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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Danish: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Norwegian: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Greek: Dolby Digital Surround
  Subtitles
    English, Hebrew, Greek, Danish, Norwegian
  Extras
  • Additional footage - Roy Disney Introduction
  • Featurette - "Toot, Whistle, Plunk & Boom"

Fantasia 2000

Walt Disney Pictures/Buena Vista . R4 . COLOR . 71 mins . G . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Back in 1940, when Walt Disney let his now-classic animated experiment Fantasia loose on the world, film critics were hovering around that year’s tall poppy. Acclaimed he may have been, but Walt was about to get a solid jolt of nasty realism when he read the reviews of his bold, innovative new film. The critics, of course, hated it - and how could they not? After all, the concept - a series of animated vignettes accompanying excerpts from popular classical works - was roughly the equivalent of one of today’s animation studios grabbing excerpts from Beatles songs and “interpreting” them through their art.

Only one difference. Fantasia was actually a really good idea. The famed animation wizardry of the Disney team was already enchanting audiences of the day, and orchestral music was a familiar sound for movie audiences, as it still is today. Walt went overboard, invented a sound system (“Fantasound”, a 90-speaker behemoth that - gasp - actually worked, but cost the equivalent of a gazillion dollars) and insisted that his film be screened only with the right sound equipment installed - and we know how well that went down when George Lucas tried it sixty years later. Cinema owners promptly told Walt to sod off and cheerfully screened Fantasia with mono sound, and audiences stayed away thanks to the negative reviews. Walt’s plan to update his film every so often by removing some segments and inserting new ones was abandoned, and his company gritted its teeth and set off down the path that would eventually lead them to Kurt Russell, who has nothing to do with this story. Fantasia eventually found its audience, and has long been regarded as a bona fide cinema and animation classic.

Flash forward to the late 1990s. A man named Roy Disney remembers his Uncle Walt’s segment-changing idea for Fantasia and resolves that the time is right for a brand new edition of the concept, just in time for the 21st century. But “Fantasound” just isn’t going to cut it in the era of THX and been-there done-that movie gimmickry. Indeed, these days “Fantasound” is what you hear when someone opens a bottle of fizzy orange soft drink. Technology, thought Roy, has come a long way.

And so Fantasia 2000 was given the state-of-the-current-art treatment in all respects. For starters, it was made in the hugely expensive and very, very high-definition IMAX format, the resulting movie intended for projection on a six storey-high screen with six-channel uncompressed digital sound (though in Australia it premiered in 35mm at conventional cinemas due to a dispute between Disney and IMAX theatre operators). Big in every sense of the word at the presentation end, it also benefited from the leaps and bounds that had been made in animation technology over the intervening six decades. But even with all the best tech at your disposal, how do you follow up a classic and get away with it?

The short answer is that you really can’t get away with it. Fantasia is such a part of movie history, and such a defining moment in film animation, that any attempt to “update” it would be certainly doomed to failure. Instead, what Disney has done is to take on Walt’s original idea for an “evolving” movie - and the evolution is drastic. Of the original film, only The Sorcerer’s Apprentice section remains; undeniably the most popular part of Fantasia, it stands out like a bright shining beacon of genius animation in a sea of very well-done but comparatively uninspired work. That’s not to say that the new material offered in Fantasia 2000 is bad - it’s mostly very good, but it can’t hold a candle to its predecessor. It’s not just that the Disney animation style has changed markedly (as you’d expect it would), but also the fact that the more recent film doesn’t have the benefit of being a part of the childhood of a large percentage of the population.

The new Fantasia is short - very short. It runs for a mere 75 minutes, or a shade over 71 on PAL video, a limitation of the IMAX format thanks to the huge rate at which it chomps through film. Of that running time, over 9 minutes is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence, there’s over 8 minutes of celebrity introductions to the individual pieces, and five and a half minutes is devoted to the extensive end credits. Remove that 23 minutes and you end up with 48 minutes of new animation - so you’d hope it would be rather good.

Fortunately, some of it is. While the opening “pop art” sequence to the famous first movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (now a mobile phone ring tone on a peak hour train near you!) is worryingly silly and faux-abstract, good things await. The whalefest that accompanies Respighi’s Pines Of Rome, which works superbly with the music, is one of the film’s most visually striking sections, though it gets some solid competition from two others. The cleverly animated retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen story The Steadfast Tin Soldier is the kind of stuff Disney’s always done best, and setting it to a Shostakovich piano concerto is an inspired idea. On the other hand, the penultimate sequence, a Noah’s Ark tale featuring Donald Duck, seems impossibly cheesy - and probably isn’t helped by an overblown rendition of Elgar’s aptly-named Pomp And Circumstance March No 1 (better known to monarchists and Goodies fans as Land Of Hope And Glory!) But the best is saved for last - a striking Japanese-influenced sequence that visualises Stravinsky’s magnificent Firebird Suite (a “highlights package” from the longer ballet).

The choice of music, aside from the Respighi and the Shostakovich, is fairly safely “mainstream classical” - most of these pieces should sound at least vaguely familiar. But they work perfectly with the on-screen animated action, and everything’s played with enthusiasm and suitable over-the-topness by the Chicago Symphony with the big-haired James Levine conducting.

And ultimately, the short running time turns out to be a Good Thing - it’s like sitting down to watch an audio CD. Walt would have been well pleased.

  Video
Contract

Fantasia 2000 was shot on 65mm in the IMAX format, which runs the large-format film horizontally and uses an area roughly three times that of a normal 65mm film frame for each image. The resulting original aspect ratio is 1.50:1, closer to the old-fashioned academy ratio than it is to modern widescreen (something anyone who’s been to see an IMAX film will be well aware of). However, the film’s producers were well aware that conventional cinema screenings would mean the image would have to be matted to 1.85:1, and allowance was made for this; naturally, this 16:9 enhanced DVD gives us the film in the 1.85:1 ratio, transferred from 35mm.

And it’s quite a video transfer, too. Richly detailed and completely problem-free both at the source film end and in the DVD compression department, this is a veritable instruction manual on how to transfer a film to DVD the right way. The only time you’re going to see anything that’s less than pristine here, in fact, is during the Sorcerer’s Apprentice section, which is window-boxed at its original 1.37:1 ratio and exhibits a fair amount of grain despite having been computer-cleaned for its new appearance. This is 60 year-old film, of course, and considering its age it scrubs up exceptionally well; most people will be too absorbed by the content to worry about technical matters anyway.

The film is compressed onto a single-layered disc at a remarkably high average bitrate - in fact, it’s a higher bitrate than that used by Columbia Tristar’s much-hyped “Superbit” discs.

The live-action sections - the introductions and linking pieces - look superb, and are cleverly photographed by Tim Suhrstedt (who shot Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure ten years before!).

  Audio
Contract

If Gary Rydstrom is the Name Of Quality when it comes to the sound mix on a dialogue-and-effects movie, then Shawn Murphy is the equivalent Name Of Quality when it comes to movie music. You may not recognise the name, but you’ll almost certainly have heard his work; in less than 20 years he’s worked on almost 220 films, mixing their music scores (and occasionally working on the full film mix as well) and constantly breaking new ground in the presentation of orchestral music in the 5.1 format. With Fantasia 2000 Murphy is in his element, and his music mixes are the audience’s centre of attention for the first time.

If you’ve got a 5.1 sound system and a good set of speakers, you’re going to be thrilled by how good this sounds. A finely detailed recording with an absolutely massive dynamic range, the mix here places the orchestra across the front speakers in the most natural, life-like way imaginable, using the rears for reflected sound and the subwoofer for the seriously low bass content. This isn’t show-off mixing - it’s intelligent and gimmick-free, and that pays off for the many people who’ll listen to this in two-channel downmixed form, where it sounds perfectly fine.

Being an IMAX film, the linking sections take full advantage of channel-panning across the front soundstage - the huge screen demanded it. This can sound a little odd at home, as dialogue drifts off into the right channel though the person speaking is still on screen; it’s very much like the tactics used by the old 70mm epics in the 50s and 60s. The surrounds are used with restraint in these sections, but are very effective when they are called into action - notably during Mickey Mouse’s hyperactive search for Donald Duck after The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The 5.1 audio is compressed, surprisingly, at the lower Dolby Digital bitrate of 384Kb/sec, which theoretically should reduce high-frequency response. However, in this case it sounds perfectly fine, and there’s certainly no shortage of high-frequency energy.

  Extras
Contract

When Buena Vista took over distribution of its own DVDs in Australia and reissued some that previously lacked extra features, we held out high hopes that the Fantasia discs would score the same treatment. Sadly, Fantasia 2000 is struck from the same master as the version that was released through Warner in 2000. As a result, those who buy this disc get a superb film transfer, but miss out on two commentaries, a DTS soundtrack, a making-of documentary, a second animated short and a trailer. It’s a shame - this is one disc that would really have benefited from a DTS soundtrack, and the commentaries would have been fascinating to hear.

What you get is very basic; there’s an introduction by Roy Disney running three and a half minutes, which plays when you start up the disc and is also available from the Special Features menu. Presented windowboxed at 1.33:1, it’s fairly unmemorable except for the moment you’ll want to throw things at the screen image of Roy - namely, when he credits Disney’s Feature Animation department with the innovative Toy Story films, not mentioning the films’ real creators, Pixar, at all! Bad form, Roy.

Aside from that, you get a solitary short animated ‘toon - a 1950s effort called Toot, Whistle, Plunk & Boom. A kind of music-education effort shot at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio (but not 16:9 enhanced), it’s rather forgettable and very much a product of its time, as evidenced by the vocal arrangements.

  Overall  
Contract

As John Lydon once said, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? A premium-priced DVD, this region 4 version of Fantasia 2000 drops almost all the extra features from the US version, omits the DTS soundtrack and generally goes out of its way to be seriously poor value for money.

That’s a shame, too, because the transfer of the actual movie is state of the art; if extras don’t interest you and you just want the film, you’ll probably be perfectly happy with this disc. But it’s a shame that Buena Vista hasn’t taken the opportunity to bring this disc up to the standard that US consumers have enjoyed all along.


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      And I quote...
    "...generally goes out of its way to be seriously poor value for money... that’s a shame, too, because the transfer of the actual movie is state of the art."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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