It’s hard to believe, but Fantasia released in theaters over 75 years ago. Considering the substantial amount of time that’s gone by, there’s probably a lot that people don’t know about the film. So, in celebration of one of Walt Disney’s finest masterpieces, we’ve rounded up a couple of facts that may surprise even the most devoted Fantasia fan.
1. Fantasia was the first and only film to feature Fantasound.
Not only was Fantasia the first film to use a stereophonic sound system, but it was also the first and only film to use Fantasound—a stereophonic sound production system created specifically for the film. Walt felt that the conventional mono sound systems that were popular at the time didn’t sound right, and would be inadequate to create the kind of experience he had in mind.
The film was originally released as a theatrical road show, and was only screened in 13 U.S. cities because it wasn’t ideal to install Fantasound in normal theaters. It was presented as an event, much like a Broadway show, and featured assigned seating, programs, and ushers who were trained to take you to your seat.
Though silent film actor Nigel De Brulier was used as the live model for the wizard in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Walt Disney served as a big inspiration for the character. The raised eyebrow is the most recognizable similarity between the two. Apparently, Walt used to give the same look to people he knew. The character’s name, Yen Sid, is actually Disney spelled backwards.
If you thought that the musicians in the film’s live-action sequences were members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, you’d be wrong! The cast is actually made up of local Hollywood musicians and Disney staff. If you pay attention, you’ll notice famous faces like Paul J. Smith (composer of Pinocchio, Cinderella, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), and Jimmy McDonald (the voice of Mickey Mouse from 1947-1977) among the crowd.
5. Ballerinas were used as live-action references for the film.
For both the ostriches and the alligators in the “Dance of the Hours” sequence, and the demons in the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence, Walt Disney hired the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as live-action reference models for the animators. Among the group were famed dancers Irina Baronova, Cyd Charisse, Tamara Toumanova, and Leonide Massine. The scene that features Hyacinth Hippo emerging from the fountain was actually a reference to a famous scene from George Balanchine’s Goldwyn Follies, which featured Balanchine’s then wife, Vera Zorina.
6. Leopold Stokowski became involved with the project after having dinner with Walt.
According to the story that Walt Disney himself recounted, Stokowski’s involvement with Fantasia happened by chance. When the two had dinner at the Hollywood restaurant Chasen’s one evening, they got to talking about the projects they were working on. After Walt described “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Stokowski told him that he would love to conduct it for him. As one of the most popular conductors at that time, it was an offer Walt couldn’t refuse.
Animator Fred Moore—who was considered the Mickey expert at the studio during that time—completely redesigned Mickey for the feature. He gave Mickey Mouse a larger head and also made his body into a pear shape, which suited the expressive pantomime movements seen in the film.
On October 5, 1990, Fantasia returned to 550 theaters nationwide,in celebration of the film’s 50th anniversary. After tracking down the original negatives—which had been in storage for over 40 years—the film underwent a two-year restoration process. Each of its 535,680 frames were restored at YCM Laboratories, while a print from 1951 was used as a reference for color.
During the film’s production, Walt Disney did not give the animators any instructions for coloring. This was the first time in history that he instructed the crew to use any colors that they wanted.
What was your favorite fact? Were there any you already knew? Let us know in the comments!