Fantasia opens with live action scenes of members of an orchestra gathering against a blue background and tuning their instruments in half-light, half-shadow. Master of ceremonies Deems Taylor enters the stage (also in half-light, half-shadow) and introduces the program.Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach. Live-action shots of the orchestra illuminated in blue and gold, backed by superimposed shadows, fade into abstract patterns. Animated lines, shapes and cloud formations reflect the sound and rhythms of the music.
Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Selections from the ballet suite underscore scenes depicting the changing of the seasons from summer to autumn to winter. A variety of dances are presented with fairies, fish, flowers, mushrooms, and leaves, including "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy", "Chinese Dance", "Dance of the Flutes", "Arabian Dance", "Russian Dance" and "Waltz of the Flowers".
The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas. Based on Goethe's 1797 poem "Der Zauberlehrling". Mickey Mouse, the young apprentice of the sorcerer Yen Sid, attempts some of his master's magic tricks but does not know how to control them.
Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky. A visual history of the Earth's beginnings is depicted to selected sections of the ballet score. The sequence progresses from the planet's formation to the first living creatures, followed by the reign and extinction of the dinosaurs.
Intermission/Meet the Soundtrack: The orchestra musicians depart and the Fantasia title card is revealed. After the intermission there is a brief jam session of jazz music led by a clarinettist as the orchestra members return. Then a humorously stylized demonstration of how sound is rendered on film is shown. An animated sound track "character", initially a straight white line, changes into different shapes and colors based on the sounds played.
The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. A mythical Greco-Roman world of colorful centaurs and "centaurettes", cupids, fauns and other figures from classical mythology is portrayed to Beethoven's music. A gathering for a festival to honor Bacchus, the god of wine, is interrupted by Zeus, who creates a storm and directs Vulcan to forge lightning bolts for him to throw at the attendees.
Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli. A comic ballet in four sections: Madame Upanova and her ostriches (Morning); Hyacinth Hippo and her servants (Afternoon); Elephanchine and her bubble-blowing elephant troupe (Evening); and Ben Ali Gator and his troop of alligators (Night). The finale finds all of the characters dancing together until their palace collapses.
Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert. At midnight the devil Chernabog awakes and summons evil spirits and restless souls from their graves to Bald Mountain. The spirits dance and fly through the air until driven back by the sound of an Angelus bell as night fades into dawn. A chorus is heard singing Ave Maria as a line of robed monks is depicted walking with lighted torches through a forest and into the ruins of a cathedral.
In 1936, Walt Disney felt that the Disney studio's star character Mickey Mouse needed a boost in popularity. He decided to feature the mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a deluxe cartoon short based on the poem written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and set to the orchestral piece by Paul Dukas inspired by the original tale. The concept of matching animation to classical music was used as early as 1928 in Disney's cartoon series, the Silly Symphonies, but he wanted to go beyond the usual slapstick, and produce shorts where "sheer fantasy unfolds ... action controlled by a musical pattern has great charm in the realm of unreality." Upon receiving the rights to use the music by the end of July 1937, Disney considered using a well-known conductor to record the music for added prestige. He happened to meet Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1912, at Chasen's restaurant in Hollywood, and talked about his plans for the short. Stokowski recalled that he did "like the music"; was happy to collaborate on the project, and offered to conduct the piece at no cost.
Following their meeting, Disney's New York representative ran into Stokowski on a train headed for the East Coast. In writing to Disney, he reported that Stokowski was "really serious in his offer to do the music for nothing. He had some very interesting ideas on instrumental coloring, which would be perfect for an animation medium". In his excited response dated October 26, 1937, Disney wrote that he felt "all steamed up over the idea of Stokowski working with us ... The union of Stokowski and his music, together with the best of our medium, would be the means of a success and should lead to a new style of motion picture presentation." He had already begun working on a story outline, and wished to use "the finest men ... from color ... down to animators" on the short. The Sorcerer's Apprentice was to be promoted as a "special" and rented to theatres as a unique film, outside of the Mickey Mouse cartoon series.
An agreement signed by Disney and Stokowski on December 16, 1937, allowed the conductor to "select and employ a complete symphony orchestra" for the recording. Disney hired a stage at the Culver Studios in California for the session. It began at midnight on January 9, 1938, and lasted for three hours using eighty-five Hollywood musicians. As production costs of The Sorcerer's Apprentice climbed to $125,000, it became clearer to Disney and his brother Roy, who managed the studio's finances, that the short could never earn such a sum back on its own. Roy wanted his brother to keep any additional costs on the film to a minimum. He said, "because of its very experimental and unprecedented nature ... we have no idea what can be expected from such a production." Ben Sharpsteen, a production supervisor on Fantasia, noted that its budget was three to four times greater than the usual Silly Symphony, but Disney "saw this trouble in the form of an opportunity. This was the birth of a new concept, a group of separate numbers—regardless of their running time—put together in a single presentation. It turned out to be a concert—something novel and of high quality."
Ideas to produce a complete feature film were pursued in February 1938, when inquiries were made to extend Stokowski's contract. In August, Disney asked Stokowski's representative to have him return to the studios to select material for the new film, which was initially titled The Concert Feature. The pair further thought of presenting the film with an on-screen host to introduce each number in the program. Both had heard composer and music critic Deems Taylor provide intermission commentary during radio broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic, and agreed he would be most suitable for the role. Disney did contact Taylor about the project, but by then work on Pinocchio, Bambi, and development on his new Burbank studio kept him too busy to work on the new feature. In a change of plans, Taylor was asked during a call on September 3, 1938, leave to come to the studios as soon as possible. He left New York City for Los Angeles by train two days later for a month's visit.
Taylor arrived at the studio one day after a series of meetings began to select the musical pieces for The Concert Feature. Disney made story writers Joe Grant and Dick Huemer gather a preliminary selection of music and along with Stokowski, Taylor, and the heads of various departments, discussed their ideas. Each meeting was recorded verbatim by stenographers with participants being given a copy of the entire conversation for review. As selections were considered, a recording of the piece was located and played back at the next gathering. Disney did not contribute much to early discussions; he admitted that his knowledge of music was instinctive and untrained. In one meeting, he inquired about a piece "on which we might build something of a prehistoric theme ... with animals". The group was considering The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky, but Taylor noted that his "Le Sacre du printemps would be something on that order", to which Disney replied upon hearing a recording, "This is marvelous! It would be perfect for prehistoric animals. There would be something terrific in dinosaurs, flying lizards, and prehistoric monsters. There could be beauty in the settings."
Numerous choices were discarded as talks continued, including Moto Perpetuo by Niccolò Paganini with "shots of dynamos, cogs, pistons" and "whirling wheels" to show the production of a collar button. Other deleted material included Prelude in G minor and Troika by Sergei Rachmaninoff, and a rendition of "The Song of the Flea" by Mussorgsky, which was to be sung by Lawrence Tibbett. On September 29, 1938, around sixty of Disney's artists gathered for a two-and-a-half hour piano concert while he provided a running commentary about the new musical feature. A rough version of The Sorcerer's Apprentice was also shown that, according to one attendee, had the crowd applauding and cheering "until their hands were red". The final pieces were chosen the following morning, which included Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Cydalise et le Chèvre-pied by Gabriel Pierné, The Nutcracker Suite, Night on Bald Mountain, Ave Maria, Dance of the Hours, Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy, The Rite of Spring and The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Disney had already begun working out the details for the segments, and showed greater enthusiasm and eagerness as opposed to his anxiety while starting on Pinocchio.
Clair de Lune was soon removed from the Fantasia program, but Disney and his writers encountered problems of setting a concrete story to Cydalise. Its opening march, "The Entry of the Little Fauns", attracted Disney to the piece which at first provided suitable depictions of fauns he wanted. On January 5, 1939, following a search for a stronger piece to fit the mythological theme, the piece was replaced with sections of Beethoven's sixth symphony. Stokowski disagreed with the switch, believing that Disney's "idea of mythology ... is not quite what this symphony is about". He was also concerned about the reception from classical music enthusiasts who would criticize Disney for venturing too far from the composer's intent. Taylor on the other hand welcomed the change, describing it as "a stunning one", and saw "no possible objection to it".
The new feature continued to be known as The Concert Feature or Musical Feature as late as November 1938. Hal Horne, a publicist for Disney's film distributor RKO Radio Pictures, wished for a different title, and gave the suggestion Filmharmonic Concert. Stuart Buchanan then held a contest at the studio for a title that produced almost 1,800 suggestions including Bach to Stravinsky and Bach and Highbrowski by Stokowski. Still, the favorite among the film's supervisors was Fantasia, an early working title that had even grown on Horne, "It isn't the word alone but the meaning we read into it." From the beginning of its development, Disney expressed the greater importance of music in Fantasia compared to his past work: "In our ordinary stuff, our music is always under action, but on this ... we're supposed to be picturing this music—not the music fitting our story." Disney had hoped that the film would bring classical music to people who, like himself, had previously "walked out on this kind of stuff".
Animation on The Sorcerer's Apprentice began on January 21, 1938, when James Algar, the director of the segment, assigned animator Preston Blair to work on the scene when Mickey Mouse wakes from his dream. Each of the seven hundred members of staff at the time received a synopsis of Goethe's 1797 poem Der Zauberlehrling, and were encouraged to complete a twenty-question form that requested their ideas on what action might take place. Layout artist Tom Codrick created what Dick Huemer described as "brilliantly colored thumbnails" from preliminary storyboard sketches using gouache paints, which featured bolder use of color and lighting than any previous Disney short. Mickey was redesigned by animator Fred Moore who added pupils to his eyes for the first time to achieve greater ranges of expression. Most of the segment was shot in live action, including a scene where a UCLA athlete was asked to run and jump across one of the studio's sound stages with barrels in the way, which was used for reference when Mickey traverses through water.
Disney had been interested in producing abstract animation since he saw A Color Box by Len Lye from 1935. He explained the work done in the Toccata and Fugue was "no sudden idea ... they were something we had nursed along several years but we never had a chance to try". Preliminary designs included those from effects animator Cy Young, who produced drawings influenced by the patterns on the edge of a piece of sound film. In late 1938 Disney hired Oskar Fischinger, a German artist who had produced numerous abstract animated films, including some with classical music, to work with Young. Upon review of three leica reels produced by the two, Disney rejected all three. According to Huemer all Fishinger "did was little triangles and designs ... it didn't come off at all. Too dinky, Walt said." Fischinger, like Disney, was used to having full control over his work and was not used to working in a group. Feeling his designs were too abstract for a mass audience, Fishinger left the studio in apparent despair, before the segment was completed, in October 1939. Disney had plans to make the Toccata and Fugue an experimental three-dimensional film, with audiences being given cardboard stereoscopic frames with their souvenir programs, but this idea was abandoned.
In The Nutcracker Suite, animator Art Babbitt is said to have credited The Three Stooges as a guide for animating the dancing mushrooms in the Chinese Dance routine. He drew with a music score pinned to his desk to work out the choreography so he could relate the action to the melody and the counterpoint, "those nasty little notes underneath ... so something has to be related to that". The studio filmed professional dancers Joyce Coles and Marjorie Belcher wearing ballet skirts that resembled shapes of blossoms that were to sit above water for Dance of the Flutes. An Arabian dancer was also brought in to study the movements for the goldfish in Arab Dance.
An early concept for The Rite of Spring was to extend the story to the age of mammals and the first humans and the discovery of fire and man's triumph. John Hubley, the segment's art director, explained that it was later curtailed by Disney to avoid controversy from creationists, who promised to make trouble should he connect evolution with humans. To gain a better understanding of the history of the planet the studio received guidance from Roy Chapman Andrews, the director of the American Museum of Natural History, English biologist Julian Huxley, paleontologist Barnum Brown, and astronomer Edwin Hubble. Animators studied comets and nebulae at the Mount Wilson Observatory, and observed a herd of iguanas and a baby alligator that were brought into the studio. The camera was kept at a low position throughout the segment to heighten the immensity of the dinosaurs.
According to Ward Kimball, the animators were "extremely specific on touchy issues". In the making of The Pastoral Symphony Greek mythological segment, the female centaurs were originally drawn bare-breasted, but the Hays office enforcing the Motion Picture Production Code insisted that they discreetly hung garlands around the necks. The male centaurs were also toned down to appear less intimidating to the audience. Originally black female centaurs "braided 'pickaninny' hair, shining the hooves and grooming the tails of white centaurs" appeared in the film, but this was cut out years later for racial prejudicial reasons (see Controversies).
For inspiration on the routines in Dance of the Hours, animators studied real life ballet performers including Marge Champion and Irina Baronova. Animator John Hench was assigned to work on the segment, but resisted as he knew little about ballet. Disney then gave Hench season tickets to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo with backstage access so he could learn more about it. According to R. D. Feild's The Art of Walt Disney, in order to draw Hyacinth, the hippo prima ballerina, a woman weighing over 200 pounds (91 kg) was brought onto the live-action stage and her movements were recorded by cameramen, recording the "least quiver of her flesh, noticing those parts of her anatomy that were subjected to the greatest stress and strain". Béla Lugosi, best known for his role in Dracula, was brought in to provide reference poses for Chernabog in the Night on Bald Moumtain segment. As animator Bill Tytla disliked the results, he used colleague Wilfred Jackson to pose shirtless which gave him the images he needed. There were ideas of releasing scents throughout the theater during Fantasia, including the smell of incense during Ave Maria.
Over one thousand artists and technicians were used in the making of Fantasia, which features more than 500 animated characters. Segments were color-keyed scene by scene so the colors in a single shot would harmonize between proceeding and following ones. Before a segment's narrative pattern was complete, an overall color scheme was designed to the general mood of the music, and patterned to correspond with the development of the subject matter. The studio's character model department would also sculpt three-dimensional clay models so the animators could view their subject from all angles.
Disney wanted to experiment in more sophisticated sound recording and reproduction techniques for Fantasia. "Music emerging from one speaker behind the screen sounds thin, tinkly and strainy. We wanted to reproduce such beautiful masterpieces ... so that audiences would feel as though they were standing at the podium with Stokowski". For the recording of The Sorcerer's Apprentice in January 1938, engineers at Disney collaborated with RCA Corporation for using multiple audio channels which allowed any desired dynamic balance to be achieved upon playback. The stage was altered acoustically with double plywood semi-circular partitions that separated the orchestra into five sections to increase reverberation. Though as the production of Fantasia developed, the setup used for The Sorcerer's Apprentice was abandoned for different multi-channel recording arrangements.
On January 18, 1939, Stokowski signed an eighteen-month contract with Disney to conduct the remaining pieces with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Recording began that April and lasted for seven weeks at the Academy of Music, the orchestra's home which was chosen for its excellent acoustics. In the recording sessions, thirty-three microphones were placed around the orchestra that captured the music onto eight optical sound recording machines placed in the hall's basement. Each one represented an audio channel that focused on a different section of instruments: cellos and basses, violins, brass, violas, and woodwinds and tympani. The seventh channel was a combination of the first six while the eighth provided an overall sound of the orchestra at a distance. A ninth was later added to provide a click track function for the animators to time their drawings to the music. In the forty-two days of recording 483,000 feet (147,000 m) of film was used. Disney paid all the expenses which included the musician's wages, stage personnel, a music librarian, and the orchestra's manager that cost almost $18,000. When the finished recordings arrived at the studio, a meeting was held on July 14, 1939, to allow the artists working on each segment to listen to Stokowski's arrangements, and suggest alterations in the sound to work more effectively with their designs.
The Disney brothers contacted David Sarnoff of RCA regarding the manufacture of a new system that would "create the illusion that the actual symphony orchestra is playing in the theater." Sarnoff backed out at first due to financial reasons, but agreed in July 1939 to make the equipment so long as the Disneys could hold down the estimated $200,000 in costs. Though it was not exactly known how to achieve their goal, engineers at Disney and RCA investigated many ideas and tests made with various equipment setups. The collaboration led to the development of Fantasound, a pioneering stereophonic surround sound system which innovated some processes widely used today, including simultaneous multi-track recording, overdubbing, and noise reduction.
Fantasound, developed in part by Disney engineer William Garity, employed two projectors running at the same time. With one containing the picture film with a mono soundtrack for backup purposes, the other ran a sound film that was mixed from the eight tracks recorded at the Academy to four: three of which contained the audio for the left, center, and right stage speakers respectively, while the fourth became a control track with amplitude and frequency tones that drove variable-gain amplifiers to control the volume of the three audio tracks. In addition were three "house" speakers placed on the left, right, and center of the auditorium that derived from the left and right stage channels which acted as surround channels. As the original recording was captured at almost peak modulation to increase signal-to-noise ratio, the control track was used to restore the dynamics to where Stokowski thought they should be. For this, a tone-operated gain-adjusting device was built to control the levels of each of the three audio tracks through the amplifiers.
The illusion of sound traveling across the speakers was achieved with a device named the "pan pot", which directed the predetermined movement of each audio channel with the control track. Mixing of the soundtrack required six people to operate the various pan pots in real time, while Stokowski directed each level and pan change which was marked on his musical score. To monitor recording levels, Disney used oscilloscopes with color differentiation to minimize eye fatigue. To test recording equipment and speaker systems, Disney ordered eight electronic oscillators from the newly established Hewlett-Packard company. Between the individual takes, prints, and remakes, approximately three million feet of sound film was used in the production of Fantasia. Almost a fifth of the film's budget was spent on its recording techniques.
RKO balked at the idea of distributing Fantasia, which it described as a "longhair musical", and believed its duration of two hours and five minutes plus intermission was too long for a general release. It relaxed its exclusive distribution contract with Disney, who wanted a more prestigious exhibit in the form of a limited-run roadshow attraction. A total of thirteen roadshows were held across the United States; each involving two daily screenings with seat reservations booked in advance at higher prices and a fifteen-minute intermission. Disney hired film salesman Irving Ludwig to manage the first eleven engagements, who was given specific instructions regarding each aspect of the film's presentation, including the setup of outside theater marquees and curtain and lighting cues. Patrons were taken to their seats by staff hired and trained by Disney, and were given a program booklet illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa.
The first roadshow opened at the Broadway Theatre in New York City on November 13, 1940. The Disneys had secured a year's lease with the venue that was fully equipped with Fantasound, which took personnel a week working around the clock to install. Proceeds made on the night went to the British War Relief Society for the efforts in the Battle of Britain. Ticket demand was so great that eight telephone operators were employed to handle the extra calls while the adjoining store was rented out to cater the box office bookings. Fantasia ran at the Broadway for forty-nine consecutive weeks, the longest run achieved by a film at the time. Its run continued for a total of fifty-seven weeks until February 28, 1942.
The remaining twelve roadshows were held throughout 1941, which included a 39-week run at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles from January 29. Fantasia broke the long-run record at the venue in its twenty-eighth week; a record previously held by Gone with the Wind. Its eight-week run at the Fulton Theatre in Pittsburgh attracted over 50,000 people with reservations being made from cities located one hundred miles from the venue. Engagements were also held at the Geary Theatre in San Francisco for eight months, the Hanna Theatre in Cleveland for nine weeks, the Majestic Theatre in Boston, the Apollo Theater in Chicago, and also in Philadelphia, Detroit, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
Fantasia grossed over $300,000 in the first sixteen weeks in New York; over $20,000 in the opening five weeks in San Francisco; and almost the same amount in the first ten weeks both in Los Angeles and Boston. The first eleven roadshows earned a total of $1.3 million by April 1941, but the $85,000 in production and installation costs of a single Fantasound setup, along with theatres having to be leased, forced Disney to exceed their loan limits. The onset of the Second World War prevented plans for a potential release in Europe, normally the source of as much as forty-five per cent of the studio's income. Up to eighty-eight engagements were outlined across five years, but wartime demands for material limited the number of Fantasound prints to sixteen. All but one of the Fantasound setups were dismantled and given to the war effort. Upon acquiring the film's distribution rights in April 1941, RKO initially continued the roadshow booking policy but presented the film in mono, which was easier to exhibit. The combined average receipts from each roadshow was around $325,000, which placed Fantasia at an even greater loss than Pinocchio.
Disney allowed RKO to handle the general release of Fantasia, but fought their decision to have the film cut. He gave in as the studio needed as much income as possible to remedy its finances, but refused to cut it himself, "You can get anybody you want to edit it ... I can't do it." With no input from Disney, musical director Ed Plumb and Ben Sharpsteen reduced Fantasia to one hour and forty minutes at first, then to one hour and twenty minutes by removing most of Taylor's commentary and the Toccata and Fugue. Fantasia was re-released in January 1942 at more popular prices with a mono soundtrack, and was placed on the lower half of double bills with the Western film Valley of the Sun.
RKO reissued Fantasia once more on September 1, 1946, with the animated sequences complete and the scenes of Taylor, Stokowski, and the orchestra restored but shortened. Its running time was restored to one hour and fifty-five minutes. This edit would be the standard form for subsequent re-releases, and was the basis for the 1990 restoration.
By 1955 the original sound negatives began to deteriorate, though a four-track copy had survived in good condition. Using the remaining Fantasound system at the studio, a three-track stereo copy was transferred across telephone wires onto magnetic film at an RCA facility in Hollywood. This copy was used when Fantasia was reissued in stereo by Buena Vista Distribution in SuperScope, a derivative of the anamorphic widescreen CinemaScope format, on February 7, 1956. The projector featured an automatic control mechanism designed by Disney engineers that was coupled to a variable anamorphic lens, which allowed the picture to switch between its Academy standard aspect ratio of 1.33:1 to the wide ratio of 2.35:1 in twenty seconds without a break in the film. This was achieved by placing the cues that controlled the mechanism on a separate track in addition to the three audio channels. Only selected parts of the animation were stretched, while all live action scenes remained unchanged. This reissue garnered some criticism from viewers, as the widescreen format led to the cropping and reframing of the images.
On February 20, 1963, Fantasia was re-released in both standard and SuperScope versions with stereo sound, though existing records are unclear. Its running time was fifty-six seconds longer than the previous issue which is unexplained. This was the final release that occurred before Disney's death in 1966.
Fantasia began to make a profit from its $2.28 million budget after its return to theaters on December 17, 1969. The film was promoted with a psychedelic-styled advertising campaign, and it became popular among teenagers and college students who reportedly appreciated it as a psychedelic experience. Animator Ollie Johnston recalled that young people "thought we were on a trip when we made it ... every time we'd go to talk to a school or something, they'd ask us what we were on." The release is also noted for the controversial removal of four scenes from The Pastoral Symphony over racial stereotyping. Fantasia was issued on a regular basis, typically for exhibition in art houses in college towns, until the mid-1970s.
The film was reissued nationwide once more on April 15, 1977, this time with simulated stereo sound. This edit featured the RKO distribution logo being replaced with that of Buena Vista Distribution, since RKO had not been part of a release since 1946. It had not been removed earlier as the credit sequence would have required to be re-shot. A two-and-a-half-minute reduction in the film's running time in this version remains unclear in existing records.
For the 1982 and 1985 releases Disney presented Fantasia with a completely new soundtrack recorded in Dolby Stereo. First released on April 2, 1982, this version of the film marked the first time a film's soundtrack had been digitally re-recorded in its entirety. To replace Stokowski's recordings, the noted film conductor Irwin Kostal was engaged. He directed a 121-piece orchestra and 50-voice choir for the recording that took place over eighteen sessions and cost $1 million. To maintain continuity with the animation Kostal based his performance on the tempos and pacing of the Stokowski recordings, including the cuts and revisions to The Rite of Spring. However, for Night on Bald Mountain he used the standard arrangement by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov instead of Leopold Stokowski's own edition that was part of the original soundtrack. The new recording also corrected a two-frame lag in projection caused by the recording techniques used in the 1930s. Deems Taylor's scenes were deleted and a much briefer voiceover narration was recorded by Hugh Douglas as the studio felt the modern audience "is more sophisticated and knowledgeable about music." This version returned to around 400 theaters in 1985, this time with actor Tim Matheson providing the narration.
For its fiftieth anniversary, Fantasia returned to 550 theaters nationwide on October 5, 1990, in its traditional 1946 version including the live action scenes with Taylor and the original Stokowski score. The film underwent a two-year restoration process which began after a six-month search to piece together the original negatives that had been in storage since 1946. This marked the first time since then that a release of the film had been processed from the original and not from a copy. Each of its 535,680 frames were restored at YCM Laboratories, and an untouched print from 1951 was used for guidance on color and tone. Theaters were required to have specific stereo equipment installed, and to present the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with black borders on the side of their screens. The Stokowski soundtrack was digitally remastered using the 1955 magnetic soundtrack, with an estimated three thousand pops and hisses being removed in the process. The 1990 reissue of Fantasia went on to gross $25 million domestically.
Disney considered releasing the film's soundtrack around the time of the film's roadshow release, but this idea was not realized. The soundtrack was first released as a mono three LP set and a stereo 8-track tape in sixteen countries by Disneyland and Buena Vista Records in 1957, containing the musical pieces without the narration. A stereo edition LP was issued by Buena Vista Records in 1961. Disney was required to obtain permission from Stokowski, who initially rejected its sale unless the Philadelphia Orchestra Association received a share of the royalties.
The Kostal recording was released on two CDs, two LPs and two audio cassettes by Buena Vista Records, in 1982.
In September 1990, the remastered Stokowski soundtrack was released on CD and audio cassette by Buena Vista Records. In the United States, it debuted the Billboard 200 chart at number 190, its peak position, for the week of November 17, 1990. Two months after its release, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for 500,000 copies sold in the United States. In January 1993, it was certified platinum for sales in excess of one million copies.
For the film's 75th anniversary, the Stokowski and Kostal recordings were released on two LPs and four CDs as the fifth volume of the Walt Disney Records: The Legacy Collection. The set includes Stokowski's recording of the deleted Clair de Lune segment, and a recording of The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Peter and the Wolf (from Make Mine Music) with added narration by Sterling Holloway.
Fantasia has received three home video releases. The first, featuring the 1990 restored theatrical version, was released on VHS, Betamax and LaserDisc on November 1, 1991, as part of the "Walt Disney Classics" line. The 50-day release prompted 9.25 million advance orders for cassettes and a record 200,000 for discs, doubling the figure of the previous record. The "Deluxe Edition" package included the film, a "making of" feature, a commemorative lithograph, a 16-page booklet, a two-disc soundtrack of the Stokowski score and a certificate of authenticity signed by Roy E. Disney, the nephew of Walt. Fantasia became the biggest-selling sell-through cassette of all time with 14.2 million copies being purchased. The record was surpassed by Beauty and the Beast in December 1992. This version was also released as a DVD in 2000, outside of the U.S. in the United Kingdom and other countries, again under the "Walt Disney Classics" banner.
In November 2000, Fantasia was released on video for the second time, this time along with Fantasia 2000, on DVD with 5.1 surround sound. The films were issued both separately and in a three-disc set called The Fantasia Anthology. A variety of bonus features were included in the bonus disc, The Fantasia Legacy. This edition attempted to follow as closely as possible the runtime and format of the original roadshow version, and included additional restored live-action footage of Taylor and the orchestra, including the bookends to the film's intermission. In the 2000 and 2010 releases, Deems Taylor's voice has been dubbed throughout by Corey Burton because most of the audio tracks to Taylor's restored scenes have been lost.
Both films were reissued again by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment in November 2010 separately, as a two-disc DVD/Blu-ray set and a combined DVD and Blu-ray four-disc set (named the "Fantasia 2 Movie Collection") that featured 1080p high-definition video and 7.1 surround sound. The 2010 version of Fantasia featured a new restoration by Reliance MediaWorks and a new sound restoration, but was editorially identical to the 2000 version. This also marked the first time the roadshow version was released in Europe. Fantasia was withdrawn from release and returned to the "Disney Vault" moratorium on April 30, 2011.
Fantasia garnered significant critical acclaim at the time of release and was seen by some critics as a masterpiece. The West Coast premiere at the Carthay Circle Theatre was a grand affair, attracting some 5000 people, including Shirley Temple, Cecil B. DeMille, Forrest Tucker, James Cagney, Robert Montgomery, James Murphy, Edgar Bergen, and many other notables in the film industry. Among those at the film's premiere was film critic Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times who considered the film to be a magnificent achievement in film which would go down in film history as a landmark film, noting the rapturous applause the film received by the audience during the various interludes. He stated that Fantasia was "caviar to the general, ambrosia and nectar for the intelligentsia" and considered the film to be "courageous beyond belief". Music critic of the newspaper, Isabel Morse Jones, was highly praising of the soundtrack to the film, believing it to be a "dream of a symphony concert", an "enormously varied concert of pictorial ideas, of abstract music by acknowledged composers, of performers Leopold Stokowski and orchestra players of Hollywood and Philadelphia, and, for the vast majority, new and wonderful sound effects". Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, also at the premiere, noted that "motion-picture history was made last night ... Fantasia dumps conventional formulas overboard and reveals the scope of films for imaginative excursion ... Fantasia ... is simply terrific." Peyton Boswell, an editor at Art Digest, called it "an aesthetic experience never to be forgotten". Time magazine described the premiere as "stranger and more wonderful than any of Hollywood's" and the experience of Fantasound "as if the hearer were in the midst of the music. As the music sweeps to a climax, it froths over the proscenium arch, boils into the rear of the theatre, all but prances up and down the aisles." Dance Magazine devoted its lead story to the film, saying that "the most extraordinary thing about Fantasia is, to a dancer or balletomane, not the miraculous musical recording, the range of color, or the fountainous integrity of the Disney collaborators, but quite simply the perfection of its dancing". Variety also hailed Fantasia, calling it "a successful experiment to lift the relationship from the plane of popular, mass entertainment to the higher strata of appeal to lovers of classical music". The Chicago Tribune assigned three writers to cover the film's Chicago premiere: society columnist Harriet Pribble; film critic Mae Tinee; and music critic Edward Barry. Pribble left amazed at the "brilliantly-attired audience", while Tinee felt the film was "beautiful ... but it is also bewildering. It is stupendous. It is colossal. It is an overwhelmingly ambitious orgy of color, sound, and imagination." Barry was pleased with the "program of good music well performed ... and beautifully recorded" and felt "pleasantly distracted" from the music to what was shown on the screen. In a breakdown of reviews from both film and music critics, Disney author Paul Anderson found 33% to be "very positive", 22% both "positive" and "positive and negative", and 11% negative.
Those who adopted a more negative view at the time of the film's release came mostly from the classical music community. Many took fault with Stokowski's rearrangements and abridgements of the music. Igor Stravinsky, the only living composer whose music was featured in the film, expressed displeasure at how in Stokowski's arrangement of The Rite of Spring, "the order of the pieces had been shuffled, and the most difficult of them eliminated", and criticized the orchestra's performance, observing that the simplification of the score "did not save the musical performance, which was execrable". Other composers and music critics leveled criticism at the premise of the film itself, arguing that presenting classical music with visual images would rob the musical pieces of their integrity. Composer and music critic Virgil Thomson praised Fantasound which he thought offered "good transmission of music", but disliked the "musical taste" of Stokowski, with exception to The Sorcerer's Apprentice and The Rite of Spring. Olin Downes of The New York Times too hailed the quality of sound that Fantasound presented, but said, "much of Fantasia distracted from or directly injured the scores". Film critic Pauline Kael dismissed parts of Fantasia as "grotesquely kitschy". Some parents resisted paying the higher roadshow prices for their children, and several complained that the Night on Bald Mountain segment had frightened them. There were also a few negative reactions that were more political in nature, especially since the film's release happened at a time when Nazi Germany reigned supreme in Europe. One review of the film in this manner, written by Dorothy Thompson for The New York Herald Tribune on November 25, 1940, was especially harsh. Thompson claimed that she "left the theater in a condition bordering on nervous breakdown", because the film was a "remarkable nightmare". Thompson went on to compare the film to rampant Nazism, which she described as "the abuse of power" and "the perverted betrayal of the best instincts". Thompson also claimed that the film depicted nature as being "titanic" while man was only "a moving lichen on the stone of time". She concluded that the film was "cruel", "brutal and brutalizing", and a negative "caricature of the Decline of the West". In fact, Thompson claimed that she was so distraught by the film that she even walked out of it before she saw the two last segments, Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria, because she did not want to be subject to any more of the film's "brutalization".
Fantasia holds a 96% "fresh" rating based on a sample of 50 reviews, with an average score of 8.6 out of 10 on Rotten Tomatoes, a website which aggregates film reviews. Its consensus—"A landmark in animation and a huge influence on the medium of music video, Disney's Fantasia is a relentlessly inventive blend of the classics with phantasmagorical images". TV Guide awarded the film four stars, calling it "the most ambitious animated feature ever to come out of the Disney studios", noting how the film "integrates famous works of classical music with wildly uneven but extraordinarily imaginative visuals that run the gamut from dancing hippos to the purely abstract". Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated the film four stars out of four, and noted that throughout Fantasia, "Disney pushes the edges of the envelope". However, Empire magazine only rated it 2 stars out of 5 (poor), concluding "this is a very patchy affair - while some of the animated pieces work, others come across as downright insane". Remarks have also been made about Fantasia not being a children's film. Mark I. Pinksy considers Fantasia to be one of the more problematic of Disney's animated features in that it was intended as much as for adults as children and not what people had come to expect.
Fantasia was ranked fifth at the 1940 National Board of Review Awards in the Top Ten Films category. Disney and Stokowski won a Special Award for the film at the 1940 New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Fantasia was the subject of two Academy Honorary Awards on February 26, 1942—one for Disney, William Garity, John N. A. Hawkins, and the RCA Manufacturing Company for their "outstanding contribution to the advancement of the use of sound in motion pictures through the production of Fantasia", and the other to Stokowski "and his associates for their unique achievement in the creation of a new form of visualized music in Walt Disney's production Fantasia, thereby widening the scope of the motion picture as entertainment and as an art form".
In 1990, Fantasia was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". On the 100th anniversary of cinema in 1995, the Vatican included Fantasia in its list of 45 "great films" made under the Art category; the others being Religion and Values.
Fantasia is featured in three lists that rank the greatest American films as determined by the American Film Institute. The film ranked number 58 in 100 Years... 100 Movies in 1998 before it was dropped from its ranking in the 10th Anniversary revision in 2007, though it was nominated for inclusion. The 10 Top 10 list formed in 2008 placed Fantasia fifth under Animation.
In the late 1960s, four shots from The Pastoral Symphony were removed that depicted two characters in a racially stereotyped manner. A black centaurette called Sunflower was depicted polishing the hooves of a white centaurette, and a second named Otika appeared briefly during the procession scenes with Bacchus and his followers. According to Disney archivist David Smith, the sequence was aired uncut on television in 1963 before the edits were made for the film's 1969 theatrical reissue. John Carnochan, the editor responsible for the change in the 1991 video release, said: "It's sort of appalling to me that these stereotypes were ever put in". Film critic Roger Ebert commented on the edit: "While the original film should, of course, be preserved for historical purposes, there is no need for the general release version to perpetrate racist stereotypes in a film designed primarily for children." The edits have been in place in all subsequent theatrical and home video reissues.
In May 1992, the Philadelphia Orchestra Association filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company and Buena Vista Home Video. The orchestra maintained that as a co-creator of Fantasia, the group was entitled to half of the estimated $120 million in profits from video and laser disc sales. The orchestra dropped its case in 1994 when the two parties reached an undisclosed settlement out of court. British music publisher Boosey & Hawkes filed a further lawsuit in 1993, contending that Disney did not have the rights to distribute The Rite of Spring in the 1991 video releases because the permission granted to Disney by Stravinsky in 1940 was only in the context of a film to be shown in theaters. The United States district court backed Boosey & Hawkes's case in 1996, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling in 1998, stating that Disney's original "license for motion picture rights extends to video format distribution".
Disney had wanted Fantasia to be an ongoing project, with a new edition being released every few years. His plan was to substitute one of the original segments with a new one as it was completed, so audiences would always see a new version of the film. From January to August 1941, story material was developed based on additional musical works, including Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner, The Swan of Tuonela by Jean Sibelius, Invitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von Weber, the Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper by Jaromír Weinberger and Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which was later adapted into the Bumble Boogie segment in Melody Time (1948). The film's disappointing initial box office performance and the USA's entry into World War II brought an end to these plans. Deems Taylor prepared introductions for The Firebird by Stravinsky, La Mer by Claude Debussy, Adventures in a Perambulator by John Alden Carpenter, Don Quixote by Richard Strauss, and Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky "to have them for the future in case we decided to make any one of them".
Another segment, Debussy's Clair de lune, was developed as part of the film's original program. After being completely animated, it was cut out of the final film to shorten its lengthy running time. The animation depicted two Great white herons flying through the Florida Everglades on a moonlit night. The sequence was later edited and re-scored for the Blue Bayou segment in Make Mine Music (1946). In 1992, a workprint of the original was discovered and Clair de Lune was restored, complete with the original soundtrack of Stokowski with the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was included as a bonus feature in The Fantasia Anthology DVD in 2000.
In 1980, the Los Angeles Times reported that animators Wolfgang Reitherman and Mel Shaw had begun work on Musicana, "an ambitious concept mixing jazz, classical music, myths, modern art and more, following the old Fantasia format". Animation historian Charles Solomon wrote that development took place between 1982 and 1983, which combined "ethnic tales from around the world with the music of the various countries". Proposed segments for the film included a battle between an ice god and a sun goddess set to Finlandia by Sibelius, one set in the Andes to the songs of Yma Sumac, and another featuring caricatures of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. The project was shelved in favor of Mickey's Christmas Carol.
Roy E. Disney, the nephew of Walt, co-produced Fantasia 2000 which entered production in 1990 and features seven new segments performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with conductor James Levine. The Sorcerer's Apprentice is the only segment retained from the original film. Fantasia 2000 premiered at Carnegie Hall on December 17, 1999 as part of a five-city live concert tour, followed by a four-month engagement in IMAX cinemas and a wide release in regular theatres, in 2000.
Early development for a third film began in 2002, with a working title of Fantasia 2006. Plans were made to include The Little Matchgirl by Roger Allers and One by One by Pixote Hunt in the film before the project was shelved in 2004, with the proposed segments released as individual short films.The Sorcerer's Apprentice segment was adapted into the feature-length movie, The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010).
The Night on Bald Mountain segment was reported in 2015 as being in development by Disney Productions for a feature-length live-action film with a treatment written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless.
Fantasia is parodied in A Corny Concerto, a Warner Bros. cartoon from 1943 of the Merrie Melodies series. The short features Elmer Fudd in the role of Taylor, wearing his styled eyeglasses, who introduces two segments set to pieces by Johann Strauss (Tales from the Vienna Woods and the Blue Danube Waltz, the former featuring Porky and Bugs and the latter featuring Daffy). In 1976, Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto produced Allegro Non Troppo, a feature-length parody of Fantasia. Jerry Bruckheimer used the story of The Sorcerer's Apprentice as a basis for his eponymous fantasy-adventure film in 2010. Disney are developing the Night on Bald Mountain sequence from the film with Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless writing and executive producing the live action film.
The animated television series The Simpsons references Fantasia in a few episodes. Matt Groening, the creator of the franchise, expressed a wish to make a parody film named Simpstasia; it was never produced, partly because it would have been too difficult to write a feature-length script. In "Treehouse of Horror IV", director David Silverman had admired the animation in Night on Bald Mountain, and made the first appearance of Devil Flanders resemble Chernabog. The episode "Itchy & Scratchy Land" references The Sorcerer's Apprentice in a snippet titled "Scratchtasia", which features the music and several shots parodying it exactly.
In 2014, BBC Music created a music education scheme similar to Fantasia called Ten Pieces, intended to introduce children to classical music. Spanning two films (in 2014 and 2015), several pieces featured in the Fantasia films are also included.
From 2001 to 2015, the Sorcerer's Hat was the icon of Disney's Hollywood Studios, one of the four theme parks located at Walt Disney World Resort. The structure was of the magic hat from The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Also located at the resort is Fantasia Gardens, a miniature golf course that integrates characters and objects from the film in each hole. The fireworks and water show Fantasmic! features scenes from The Sorcerer's Apprentice and other Fantasia segments on water projection screens, and involves the plot of Mickey as the apprentice doing magic whilst also battling the Disney Villains.
For the 20th anniversary of Disneyland Paris, Mickey was depicted in a special version of his Sorcerer's Apprentice outfit with his friends wearing similar outfits.
In 1983, Atari released a game called Sorcerer's Apprentice for the Atari 2600, based on that segment of Fantasia. The player, as Mickey Mouse, must collect falling stars and comets which will prevent the marching brooms from flooding Yen Sid's cavern.
In 1991, a side-scrolling Fantasia video game developed by Infogrames was released for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis system. The player controls Mickey Mouse, who must find missing musical notes scattered across four elemental worlds based upon the film's segments.
There are several film reel levels based on some of the movie's segments such as Sorcerer's Apprentice and Night on Bald Mountain that appear in the Epic Mickey games. Yen Sid and Chernabog also make cameo appearances in the games (Yen Sid the sorcerer from The Sorcerer's Apprentice narrates the openings and endings of the two games and served as the creator of the Wasteland. Chernabog the demon from the Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria segment appears as a painting in the first game and appears in the Night on Bald Mountain film reel levels in the second).
The Disney/Square Enix crossover game series Kingdom Hearts features Chernabog as a boss in the first installment. The Night on Bald Mountain piece is played during the fight. Yen Sid appears frequently in the series beginning with Kingdom Hearts II, voiced in English by Corey Burton. Symphony of Sorcery, a world based on the movie, appears in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. Like the Timeless River world in Kingdom Hearts II, it is featured as a period of Mickey Mouse's past.
Fantasia: Music Evolved, a music game, was developed by Harmonix in association with Disney Interactive for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles. The game utilizes the Kinect device to put players in control of music in a manner similar to Harmonix' previous rhythm games, affecting the virtual environment and interactive objects within it. The game features licensed contemporary rock music such as Queen and Bruno Mars.
Mickey, in his Sorcerer's Apprentice guise, appears as a playable character in Disney Infinity.
A live concert presentation of the film named Disney Fantasia: Live in Concert, showcases various segments from both Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. The concert version features a live symphony orchestra and piano soloist accompanying projected high definition video segments. As of 2014, the Fantasia concert is touring throughout the world.
Several elements from the film appear in television series Once Upon a Time. The hat from The Sorcerer's Apprentice appears in the fourth season episode "A tale of Two Sisters". As the series progressed, the hat was shown to have the ability to absorb others, and those it absorbed would appear as a star on the hat. The Sorcerer's Apprentice himself makes an appearance, where he is an old man who guards the hat in the Enchanted Forest.
Chernabog from Night On Bald Mountain also makes an appearance in the episode "Darkness on the Edge of Town".
Musical score conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, except as noted.