Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Revisiting the Fantasias, Experiencing Destino

We continue to explore this week's perfect storm of Disney entertainment with a look at the just released Blu-Ray special edition of both Fantasia films.

Any high definition release of a classic Disney animated feature is indeed a welcome occurrence.  Both Fantasia films in one package, along with some very high profile bonus features takes the experience to an almost celebratory level.

Walt Disney Home Entertainment made some interesting decisions when creating the 4-Disc Special Edition of Fantasia-Fantasia 2000.  They notably retained the Blu-Ray/regular DVD combo package, despite the fact that the Fantasia films are considered more adult-audience in nature.  In the past, the combo packs have been very much marketed as a family-friendly products, with the regular DVDs deemed more accessible (and less risky) for younger kids and toddlers.  Hence, two of the four discs are simply (and not entirely complete) ports of the Blu-Ray content.  By deciding to not include a fifth disc of additional bonus features, the set is notably without much of the material that was included on the Fantasia Legacy disc that was a part of the original Fantasia DVD collection released in 2000.  The Fantasia Legacy represented close to three hours of supplemental content.   Some, but not all of that material has been migrated to Disney's Virtual Vault, a BD-Live feature that allows you to stream the content, but it does require an ethernet-equipped Blu-Ray player and a solid broadband or higher connection.  So it's probably a good idea to still hang onto that older Fantasia DVD set if you already own it.

The new set comes with a number of significant bonus features.  The Fantasia disc features a fascinating documentary entitled The Schultheis Notebook.  Herman Schultheis was a special effects animator at Disney and worked extensively on the original Fantasia.  He documented much of his work in a set of notebooks that were only just recently discovered and restored by the Walt Disney Family Museum.  Disney scholars have called it a "Rosetta Stone" of animation history as it has revealed many heretofore unknown processes and techniques thought lost and beyond historical recovery.  An additional short piece provides a brief tour of the Walt Disney Family Museum, a welcome addition for those of us who have yet to make the pilgrimage to its San Francisco location.

The Fantasia 2000 disc offers up two exceptional bonus features.  First, a profile of Musicana, a proposed animated feature of a Fantasia-style anthology, shepherded by Disney Studio veterans Mel Shaw and Wollie Reitherman during the 1980s.  It is a fascinating and enlightening what-might-have-been piece that presents an amazing array of pre-production artwork and story ideas.

Many, many Disney fans have been anxiously awaiting the release of Destino, a 2003 animated short that completed a project initiated by Walt Disney and famed artist Salvador Dali all the way back in the late 1940s.  Destino was originally scheduled to be released on DVD in 2008 as part of the Walt Disney's Legacy Collection, but went into limbo when Walt Disney Home Entertainment abruptly canceled that series after its first wave of titles that featured the True-Life AdventuresDestino has now finally reemerged on the Fantasia 2000 disc.

Accompanying the short is a somewhat overlong but still quite informative and worthwhile documentary entitled Dali and Disney: A Date with Destino.  The film unfortunately gives far too much screen time to controversial Disney biographer Neal Gabler who distinctly over-performs throughout most of his talking head segments.  Gabler has earned a fairly negative reputation for the sensationalist approach and long list of inaccuracies found in his 2006 biography of Walt, and continues to feed those perceptions here.  I groaned outwardly when he misidentified the location of the original Hyperion Avenue studios as being in Glendale rather than Silver Lake.  Michael Barrier, John Canemaker and Charles Solomon, also participated in the film and they all could have easily covered the same material with infinitely more authority and professionalism.

Destino itself is a remarkable piece of animation produced more out of historical obligation that any commercial sensibilities.  It is wonderful to see Disney history celebrated and commemorated in this manner, and it was a real joy to finally have the opportunity to view the film.

Although I feel that not having a tangible disc edition of the prior Fantasia Legacy content is regrettable, the high definition release of Fantasia-Fantasia 2000 still serves up a wealth of new material that is most certainly welcome and distinctly appreciated.  I highly recommend it.