DVD REVIEW: 'Fantasia,' 'Waking Sleeping Beauty'
Disneyana fans get a chance to look deep behind the Disney curtain with Tuesday's treasure trove of Blu-ray and DVD releases.
Recent Disney animation history gets put under the microscope with Waking Sleeping Beauty, the acclaimed documentary which looks at the studio's animation renaissance between 1984 and 1994.
Things get musical with The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story. The documentary tells the story of Richard and Robert Sherman, who from 1960 and 1973 wrote over 200 songs for Disney film and TV shows, including "Supercalifragilisticexpialodocious" from Mary Poppins and "It's a Small World (After All)."
Walt Disney's trip to South America during World War Two, ushered by the US government to sway fascist leaning continent, gets explored in Walt & El Grupo.
The heavyweight in all this is the first-ever Blu-ray release of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, in one package no less. Fantasia, of course, is the 1940 classic which combined surreal fantasy with symphonic musical selections into shorts, including "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." Fantasia 2000 was the successor.
Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 haven't been available since 2000 and even now it'll only be out for a limited time. And while the two movies are definitely worth checking out, the extras shine.
Fantasia 2000 comes with Destino, the seven minute short that began life in 1946 as a collaboration between Disney and Salvador Dali. It was shelved in the 1940s and only saw completion in 2003 under the supervision of Roy E. Disney, who put it together using the art, storyboards and whatever was shot back in the day.
(The short is quintessential Dali, melting clocks included, but with CGI camera movements and set to the music by Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez and sung by Dora Luz.)
The story behind Destino is told in the behind-the-scene documentary Dali & Disney: A Date with Destino. While overlong, it is fascinating and could find companionship with Walt & El Grupo, since it was the trip detailed in the latter that got Disney on his Latin America kick. The trip ultimately lead to the production of Saludos Amigos (included in the DVD) and The Three Caballeros, and led to Disney discovering the Latin music for Destino.
Destino and Fantasia 2000 prove one of Disney's motto: Good projects never die. Disney wanted Fantasia to be a road show movie, to be resurrected ever few years with new animated shorts set to new music and even left detailed notes for other compositions to be turned into shorts. Destino found life 46 years later.
On that theme, the Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray comes with Musicana, a short documentary that shows how the studio tried to get a sequel going to Fantasia in the 1970s, this time with an international bent by exploring other cultures and their music. One of the pieces began by Disney was The Emperor and the Nightingale, a short starring Mickey Mouse; it was later taken over by a very young John Lasseter, now considered one of the geniuses behind Pixar.
Musicana was also shelved as the studio focused on Mickey's Christmas Carol but you can't help but wonder that now that Lasseter is running Disney's animation division he won't find a way to either resurrect Emperor and the Nightingale, Musicana itself, or a new version of Fantasia (can you imagine a Pixar take on Fantasia?!)
Lasseter actually is a bit player in several of the Tuesday's offering. In a addition to Musicana, he pops in the Sherman Brothers documentary and makes an early appearance in Waking Sleeping Beauty as the camera man behind the home movies of animator Randy Cartwright. Cartwright did short video tours of the animation studios in 1980, 1983 and 1990, and you get more of the home movies as an extra on Waking Sleeping Beauty. That's where you see, in the 1983 home movie, a young and skinny Lasseter who will be leaving to “putz around” computer graphics.
Waking Sleeping Beauty was directed by Don Hahn, a studio insider who produced Beauty and the Beast and Lion King, and produced by Peter Schneider, one of the execs who led the animation division under Jeffrey Katzenberg. That “people who were there” point of view is in line with the other DVD documentaries, who actually travel the familial route: The Boys was produced and directed by the men's sons, cousins Gregory and Jeffrey Sherman, while Grupo was directed by Theodore Thomas, whose father was one of the Grupo animators on the South American trip.
Yes, the documentaries celebrate moments of Disney history (it's not like you're going to see a spotlight on Walt Disney's testimony in front of HUAC implicating animators as communist spies or calling SAG a communist front), but they don't always shy away from the personal conflict that was present either.
Waking Sleeping Beauty revels in that the most, the best being the spiking moments involving Michael Eisner and Katzenberg, whose acrimony is legendary. Also great is emotion from the slow and sad death from AIDS of Howard Ashman, the lyricist behind The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.
The one thing learned from all the documentaries and featurettes is how resilient and creative Disney is as a studio, and how that creativity has helped it survive tough times.