WHAT ELSE CAN ONE SAY? FANTASIA ASTOUNDS!
Posted on Dec 08 2010 by Greg
Some of us can remember a time when it seemed unthinkable that a classic Disney animated feature would ever be broadcast on TV at all, and with the rare exceptions of Dumbo
and Alice in Wonderland
(which was edited), they were not broadcast for decades but only reissued to theaters.
When home video came along, again it seemed out of the question that Snow White, Sleeping Beauty
-- and especially Fantasia
-- would ever, ever be released on VHS tape. Now it's become a nostalgic memory to recall the fervor that arose when, one by one, they all did become part of many home libraries.
The release of Fantasia
was always an event when I was growing up because Disney didn't release it nationwide with a big ad campaign. It just suddenly appeared every few years in theaters and each time, seeing it was like living through a multi-sensory experience. It's not like a movie, per se, but more of a journey.
When it was issued on VHS, it was a huge seller. Surely Walt Disney
, who was apparently disappointed throughout his life that the public never embraced Fantasia
the way he dreamed they would, might have felt some closure. It was the success of the VHS sales that helped Roy E. Disney
convince Michael Eisner
to green light what became Fantasia 2000
.This new multi-DVD/Blu-Ray package
combines both films for the first time. If you didn't get the DVD last time, do not hesitate this time because it should be in every home. If you want to see and hear it as never before -- plus finally get a look at the fabled Disney/Dali collaboration, Destino
, this may be the thing that tips the scales in favor of getting that Blu-Ray player for a holiday gift.
There is nothing like Walt Disney's Fantasia
, including its countless imitators. You never run out of things to notice with each viewing. And thanks to the generous audio commentaries and supplemental materials, you can gain an even greater insight into what a mammoth enterprise Walt Disney had the tenacity to take on. It was produced during a period when his artists were at the peak of their form and right before the strike and the war changed things forever.
Some of my own little notes about the original Fantasia
Ever notice how many characters are waking up and going to sleep? What's that big blocky thing going down the hallway in "Toccata and Fugue?" (Even Roy didn't know.) How many action, horror and sci-fi movie scores must have borrowed elements of "The Rite of Spring?" And was I the only person in the late '60s/early '70s who burst out laughing during "Dance of the Hours," not because of the funny hippos and ostriches, but because Allan Sherman
used the tune for "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh?"
It's fitting that Fantasia 2000
is being reissued to the public after Waking Sleeping Beauty
, in which we learned more detail about Roy E. Disney's pivotal role in turning the Disney corporate tides, and then seeing and hearing him as a major guiding force behind this film, which was very much a personal triumph for him.
The miracle is that such an ambitious project as Fantasia 2000
is excellent, too, combining reverence for the original film and its techniques with the newest innovations. How can you not admire the brilliant "Rhapsody in Blue," the hysterical flamingos, the lush and lovely "Firebird" sequence, and the rest?
The live-action 2000
"interstitials," though largely amusing to diffuse the stuffiness that one might have found in the 1940 Deems Taylor
hosting duties, will probably date 60 years from now, too, with several of the celebrities being obscured by time and generations, but they are there merely for marquee value and are fine.
My only quibble is that Bette Midler
seems a little too flip and dismissive of the early Fantasia
sequences that were considered then dropped from the original. Nothing against Ms. M, but the approach comes across as if these lost concepts were all "losers," reducing these ideas to mere eye-rollers, like the one about "Salvador Dali and baseball." It kind of flies in the face of the years of effort Roy put into restoring Destino
and to the countless artists whose work was deleted for reasons other than "dumbness." It's a cute segment, and she is charming as ever, but it just seems a little insensitive.
The new audio commentary by the always welcome historian Brian Sibley
is, as expected, richly detailed with endless facts about every minute of the 1940 film, along with mini bios on the artists involved. Some of it overlaps with earlier commentary from other historians, particularly John Canemaker
, but if you don't have a Blu-Ray, you only get the new one and not the two earlier ones.
The two earlier Fantasia
commentaries are wonderful because they feature Roy, Canemaker and "2000" Conductor James Levine
on one, and Canemaker again on the other one with none other than Walt Disney himself in various clips, plus spot-on readings of his notes by an astonishingly gifted voice actor, who also redubbed Deems Taylor when the restored footage was found to be missing a lot of original audio.
[Note to collectors: If you have the three-disc Fantasia Collection
DVD set, you'll probably still want to keep it, though, because there are still a lot of extras, like all the concept art and background materials, that were included on the Fantasia Legacy
disc that are not in the new package.
The most touching moment, for me, came when the audio commentary for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" started, and there was Roy talking with Mickey Mouse
, performed in the vocal persona who we have had the pleasure of enjoying for the past several decades. This was the Mickey I have personally witnessed doing radio interviews at various Disney events, filled with good humor and crackling wit. What a wonderful treat and what a irreplaceable treasure to have now.
So what's the big deal with Destino
? Well, it is a big deal because it was considered unfinished and never to be completed. With the help of John Hench
, who worked with Walt and Dali originally, and again Roy's dogged determination, it was completed with the original soundtrack intact (it's a Latin pop love ballad, by the way, sung by Dora Luz
, who sang "You Belong to My Heart" in The Three Caballeros
. It is strange? Weird? Disturbing? Nutso? Oh yeah! But how cool! And what a miracle that this once-in-a-millennium collaboration survived and we can actually see it at home!
One last note : on the commentary for the interstitials for Fantasia 2000
, producer Don Hahn
talks about the design of this otherworldly concert hall, with its "sails" carrying images around the frames (and on the selection menus).
How appropriate that a film that is so much a result of the teaming of Roy E. Disney with great Disney artists, past and present, should have "sails," since sailing was his passion?
Along with Disney heritage and legacy, of course.
THE WIZARD IS BAZ IN THIS "BALLROOM"
Posted on Dec 04 2010 by Greg
Before he started making movies with Hollywood names and geting known for the breakneck editing techniques of Moulin Rouge
, Australian director/co-screenwriter Baz Luhrmann
gained international acclaim and a shelf of awards for Strictly Ballroom
, a quirky, highly stylized light drama about a young dancer who apparently isn't allowed to improvise and the young plain Jane who becomes his partner.
Filmed with a marvelous Aussie cast, Luhrmann made up for a clearly limited budget with flashy lighting, dynamic color and a an eclectic mix of musical styles. Though referred to as musical, there is no on-camera singing and the songs are used as dance background for the most part. Doris Day
's hit, "Perhaps" is referred to by Luhrmann as a "pricey" acquistion for the film but very much worth it.
Disney fans will want to listen for "Os quindines de ya ya" which serves as the key music for the father's dancing past. "Ya ya" was the big number in Walt Disney
's The Three Caballeros
in which the produce lady danced with Donald Duck
, the townspeople and an animated dancing city. Another song, "No Other Love," was a '50s pop tune adapted from Chopin
which was a hit for Jo Stafford
and was one of the handful of Disney songs that were not created for movies but just as pop hits, like "Shrimp Boats" and "Mule Train."
I never could quite cotton to the whiplash pace of Moulin Rouge,
so even though Strictly Ballroom
sometimes has a Howard Hawks
rate of speed, it's not all in the editing but rather in the performances, which are uniformly excellent. The opening scenes were so raucously done that they reminded me, of all things, of an episode of The Monkees
Parents should take note that, although this film has a PG rating and is not as gritty as it might have been, there is some strong language and one scene in which a dance judge and and a young woman are seen in bed, vigorously engaged what my dad used to call "spoo-ja-doo."
This special edition DVD
includes an audio commentary from 2002 with Luhrmann, Choreographer John "Cha Cha" O'Connell
and Production Designer Catherine Martin
and a new half-hour chronicle of the story behind the film, which was a Cinderella story in itself, from a student musical to a plucky little film with a first-time director and star to a dubious opening with a negative review, all the way to a Cannes Film Festival award win. This film was quite a change of pace in its day, many years before the dawn of popular TV dance competition shows like Dancing with the Stars
and So You Think You Can Dance.
Have to add, though, that the first time Antonio Vargas
and Paul Mercurio
begin the pivotal paso doble dance, it can't help now but conjure up an image of Buzz Lightyear
's Spanish mode in Toy Story 3.
DON'T FIRE THIS "APPRENTICE" -- IT'S BETTER THAN YOU MIGHT HAVE THOUGHT
Posted on Dec 03 2010 by Greg
When Disney announced a live action adventure feature based on The Sorcerer's Apprentice
, at first it was met with disbelief. When it became clear that it was a action/fantasy more in the manner of a modern day Harry Potter, the general reception improved. However the box office did not yield results as spectacular as the resulting film.
It's a shame because my family and I enjoyed it in the theather and again seeing it at home on this DVD/Blu-Ray release
. Nicolas Cage
plays the mentor sorcerer Balthazar in the manner of his performance in National Treasure
, a crowd favorite, and Jay Baruchel (who scored much higher, box-office-wise, in How to Train Your Dragon) does a creditable job as a likable young nerd who learns the apparent connection between science and magic.
The cast appears to be having a ball. The always entertaining Alfred Molina delights in yet another larger-than-life villain role, much more rich than the one he was given in Prince of Persia.
There are some deleted scenes as bonus features (more on the Blu-Ray than the DVD) and making-of feature, but no commentary, which might have been welcome. However there is that thoughtful narrative description feature for the sight impaired and those of us who might like to listen to the movie without watching -- like the classic Disneyland Storyteller LP series of days past.
The film's centerpiece of course is the iconic broom sequence made so famous by Mickey Mouse's definitive Fantasia
performance and Paul Dukas' masterful music. It's cute and brilliantly executed (as one of the bonus features prove) but hardly the same as the animated version. However, these moments of sheer magical whimsy put me in the mind of Bedknobs and Broomsticks
and made me yearn for a all-out family fantasy in the classic Disney tradition. Maybe someday...
"PAWS" TAKES A FEW NIBBLES FROM OTHER HOLIDAY KIBBLES
Posted on Dec 02 2010 by Greg
It's been said that there are only seven basic storylines for westerns. The same might be said for Christmas movies and The Search for Santa Paws
is no exception. This one leans a bit toward Miracle on 34th Street
, but as Santa's magic bag of story ideas started to run low, it clearly was time to "pay tribute" to Mister Magorium's Wonder Emporium
and about eight gallons of Annie
The interesting thing is that, of the many entries in the "Buddies" series, including last year's Santa Buddies
, this film is less about the cute talking puppies and more about an amnesiac Santa, several adorable orphans and warm hearted yuppies.
No kidding, the little orphan girls sing a song in their room just like "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" and the youngest orphan sings her version of "Maybe." Actually the whole film is largely a musical with on-camera singing with both the orphans in New York and the elves at the North Pole. The songs and the lavish musical score are nice, though, and I'm looking for a soundtrack CD (last year, you had to buy Santa Buddies
at Target to get a soundtrack) but can't seem to find one this time around.
There's even a Miss Hannigan type who burns toys, bans singing and "is a strict home schooler." Okay, why did that line have to be there? Especially when countless home schooling parents might be part of the buying public. I know she's really lying and making the girls work for her, but the line's not necessary nor nice.
What's most interesting for holiday movie buffs is that the special effects, particularly Santa's sleigh flying over New York, must be more rudimentary and certainly less cumbersome to create for this modestly budgeted direct-to-DVD movie than it was back when 1985's Santa Claus the Movie
used quite a bit of its multi million dollar budget on doing pretty much the same thing without the benefit of today's technology.
Disney Channel watchers will recognize a lot of actors from various shows, including Madison Pettis
(who's grown up a bit since Cory in the House
), John Ducey
(the JONAS dad) and G. Hannelius
(of Sonny with a Chance
). Voicing the lead puppy is Mitchel Musso
of Hannah Montana
and Pair of Kings
It's pleasant going but isn't likely to replace Dickens. But then, it isn't intended to. It's kind of like one of those store bought holiday cookie making kits. The cookies are kinda tasty, very colorful, the kids enjoy them. But they're not the same as those cookies you waited all year for to arrive from Aunt Marge.
BIG NIGHT FOR ANIMATION ON "STU'S SHOW" TONIGHT & ALL WEEK
Posted on Dec 01 2010 by Greg
Right at this moment, Jerry Beck is guesting on Stu's Show along with Jim Korkis, talking all about Warner Brothers and Disney and all things animation. There's still time to get in an email question or maybe they may take calls.
Just visit www.shokusradio.com
and click on the little start symbol in the blue Live 365 box. If you miss the show, it's being rebroadcast every day, three times a day until next Tuesday.
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