And failures, on occasion. Each film has weaker offerings, although fortunately they are rare. In the original, the “Rite of Spring” section suffers a bit from simply being too long: its story is stretched much too thin by the length of the music. On the opposite end, Fantasia 2000’s visualization for Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” suffers from almost caricaturing Disney animation itself. It features Donald Duck as Noah, gathering up animals and journeying with them on the ark. It ends up being too cutesy, simplistic and conventional for its own good.
But overall, we are treated to some of the most groundbreaking animation put to film, in two programs that are feasts for the eyes.
Disney continues its tradition of extending both meticulous and impressive care to its archival animation. Fantasia simply looks fantastic. It’s a marvel to think that all of this was hand-drawn, in a time before any computer assistance. And even after you see how some of the effects were achieved, it doesn’t diminish the impressive spectacle of it all. Fantasia remains one of the studio’s highest artistic achievements, and it has been lovingly and faithfully presented here. If there is any minus to note with either film, it is that the live-action element of the original seems muted by comparison to the rest of the material. The lighting of the stage could be playing tricks, but the tonal palette shifts more than usual between live action and animation; however, it’s a very minor issue.
Fantasia 2000 benefits from its more recent technological source and looks simply pristine. There seems to be a wider range of color palette used here, and there is a wonderful breadth of textures and styles used to really let your HD setup shine. The sharpness of the animated pieces here is more pronounced, although that’s not a slight to Fantasia at all. The more obviously hand-crafted elements of the original offer a more “real” counterpoint to the often overly-slick sequences of the sequel. But both receive stunning transfers, and it’s a testament to the craft of the animators and the skill of the restoration crew that we only have these small quibbles to discuss between films separated by almost sixty years.
While both features contain 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes, it's difficult to give much high praise to the audio for Fantasia — which is unfortunate, given the music-driven film that it is. But it's underwhelming, and it doesn't seem to have anything to do with Disney's preservation efforts or the inherent mastering of the audio track on the Blu-ray. No, it's more the original source material itself. It just sounds thin, and often distorted at the high end. Disney doesn't do itself any favors by stretching it out into a 7.1 surround mix, when even putting it at 5.1 is probably overkill. For comparison, I put in the DVD version of the film and even the lossy 5.1 mix seems to hold together better. It's a frustrating audio experience, but at the same time it's probably the best we'll get, and perhaps the best they could do. Personally I would have preferred a nice uncompressed stereo mix as an additional option, but for English viewers it's simply the 7.1 mix or nothing.