Walt Disney Records The Legacy Collection continues with their fifth release, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Walt Disney’s Fantasia in a 4-disc set. This film broadened horizons for kids over these seven and a half decades, exposing them to a world of classical music that otherwise may have been unheard until later in life. Although I am a big collector of Disney music, I have never before owned the music of Fantasia, mostly because it didn’t feature any original Disney songs.
Fantasia’s roots truly start with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which was conceived as a stand-alone short to strengthen Mickey Mouse’s appeal since his popularity was beginning to decline. The short was completed in 1938 and the costs to produce it were so high that Roy felt it would make more money if it were part of a feature film. In conversation with conductor Leopold Stokowski, Walt decided it should be an entire animated concert film.
After the pieces had been selected, Stokowski took them back to Philadelphia where he was conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Surround sound was invented for this film, which was called “Fantasound” during its road show release. Nine tracks were recorded of each song, seven to separate the instrument sections for the Fantasound mix, one to record the entire orchestra in mono (for standard release) and another to create the click track that could be animated to.
The first soundtrack to Fantasia was released in 1957 as a three record set on Disneyland Records. It was eventually rereleased in stereo and made its CD debut in 1991. These original recordings can be heard with the film on all DVD and Blu-Ray versions of the film. The original Stokowski recordings can be found on discs 1 and 2 of this set.
While not initially a success, Fantasia grew in popularity over the years. For its re-release in 1982, Disney had the entire score re-recorded digitally in stereo. Film conductor Irwin Kostal was hired to lead this version, having also worked on Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Pete’s Dragon for Disney. These recordings were based on the Stokowski orchestrations, but there are a few differences. The Irwin Kostal version was used again for the 1986 theatrical reissue and if you grew up with the film on VHS, this is the way you originally heard Fantasia. It was released on CD in 1982 and has been unavailable for many years. It is included with this set on discs 3 and 4.
When listening to the score from a typical film, one often notices hidden intricacies in the music that are lost in the mix of visuals, sound effects and dialogue. However, when the film is just visuals and music, separating the two becomes somewhat less enjoyable. But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy listening to both versions of Fantasia. While I did grow up during the VHS boom of the 1990’s, I didn’t grow to truly appreciate Fantasia until its 60th anniversary DVD release. As a result, I am more partial to the original Stokowski arrangements. The Kostal version sounds clearer, but when you’re used to the original version it’s easy to hear that it isnt’ the same. “Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor,” “The Nutcracker Suite” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” all have extra chimes in them, making them sound a little more magical, but also a little too busy at the same time. The most noticeable difference between the two versions, though, can be heard in “Ave Maria.” The diction of the choir is more pronounced in the Kostal version, which makes it sound less heavenly to me.
A typical Legacy Collection release would include a bonus disc. In this case, I feel like discs 3 and 4 are the bonus discs (or for those who prefer the Kostal version, disc 1 and 2 may feel like the bonus). However, there are three bonus tracks. In 1963, Sterling Holloway recorded a storyteller album for Disneyland Records. Side A featured Peter and the Wolf and Side B featured The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The latter is the first bonus track on disc 2, while the latter is the bonus track on disc 4. There was one deleted segment of Fantasia, “Claire De Lune” by Claude Debussy. The animation was repurposed for the “Blue Bayou” sequence of Make Mine Music (which is also where the Disney version of “Peter and the Wolf” is from). The original Stokowski recording of “Claire De Lune” is also on disc 2.
Fantasia is in the now standard Legacy Collection digi-book case, this one being extra-wide like Mary Poppins was to fit all four discs. The disc holder unfolds with track listings on the sleeves. New artwork is featured on the outside and inside the booklet from Lorelay Bove. The outside of the case is completely themed to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The book’s contents were written by Dave Bossert, a Producer/Creative Director at Walt Disney Animation Studios. His section gives a lot of backstory into the development of the film. He also has provided several pages of concept art for each segment. The one thing the book is missing is an explanation as to why you just received two versions of the soundtrack (1940 and 1982 versions). That would have been helpful for those who weren’t aware that Fantasia was ever re-recorded.
Fantasia has always represented a higher level of art than your typical Disney animated feature. It still captivates audiences to this day and introduces new generations to a world of classical music. It’s a worthy addition to the prestigious Legacy Collection line from Walt Disney Records. Even without the visuals by the legendary animation team behind this masterpiece, it’s still a delight to listen to.