of “Pinocchio” have roots in the already ongoing fact of the war?

  • Hi all – haven’t had a chance to chime in lately, and when I wanted to, my arguments were usually taken care of (I’m in the pro-auteurist camp), but I’ve enjoyed reading when I got the chance.

    Since Netflix Instant has become topical, I will add a very strong western from Charles Marquis Warren, HELLGATE. It’s modest in means but finds plenty of room for expressive use of space and editing. Recommended.

  • “Making first feature movie Takahata was not interfered with for story, had support of studio to make good movie”

    Juno, the impression I got was that there was an animator’s strike at the studio at the time, and Takahata’s sympathies were with the strikers.

    Also, that the studio gave its support at first, but when it went overtime and over budget, refused to give the money to finish two large-scale action sequences. You can actually see these sequences online–they’re suggested by still frames.

  • jbryant

    I’ll second Jaime’s reco of HELLGATE, which impressed me when I caught it on Encore’s Western Channel last year. It also benefits from one of Ward Bond’s better performances.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘there was an animator’s strike at the studio at the time, and Takahata’s sympathies were with the strikers.

    Also, that the studio gave its support at first, but when it went overtime and over budget, refused to give the money to finish two large-scale action sequences.’

    That is true Noel. Because of strike no interference on the movie, and studio supported. But strike was settled, then taking long time to finish so sequence was not filmed. Important point is story was allowed, different kind of story from previous anime. Because of story and commitment by Takahata, TAIYO NO OJI is important to anime history.

  • Others found on Netflix (Instant only):
    CRACKING UP (Jerry Lewis)
    GUNN (Blake Edwards)
    EXPERIMENT IN FEAR (Blake Edwards)
    METROPOLIS, restored
    WILD IS THE WIND (George Cukor)
    BULLFIGHTER AND THE LADY (Budd Boetticher)

    There are others, of course.

    The IMDb is an underrated resource for streaming films – free titles, in many cases. I recently downloaded (and can’t wait to watch) THE KENNEL MURDER CASE, a Philo Vance mystery/William Powell vehicle that was recommended by a friend. Didn’t cost a penny.

  • jbryant

    Jaime, that Edwards title is actually EXPERIMENT IN TERROR. I’ve always wondered what happened to Anita Loo, who played Ross Martin’s girlfriend in that, but appears to have made no other films.

  • Thanks – I think I unconsciously conflated it with the Mulligan!

  • The Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 blu-rays were released in Finland this week, and first now I realize that they don’t include the Fantasia Legacy material of the Fantasia Anthology box set (2000). Thus neither Claude Debussy’s Clair de lune nor Jean Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela is included in the blu-rays.

  • Larry Kart

    An old topic, but in regard to SONG OF THE SOUTH and the Disney sense of/attitude toward race, the other day I watched DUMBO for the first time in many years and was struck my two things 1) the literally, and very eerily faceless black roustabouts who put up the circus tent (with the assistance of the elephants), and 2) of course, the crucial intervention of the corps of hipster black crows who at first ridicule Dumbo when he ends up in their tree, then are ashamed and shed tears when Timothy the mouse upbraids them for picking on an unfortunate and finally respond by teaching Dumbo how to fly.

    Unpacking the various layers here may or may not be easy, but I’ll ask a few questions.

    1) Why was the literal facelessness of the roustabouts felt to be necessary? Yes, the scene of the tent-raising is one of mass action (and is perhaps the most striking in the film) and thus calls for stylization, not differentiation of individuals, but to see men with no facial features at all has IMO the opposite effect. One can’t fail to notice this and is likely to find it odd, even alarming, especially if one is a child. And yet that is the choice the filmmakers made.

    2) If the faceless roustabouts are a throwback to the era of “Show Boat” (if that), the hip crows, however one regards them otherwise, ARE pretty hip for 1941 — stylized to be sure, but the exaggerations are based on contemporary observation and involve some considerable degree of interest.

    What kind of interest? It’s more than just comic typing, I think. That the crows’ first response to Dumbo is mockery/ridicule seems to be based on the principle that that is their style, something they engage in because it is at once defensive/protective and a source of pleasure to them — a permissible and satisfying mode of showing off one’s prowess (as in “The Dozens” in real life).But then, when Timothy admonishes the crows for mocking Dumbo, I think it’s pretty clear that he’s saying or implying, “How can YOU guys [i.e. part of a group that are treated as categorical unfortunates or worse] fail to identify with this put-upon little fellow?” Thus, the crows’ eventual tears are tears of identification (that they have this capacity for empathy and the will to act upon it is clearly meant to be much to their credit). And is the solution they devise for Dumbo in some sense meant to be theirs as well? If so, how is that meant to affect the audience, in the broad social sense?

    Quite a load of interlocking fantasies — some of them mine, perhaps, but most of them I think are right there on the screen. And I can see where the most “positive” ones might be thought of as quite insidious, or at least highly ambiguous. But it would seem that African-American life and styles of life loomed large in the Disney studio’s collective mind on more than one occasion.