Blu-ray Review: 2 Movie Collection -- Fantasia (1940); Fantasia 2000 (1999)

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While unfortunately I cannot recall the first film I ever saw in a movie theatre – although ex-Disney employee Don Bluth's Secret of NIMH springs to mind – I have a much clearer memory of the first motion picture that drove me out of my seat.

The 1985 re-release of Walt Disney's experimentally episodic animated symphonic adventure, Fantasia is the first film that I ever walked out of along with an older brother, neighbor kids and our respective mothers, just shy of my fourth birthday.

Though I suspect bored indifference at the rather melancholic movie oddity was the main culprit, I distinctly remember that the now controversial and admittedly creepy centaur sequence which involved nudity and racist stereotypes that have since been altered, snipped and edited down from its 1940 debut were ultimately the series of images that drove us over the edge. Thus, my polite mother followed suit and we joined our neighbors by abandoning ship.

Nonetheless, it's been fascinating to revisit and analyze other works I experienced as a child – particularly ones from the House of Mouse that played such a key role in my upbringing as well as countless other children from various generations.

However, whereas I found my first impressions flipped when it came to Mary Poppins (which I now adore) as well as Sleeping Beauty and Oliver and Company (which have lost some of their charm), the interesting thing is that, just like Pinocchio which I reviewed last year, some things never change.

Namely and despite my true admiration for Walt Disney's intention to bring classical music to life by trying to endear it to children through the emphasis on imagination, creativity and the art of animation, I still find the first Fantasia a true chore to view from start to finish.

Having said that, it's unparalleled in its ambitious nature as Walt Disney seemed to anticipate the success of MTV and rapidly edited commercials and dance films cut to music by roughly four decades that's radiantly restored to breathtaking clarity.

In light of Jerry Bruckheimer's disastrous production released earlier this year before landing on disc on the exact same day, Fantasia particularly grabs hold of the child in all of us in the standout sequence that started it all wherein Mickey Mouse gets a makeover and a more mischievous personality in “The Sorcerer's Apprentice” to counteract the mouse's fledgling popularity in the wake of Donald Duck mania.

Granted, it has its moments throughout from a bold, scientific chronicle of the beginning of life on Earth before it's ultimately counteracted with an overly heavy-handed finale that even Walt Disney found too religious. Unfortunately it's bogged down by a less than cohesive structure overall, no doubt the product of too many cooks in the kitchen, which is easily evidenced in its running time of more than two hours.

Ponderously plodding where it should be easily uplifting and forceful where it should be light, the work is done zero favors with its emphasis on bleak, obtuse and unappealing imagery and a muddied color palettes as Fantasia forsakes its young audience without managing to seduce an older fan base.

Musically speaking, Fantasia is an absolute marvel to behold in its high definition magnificence as the classical compositions fill your home theatre speakers like a night at symphony hall but the ideal marriage of pictures and sound isn't fully realized until the work's underrated and easily superior revisionist sequel premiered nearly sixty years following the original.

From livening up the live action narrations wherein our host introduces and educates with regard to the next presentation with much needed humor, silliness and brevity thanks to spirited guest emcees like Steve Martin, Bette Midler along with Penn and Teller to shortening the overall length of the picture, Fantasia 2000 gets everything right.

It's unclear whether Disney learned from the criticisms of individuals like Pauline Kael and Richard Shickel that were levied at the movie in the past or the studio had the great advantage of better understanding the medium of animation and what could be achieved with editing, trickery and more thanks to technology in the post-MTV, CGI world.

Yet all speculation aside, as soon as the first fiery bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony are heard, it's impossible not to recognize the overwhelming (and completely validated) confidence exuded by the filmmakers this time around.

Likewise, once Disney unleashed the scintillating, slurred, staggering saxophone solo which serves as the start of Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue,” I couldn't help but succumb to the audacious, eye-popping period animation perfectly paired with the selection that comes to crystal clear life in Blu-ray.

Alternating from idyllic serenity and fearless juxtaposition that's always anchored in sheer artistic joy to reach a wider audience on the same level of the original “Sorcerer's Apprentice,” evaluating Fantasia to Fantasia 2000 is akin to comparing “night” and “day,” in my eyes.

Obviously, I'm aware that I'm in the minority of viewers who doesn't consider Fantasia to be a masterpiece based on principle alone. However (and Disney legend aside), before going along with popular opinion, I urge those of you who haven't seen it in some time to really sit and view it from start to finish to see what you think.

And similarly before leaving it on as a TV babysitter for tots, ask which production you'd rather watch more often and likewise, which one you think your children would want to watch... without – that is – looking for the nearest exit as I did in 1985.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.