Saturdays and summer vacations are often the best times to have movie marathons. I rarely have time to sit down and have a back-to-back-to-back marathon of films, so I'll usually spread the movies out across several days. For example, in anticipation of Marvel's The Avengers, I watched each of the five films - Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger - in the days leading up to the premiere. Last year, I prepared myself for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides by watching each of the previous three films every Friday before the fourth film hit theatres. These marathons usually help to get me in a summer blockbuster mood, in which I'll be inundated with splashy effects and loud noises more often than anyone should be.
There's something exciting about just letting yourself get absorbed into a series of movies. You become a part of that world, and you enjoy moments and situations that generally don't occur in real life. People sing and dance. Fight scenes are elaborate and choreographed. Explosions are thrilling and only marginally life-threatening. To celebrate summer movie marathons, Saturday Matinee will devote the whole summer to a very special movie marathon. Each week, we'll take a look at one or two films represented in Disney Hollywood Studios' The Great Movie Ride, along with an accompanying Disney short that fits thematically for viewing. This week, we'll take a look at the two films which form the finale of The Great Movie Ride, but not the finale of our marathon: 1940's Fantasia and 1939's The Wizard of Oz.
Walt Disney's Fantasia is not your typical animated feature. It is, first and foremost, a concert. Music is the star. You're meant to hear this film as much as you are meant to see it. Ever the innovator, Disney married classical music to contemporary animation, ranging from the abstract colors and purple waves in "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" to the creation of Earth itself in "The Rite of Spring." Stories can still be told, as evident by the film's most popular segment, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," starring Mickey Mouse and based on the 18th century poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and 19th century symphony by Paul Dukas. A powerful sorcerer, Yensid, has retired for the evening, leaving his magical hat on the table. Mickey Mouse, merely an apprentice, decides to have some fun with the hat. He uses it to bring a broomstick to life, giving it his chores of fetching water from a well.
However, Mickey falls asleep and dreams of controlling the seas and skies with his newfound powers. When he awakens, the broomstick has continued to bring in buckets of water, flooding the room in his relentless actions. Mickey takes an axe(!) to the broom, believing he's stopped it. Instead, its splintered pieces multiply into more brooms, each one doing its duty by fetching water. All seems lost for Mickey, as he struggles to find a spell in his master's spellbook, which is now doubling as a raft. Yensid soon awakens and comes downstairs. He raises his arms, and with great power, recedes the waters and stops the brooms. Poor Mickey knows he's in for it now, and he offers a sheepish smile to Yensid after returning hat and broom.
The Wizard of Oz
If you haven't seen this timeless classic, you've either been living under a rock for the past 73 years, or you died in 1938. Dorothy Gale of Kansas leads a rather ordinary life. Sepia-toned, stuck on a farm in Kansas, and with Toto the dog for a best friend, she yearns for more. It's out there somewhere. Maybe somewhere... over the rainbow? A twister comes by, transporting her house to the magical land of Oz, where it promptly lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her and leaving behind ruby red slippers. Dorothy and Toto are greeted by Munchkins, meet Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, receive the ruby red slippers, and as a result, is threatened by the Wicked Witch of the West. As she makes her way to Oz, she encounters a Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, all who accompany her to visit the Wizard.
In Oz, the uptight Wizard (a glowing green head) gives Dorothy a challenge: bring back the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West, and he will take her home. Dorothy and her posse start their journey to the Witch's castle, but are thwarted by her Flying Monkeys. They take Dorothy, leaving it up to Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion to rescue her. They find an escaped Toto on the way, and disguise themselves as Winkie guards to get in. After rescuing Dorothy, a well-thrown bucket of water melts the witch, much to the Winkie guards' delight. Dorothy gets the broomstick and brings it to the Wizard, who's as much a pill as he was before and demands they come back tomorrow. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain... it's just the real Wizard. He relents, and humbly gives gifts to the brave group. He and Dorothy then say their goodbyes to the people of Oz, but before the balloon takes off, Dorothy runs after an errant Toto, leaving her stuck in Oz once again.
Glinda returns, to remind Dorothy she had the power all along - the ruby slippers. All she needs to do is remember "there's no place like home," and she'll be there. Dorothy shuts her eyes, chants several times, and returns to the mundane sepia-toned world she left behind. But it's home, and there's no place like it.
Fantasia was an ambitious project, especially for Walt's third feature film. It began its life within the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" short, as Disney sought to work the famed conductor Leopold Stokowski on its production. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" would feature Mickey Mouse, but not be part of his actual series of short cartoons. If anything, it was treated as a feature film, one that would have its own theatrical engagements and exhibitions. Rising costs on that one film alone led to the decision to make "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" one part of a "Concert Feature" that would include other animated pieces set to classical music. Thus, Fantasia was born. As Walt envisioned, the film could be in continual release. Over time, new segments could be added to the repertoire, while less-popular ones were removed. Audiences would return to the film time and again to see the new pieces, as well as the familiar favorites.
Unfortunately, Walt's lofty vision remained unrealized for sixty years. While Fantasia was a hit in roadshow exhibitions in major cities, its 1942 general release - with the laughable "Fantasia will Amaze Ya!" tagline - was a huge flop. Even with its roadshow success, the film and Pinocchio were high-cost projects that all but ate up any profits left from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Theatres not only had to be equipped with the new Fantasound speaker system, but roadshows only permitted one or two showings per day, coupled with expensive tickets and programs. In addition, the U.S.'s entrance into World War II led to the foreign markets being shut off completely, a major hindrance to Disney's box-office returns. Any plans for Fantasia to be an ever-changing always-in-release picture were shelved, even though some shorts were well into development.
One such short, "Clair de Lune," was already in production and completed. Disney planned on releasing it on its own, before deciding instead to integrate its animation into 1946's Make Mine Music, where it was now paired the song "Blue Bayou." Other planned segments included "Flight of the Bumblebee" (repurposed into 1948's "Bumble Boogie" in Melody Time) and "The Firebird," which would finally come to fruition in 1999's Fantasia 2000. It was in Fantasia 2000 that Walt's vision of a continuing concert feature was realized. However, everything from the original Fantasia - save for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" - was replaced by newer shorts. These included the all-CGI "Steadfast Tin Soldier," and Donald Duck starring in a Noah's Ark short set to "Pomp and Circumstance." The abstract innovation from "Toccata and Fugue" would also be realized once again in "Symphony No. 5." My personal favorite from the film is Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," directed by Eric Goldberg and heavily inspired by the designs of cartoonist Al Hirschfeld. The film would have been followed up with Fantasia 2006, but Roy E. Disney's 2003 resignation from the company, followed by his Save Disney campaign, cancelled those plans as well.
Most of my Wizard of Oz experience came as a child. We had received the 1989 VHS tape in a big box from Columbia House, and it would be played, replayed, overplayed, underplayed, rewound, fast-forwarded, etc. time and again for about ten years. The VHS included extras after the film, which featured such rare footage as trailers, Judy Garland at the 1939 Academy Awards, excerpts from a newsreel, photos of Buddy Ebsen as Tin Man (he was replaced by Jack Haley), home movies from the deleted "Jitterbug" sequence, and the extended version of "If I Only Had a Brain." These extras would seem paltry in comparison to later home video releases, the most recent of which comprised four whole DVDs (or two Blu-Rays) of material.
I can't recall watching the film very much in middle or high school, save for using a segment of it in a news report for my high school's cable-access show, "Monthly Rewind." Beyond that, The Wizard of Oz was a treasured childhood relic. As such, it's rather hard for me to acknowledge The Wizard of Oz as a Hollywood classic. I see it too much as a part of my childhood rather than some filmmaking marvel. Which is ironic, because the film is quite a technological marvel. It's perhaps the best use of Technicolor in the 1930's, while also presenting a new form of movie musical. Gone is the "let's put on a show" mentality. Instead, songs here serve to tell the story rather than stop it. "Over the Rainbow," Dorothy's slow ballad that spells her wishes and desires for a better world, is possibly the most critically-lauded song in Hollywood history. Hard to believe it was nearly cut from the picture.
The first time I sat down to watch the film in its entirety since my childhood was during my 2005 College Program. One of my roommates owned Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," and so I bought the DVD at Virgin Megastore so we could sync the two up. It was quite a surreal experience, especially as this was my first time hearing anything from Pink Floyd that wasn't "The Wall." Synchronization is vitally important to this method of viewing, coined "Dark Side of the Rainbow" in the late 90's, as even being a couple seconds off ruins the effect. But even then, the lag does make the viewing even more odd, though not as humorous as an audio lag in The Duelling Cavalier. ;-)
Fantasia gets destined to be released on home video roughly once every ten years. Its sole VHS & LaserDisc release was in 1991, after its 50th Anniversary theatrical re-release. The film then came to DVD in November 2000, on its own and paired up with Fantasia 2000 in the still-impressive "The Fantasia Anthology" DVD box set. November 2010 saw the two films released once more, on both Blu-Ray and DVD, as a less-excitingly-named "Two-Movie Collection." On the plus side, the Blu-Ray is also where you can find "Destino," an animated short over fifty years in the making. The feature-length documentary A Date with Destino is also included, which looks at the Disney-Dali collaboration and how this animated short was finally made.
The Wizard of Oz, on the other hand, has been constantly released over the years. Its first DVD release was in 1997, followed by a 1999 Special Edition, and dual releases in 2005: a two-disc Special Edition and a three-disc Collector's Edition. The film re-emerged on DVD in 2009, which also saw a Blu-Ray release in both a "70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition" box set and a standard single-disc affair. The DVDs and Blu-rays for the film will be discontinued later this year in order to build anticipation for a 2014 "75th Anniversary Edition" release.