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10 Fantastic Facts About Fantasia

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In the late 1930s, Walt Disney had an idea for an experimental film that was unlike anything he or anyone else had ever done. With the dream of combining classical musical and animation into one grand "concert feature," Disney worked on getting the rights to the story of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and then he started to build a team to help bring his unconventional film to life. Fantasia released in select theaters in 1940, and now over 75 years later, it is still regarded as his masterpiece and one of the most important and ambitious animated features of all time. Here are 10 things that you probably didn't know about the film that revolutionized the animation industry.

1. IT WAS THE FIRST FILM TO USE STEREOPHONIC SOUND.

The scope and soundstage of Fantasia were too grand for the standard theater setup of 1940, but instead of making a film that worked within the limitations of the technology, Disney and his team had to develop a way to upgrade theaters to match the concert experience of the film. According to A.P. Peck of Scientific American, a dozen or so theaters across the country had to upgrade their equipment to show Fantasia in what was called “Fantasound.” This involved installing more speakers around the room instead of the few that were typically placed behind the screen (the installation at the Broadway Theater in New York included 90 speakers), as well as new projectors and sound reproduction machines. The estimated cost for the upgrades was around $85,000 per theater, which is close to $1.5 million today when adjusted for inflation.

2. IT IS DISNEY’S LONGEST ANIMATED FEATURE.

For its general release and past restorations, Fantasia was cut to reduce its running time, but at two hours and six minutes, the film is still the longest animated feature the studio has ever made. It would have been even longer, but a ninth segment, Claire de Lune, was nixed during production. The segment was later re-scored and included in the comedy musical Make Mine Music.

3. WALT WANTED IT TO BE A 4D EXPERIENCE.

Transcendent sound was not the only idea that Disney had for his concert feature. Having assembled a classical music super squad helmed by Leopold Stokowski, Disney’s imagination was moving at full tilt. Technical suggestions that he contributed to the planning phase included ways to “stimulate the audience’s senses,” according to Disney historian Didier Ghez. Disney thought it would be a good idea to have fans blow perfume into the theater during The Nutcracker Suite, he wanted the smell of gunpowder to fill the room during The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and he and Stokowski both liked the idea of having a portion of the concert shown using 3D projection, which was limited to black-and-white imagery at the time.

4. IT WAS A COMMERCIAL FAILURE AT FIRST.

Fantasia is regarded as one of the highest grossing films of all time (when adjusted for inflation) with over $83 million at the box office, but it did not open to huge numbers. Because of the special equipment needed to show the film, the theatrical release was very small, as were the sales. What helped the film was its longevity. Fantasia ran for 49 consecutive weeks in New York and nearly as long in Los Angeles, which set an all-time record back in 1941. It also returned to theaters several times over the course of 50 years. The disappointing initial performance and the onset of World War II killed Disney’s dream of creating a sequel, which he had already starting planning for in his head.

5. IT CHANGED THE WAY MICKEY MOUSE WAS DRAWN.

Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse back in 1928. The character did evolve over the years from his first official appearance in Steamboat Willie, but Fantasia marked a pretty major change by artist Fred Moore. One of the adjustments that Moore made to the design of the character was to give him pupils for the first time, instead of the black ovals that once stood for his eyes. Moore is also credited with shortening Mickey’s nose and giving him his now-signature white gloves.

6. STOKOWSKI DIDN’T THINK THE MOUSE SHOULD BE THE LEAD.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment kicks off Fantasia, with Mickey in his iconic blue hat and red robe, but if Disney had listened to Stokowski, things would have been different. According to the book Walt Disney’s Fantasia by John Culhane, Stokowski wrote a letter to Disney suggesting that Mickey was not right for the Apprentice role. “What would you think of creating an entirely new personality for this film instead of Mickey? A personality that could represent you and me – in other words, someone that would represent in the mind and heart of everyone seeing the film their own personality, so that they would enter into all the drama and emotional changes of the film in a most intense matter.”

Stokowski continued by suggesting that a new character would contribute to the “worldwide popularity” of the film. His argument made sense, because the Mickey of the late 1930s was not the dominant force that he is today, but Disney obviously did not agree. Dopey (one of the Seven Dwarfs) was also considered for the part, but Disney didn’t like that idea either.

7. THE SORCERER CHARACTER WAS INSPIRED BY DISNEY HIMSELF.

According to Oh My Disney, the official Disney news and quiz site, silent film star Nigel De Brulier was the live model used when designing the sorcerer character for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but Disney was the inspiration. The team gave the character Walt’s signature eyebrow raise and named him Yen Sid, which is Disney spelled backwards.

8. PEOPLE WERE USED AS LIVE-ACTION REFERENCES.

Very few humans appear in Fantasia, but they were used extensively during production. Members from the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo were hired as models for dancing ostriches, crocodiles, and demons. Artists also used people as models for centaurs in The Pastoral Symphony segment, though some have called that a mistake. “I look back at the centaurs, and I kick myself and could kick anybody else, because this was a case of lack of analysis,” animator Eric Larson said in an interview in 1979. “How much nicer an effect the picture would have gotten if we had studied circus horses and what they could do to music...Instead of that, Ken Anderson, myself, and a heavy-set story man named Don got out on a sound stage one night and the three of us carried baskets on our backs and we skipped around like centaurs, but we were skipping like human beings, not like horses.”

9. A CONTROVERSIAL CHARACTER WAS CUT FROM HOME VIDEO RELEASES.

The Disney company’s history is peppered with problematic depictions, and unfortunately the highly regarded Fantasia was no exception. The fifth segment of the film, called The Pastoral Symphony, features elements of Greek mythology. Among the centaurs and satyrs was a character known as Sunflower, a racist depiction of a Black girl in centaur form with big lips, dark skin, and hoop earrings. Sunflower was shown shining the hooves of the other centaurs and performing other subservient tasks. The character was later censored from prints of the film in the 1960s.

10. THE RESTORATION TOOK TWO YEARS TO COMPLETE.

Working with the original negatives that had been sitting in the vault since 1946, engineers at YCM Laboratories in California spent two years working to restore the film for its 50th anniversary release. According to an article in The New York Times from 1990, every other time that the film had been released post-1946, it had been from duplicates and not the master film. “In 1946, master-duplication technology was not really wonderful,” restoration expert Pete Comandini said. “So we’re talking about a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox.”

The restoration team had to work from two incompatible formats for the negatives. Restoration of Stokowski’s music alone was a six-month long process, and Disney sound engineers had to work from a copy of the soundtrack because the original had disappeared and “nobody knows what happened to it.” Even after the long process, not everyone was happy with the work that was done. “They mucked up a few things,” Disney art director Ken O'Connor told the Los Angeles Times. “The ice fairy cobwebs were made a brighter yellow, the torches in the 'Ave Maria' sequence are too orange, and two of my ostriches were cut off on the sides...But it's certainly still enjoyable.”

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10 Things You Might Not Know About South Park
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South Park has been a favorite of comedy fans since its broadcast debut in 1997, keeping a permanent seat in internet culture thanks to a slew of quotable catch phrases and delightfully inflammatory conversation pieces. Nevertheless, there are a few things about Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s iconic series—which made its debut 20 years ago today—that you might not know.

1. SOUTH PARK PIONEERED THE WAVE OF “MATURE” TELEVISION.

Making its debut in the summer of 1997, South Park entered the small screen circuit just in time to reap the benefits of the Federal Communications Commission’s latest venture: the TV Parental Guidelines. The rating system went into effect in January of the same year, distinguishing “child friendly” programming from “adult content.” Upon its premiere on August 13, South Park became the first weekly series to earn the “TV-MA” (or “Mature Audiences”) label.

2. MOST OF THE SERIES’S FEMALE CAST MEMBERS PERFORM UNDER PSEUDONYMS.

The wealth of the male characters on South Park are voiced by creators and writers Parker and Stone, but the animated Colorado town’s female population has long owed its lines to a small number of women behind the scenes. The voice actresses principally responsible for this lot have been, at various points, Mona Marshall, April Stewart, Eliza Schneider, and the late Mary Kay Bergman.

Early on in her South Park tenure, Disney and Hanna-Barbera mainstay Bergman was sometimes credited as Shannen Cassidy in order to avoid fallout from the ideological differences between South Park and her family-friendly material. Similarly, Stewart adopted the alias Gracie Lazar for her South Park work, and Schneider (who left the series in 2003) performed as “Blue Girl,” a handle she also utilized in her music career. Only Marshall has been consistently credited without a pseudonym.

3. SEVERAL CELEBRITIES HAVE PLAYED EASY-TO-MISS CAMEOS.

South Park’s preferred use of celebrity guest stars differs quite a bit from that of its animated sitcom brethren, a community that typically aims to “play up” the notability of a visiting voice actor. With a few exceptions, South Park favors hiding any trace of a star’s contribution, relegating big-name guests to little more than animal sounds. Actors as renowned as George Clooney, Jay Leno, and Henry Winkler have provided dog barks, cat purrs, and monster growls, respectively, for the show.

4. ONE NOTABLE FAN REFUSED AN OFFER TO GUEST STAR.

Of course, not all Hollywood stars are game for this caliber of work. Taking note of South Park’s meteoric rise in popularity at the inception of its second season, Jerry Seinfeld contacted creators Parker and Stone to express interest in voicing a character. They offered the comedian the nonspeaking part of “Turkey No. 2” in their Thanksgiving episode, but Seinfeld declined.

5. SOME FAMOUS NAMES HAVE WRITTEN FOR THE SERIES.

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Today, Bill Hader and Kristen Schaal are TV comedy stars in their own right. However, while Hader was still appearing on Saturday Night Live, he doubled as a consultant writer and then producer for Parker and Stone’s animated series. Similarly, Schaal spent 2007 working as a consultant writer on South Park, before padding her resume with parts on Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show, and 30 Rock.

6. A SITCOM LEGEND CONTRIBUTED TO TWO EPISODES OF THE SERIES.

It is hardly a surprise to learn that the daringly controversial Parker and Stone hold great reverence for the king of all politically incorrect sitcoms: All in the Family. As such, the pair’s communal dream came true when Norman Lear, the brain behind the groundbreaking series, brought his talents to the South Park set as a writing consultant on the consecutive season 7 episodes “Cancelled” (the 100th episode produced) and “I’m a Little Bit Country.”

7. TREY PARKER APPLIED THE SHOW’S VISUAL STYLE TO A SERIES OF PHILOSOPHICAL SHORTS.

Inheriting a reverence for Buddhism from his father, Randy, Trey Parker went on to discover affection for the philosophies of Zen writer and speaker Alan Watts. In 2007, Parker borrowed the construction paper aesthetic of his popular Comedy Central series to a side project: animated sequences accompanying short segments of Watts’s lectures. Subjects brought to life through Parker’s animation included Watts’ take on music (“Life and Music”), personality extremes (“Prickles and Goo”), and the human race’s relationship with the planet (“Appling”).

8. SOUTH PARK REUNITED A FAMOUS COMIC DUO.

The season four episode “Cherokee Hair Tampons,” which aired in 2000, was notable for employing a pair of guest stars for more than just a few canine grunts. Counterculture comedians Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, who had long since dissolved their big-screen partnership, both lent their voices to the installment. Chong admitted that he and Marin didn’t record their parts together for the episode, but he did credit South Park with reviving their professional camaraderie.

“Cheech did his bit one day and I came in the next day and did my bit,” he told UCTV. “That was the first time we did something together in 20 years so yes, we can give South Park the credit.” Chong’s math might be a little off—his and Marin’s previous proper film collaboration was Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, although they shared credits well into the ’90s—but the spirit of his words sticks. Since the South Park episode, Chong and Marin have joined forces on a handful of film and television projects, including Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie.

9. AN INSECT MUTATION WAS NAMED AFTER A SOUTH PARK CHARACTER.

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Throughout the first five seasons of South Park, the primary distinguishing characteristic borne by the character Kenny McCormick was his proclivity to die suddenly in every episode. This unfortunate trait won Kenny the honor of lending his name to a mutation in the genetic structure of the adult fruit fly, discovered in 2002 by scientist Sophie Rutschmann. The gene was found to predict imminent mortality upon contact with an otherwise benign strain of bacteria; this “certain death” mutation was aptly nicknamed “Kenny” after South Park’s ill-fated character.

10. THE TOURETTE SYNDROME ASSOCIATION HAS PRAISED SOUTH PARK’S TREATMENT OF THE DISEASE.

Well aware of South Park’s reputation for insensitivity, the Tourette Syndrome Association approached the series’ season 11 episode, “Le Petit Tourette,” prepared to be gravely offended. The nonprofit organization was unsurprised by South Park’s heavy focus on coprolalia, or involuntary cursing—a symptom disproportionately associated with the disease in popular culture—but went on record as saying that they were impressed by the episode’s treatment of the condition, as well as by its wealth of well-researched information.

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A Physicist Weighs In On Whether Scrooge McDuck Could Actually Swim in a Pool of Gold Coins
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Batman has the Batcave, Superman has his Fortress of Solitude, and Scrooge McDuck has his money bin. For 70 years, the maternal uncle of Disney’s Donald Duck has been portrayed as a thrifty—some might say miserly—presence in cartoons and comics, a waterfowl who has such deep affection for his fortune that he enjoys diving into his piles of gold and luxuriating in them.

It’s a rather gross display of money worship, but is it practical? Can anyone, including an anthropomorphic Pekin duck, actually swim in their own money, or would diving headfirst into a pile of metal result only in catastrophic injury?

According to James Kakalios, Ph.D., a professor of physics at the University of Minnesota and author of the recently-released The Physics of Everyday Things as well as 2005’s The Physics of Superheroes, the question really isn’t whether someone could swim in a mass of gold. They could not. It’s more a matter of how badly they’ll be injured in the attempt.

Diving into a gold pile the Scrooge way—hands first, prayer-style, followed by your head—is the most efficient way to begin breaking bones. “Keeping his arms stiff and his elbows rigid, he’s definitely going to break his wrists,” Kakalios tells Mental Floss. “Gold is a granular material like sand, a macroscopic object. You can’t swim through sand or dive into it easily.” Launch yourself off a diving board from 3 or 4 feet up and you will meet a solid surface. Landing with your feet, a far better bet, is unlikely to result in injury—provided you try to bend your knees.

In that sense, diving into gold is not dissimilar from “diving” into a concrete floor. But with gold being granular, it might be possible to break the surface and “swim” if the friction were low enough. “A ball pit is a good example,” Kakalios says. “The balls are lightly packed and have low friction relative to one another. The key is to have objects in front of you move out of the way in order to advance.”

Despite being a fictional character, McDuck hasn’t totally ignored the impossible physics of his feat. His creator, Carl Barks, has written in repeated references over the years to the implausibility of using his money vault as a swimming pool and has depicted the villainous Beagle Boys trio as getting hurt when they tried to emulate the stunt. Scrooge smirked and said there was a “trick” to making the gold dive.

That’s led to one fan theory that McDuck has used his fortune to coat the gold coins in some kind of lubricant that would aid in reducing friction, allowing him to maneuver inside the vault. Ludicrous, yes. But is it possible? “You would need a massive amount of lube to slide your body past the coins with minimal effort,” Kakalios says. “The ball pit is easier because the weight of the elements is low. Gold is a very dense material.” Diving and swimming into it, even with lubricant, might be analogous to trying to shove your hand into a deep bowl of M&Ms, he says. “M&Ms have a low friction coating. Continuing to move is really the problem.”

Presuming McDuck could somehow maneuver himself deeper into the pile, his delicate duck bones would almost surely succumb to the crushing weight of the gold above him. By one estimate, diving under one of his 5-foot-tall gold piles would put 2492 pounds of pressure on his bill.

We'll see if he tips his top hat to any further gold-diving tricks—or if he's in a full-body cast—when Disney XD relaunches DuckTales this summer.

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