CLOSE
Original image
YouTube

10 Fantastic Facts About Fantasia

Original image
YouTube

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.”

arrow
entertainment
15 Super Facts About Megamind

In 2010, the superhero craze was on the rise in the wake of such hits as Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man. which made it the perfect time to launch a silly sendup of the genre. And so came Megamind, an animated action-comedy about a clumsy villain whose world turns upside down once he actually defeats his superhero nemesis.

1. THE PREMISE WAS INSPIRED BY SUPERMAN.

Essentially, the pitch boiled down to "What if Lex Luthor defeated Superman?" Except instead of Luthor being a wealthy, vicious human, the film offers Megamind (Will Ferrell), a cowardly, odd-looking (but still bald!) misfit from another planet. Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt) is more the Superman type, an alien from another planet who is strong, handsome, and can fly. It's easy for the people of Metro City to love Metro Man, whereas the oddball with the big blue head is instantly regarded as "other" and "bad." It's up to Megamind to prove himself, and find his true path.

2. IT WAS INTENDED AS A VEHICLE FOR BEN STILLER.

The original script by Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons was pitched to Ben Stiller's production company, Red Hour Films, with hopes he'd star as its titular baddie. "[It] was written as a live-action movie," Stiller explained in the spring of 2008. "But we thought it would work as an animated movie so we brought it to Jeffrey Katzenberg [CEO of DreamWorks Animation], and now we're in pre-production."

3. STILLER TURNED DOWN THE LEAD, BUT STILL PLAYED AN IMPORTANT PART IN MEGAMIND.

Instead of voicing Megamind, Stiller opted to executive produce the movie—but he does pop by for a quirky audio cameo as the curmudgeonly curator Bernard, who works at the Metro Man Museum.

4. PRODUCERS WANTED ROBERT DOWNEY JR. FOR THE LEAD.

Riding high off the career revitalization of his live-action superhero hit Iron Man, Downey was game to bring his sarcastic charms to Metro City's menace. But scheduling conflicts ultimately killed the deal. So producers turned to beloved funnyman Will Ferrell, who brought a zany charisma to Megamind, and some crucial gags.

5. THE FILM CYCLED THROUGH VARIOUS TITLES BEFORE MEGAMIND STUCK. 

In the fall of 2008, Stiller was teasing the movie as Master Mind. In that version, Megamind's longtime foe was named Uberman (a more overt spoof of Superman), but by spring of 2009, the title had changed to Oobermind, while Uberman had become Metro Man.

6. SEVERAL DIRECTORS TOOK A CRACK AT MEGAMIND

"There were two or three sets of directors on the movie, each of which started making a different version of the movie before it went to someone else," illustrator/author Jason Porath, who helped with the film as an employee at DreamWorks Animation, told Mental Floss.

The project was kicked off by Gary Trousdale, who had co-helmed a string of Disney animated movies including Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Next, Kyle Jefferson and Cameron Hood, who'd directed the DWA short "First Flight," were brought on. But the final version of Megamind is credited to Tom McGrath, who had co-directed Madagascar and Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa with Eric Darnell, and would go on to helm Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (also with Darnell) and Boss Baby. For their earlier efforts, Trousdale, Jefferson, and Hood ultimately received a special thanks credit on Megamind.

7. IT'S PRETTY COMMON FOR AN ANIMATED MOVIE TO CHANGE DIRECTORS. 

In the case of DreamWorks's How To Train Your Dragon, credited directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders were brought on about one year before the film's release. Then, the beloved movie about a boy and his pet dragon would have been unrecognizable to its fans. "At that point, I think Hiccup was like 9 or 10 years old, all the dragons could talk, and Toothless as we know him didn't exist," Porath tells us. "Those little bug-eyed tiny green dragons he fights for fish in the first movie, one of those was supposed to be his companion dragon. It was a lot closer to the book source material."

This practice extends far beyond DreamWorks: At Pixar, The Good Dinosaur went from Bob Peterson to Peter Sohn. Mark Andrews replaced Brenda Chapman on Brave, and Brad Bird took over directing duties from Jan Pinkava on Ratatouille. At Sony Pictures Animation, Hotel Transylvania cycled through six directors before committing to Genndy Tartakovsky.

8. OTHER VILLAINS VANISHED THROUGH PRODUCTION. 

DreamWorks Animation

One version of Megamind had its eponymous fiend as part of a supervillain league known as the Doom Syndicate. To concoct this crooked but colorful crew of criminals, DreamWorks had an open call, encouraging its artists to pitch villain ideas. Story artist Ryan Savas has publicly shared his sketches for such quirky baddies as White Zombie, The Barista, The Ectopus, the Liberace-inspired Rhinestone, and Alec Baldwin, who can "hypnotize his victims with awesome acting skills." But as the script became streamlined (and the budget got tighter) the Doom Syndicate was cut from Megamind, meaning characters like Destruction Worker, a smoking skeleton, and "geriatric flame-wielder" Hot Flash never made it to the big screen—but they didn't disappear completely.

Three years after the film's release, DreamWorks unleashed the video game Megamind: Ultimate Showdown for the Xbox 360 and PS3. Some of the Doom Syndicate characters reappeared here, including Hot Flash. But Porath told us the fiery old broad made her mark at the animation's offices as well. "Every year, DreamWorks Animation has a big Halloween costume contest," he shared. "And the winner one year was one of the producers who dressed up as Hot Flash."

9. SOME CHARACTERS WENT THROUGH RADICAL PHYSICAL CHANGES. 

Concept art reveals that love interest/journalist Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) had a variety of longer haircuts before the filmmakers settled on her perky pixie cut. During his Uber Man days, Metro Man's Elvis-inspired look toyed with some more outlandish iterations, which involved fur collars, sunglasses, and plenty of glitter. Some test sketches even showed Megamind with spiky hair. But the biggest transformation came to the cunning character's devoted sidekick.

Though fans of the film have come to know Minion as a fanged, talking piranha who gets around in a robo-ape mechasuit, his origins were once far less fantastical. Early concept art shows a version of the character imagined as a chubby man with a tiny jetpack.

10. STILLER WANTED TO SATIRIZE THE SUPERHERO GENRE.

This is an image of Ben Stiller.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

"This genre's been done so many times, that it's always interesting to try to find a postmodern version of it," Stiller told MTV. So he spearheaded a story about how people are not always what they seem.

Notably, this wasn't Stiller's first tme parodying superheroes and villains. In 1999, Stiller starred in the comedy Mystery Men, which followed a batch of wannabe superheroes as they face off with a nefarious foe who was way out of their league. Their powers included farting, bowling, being furious, and shoveling "well."

11. MEGAMIND UNDERWENT A GAG PASS TO MAKE IT EVEN FUNNIER. 

In an informative blog post, Porath explains that a "gag pass" is essentially the part toward the end of production where filmmakers find opportunities to work in more jokes. In this case, the writers and storyboard artists crafted humorous dialogue and visual gags. Meanwhile, Ferrell was encouraged to improvise to bring some more of his unique brand of comedy to the mix.

12. THE FILM'S MARKETING CAMPAIGN ACHIEVED A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD.

To promote the film, Ferrell invited all wannabe superheroes to suit up and join him for a party on October 4, 2010, just a month before the film's opening. But the event also set a Guinness World Record for Largest Gathering of Superheroes. With 1580 costumed attendees, Ferrell and his friends made hero history, breaking the old record by 79 superheroes.

13. THERE'S AN ANCHORMAN EASTER EGG

Toward the end of the movie, Megamind is channel surfing and crosses a news report about a water-skiing squirrel. A very similar story is covered in Ferrell's 2004 comedy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

14. MEGAMIND WAS HURT BY DESPICABLE ME

Cruel timing meant that Megamind opened four months after audiences went wild for Universal's Despicable Me, an animated movie about a villain who goes good. While Megamind pulled in a decent $321 million worldwide, Despicable Me boasted $543 million, spawning sequels and a spinoff for its cuddlier Minions.

The closeness of their premises and release dates hurt Megamind with critics, too. Roger Ebert wrote, "This setup is bright and amusing, even if it does feel recycled from bits and pieces of such recent animated landmarks as The Incredibles with its superpowers and Despicable Me with its villain." USA Today's Claudia Puig was even more cutting, concluding, "Do we really need Megamind when Despicable Me is around?"

15. MEGAMIND FOUND REDEMPTION AS HOME ENTERTAINMENT. 

Released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 25, 2011, Megamind pulled in another $74 million in domestic sales. Readily available in this fashion, its popularity grew. Today, Megamind is warmly remembered and rewatched by fans happy to mispronounce "Metro City," "school," and "spider" like the lovable villain at its center. And despite its bumpy ride through production, it's fondly remembered by the fleets of artists who brought it to life.

You can see their enthusiasm in the blogs linked above, where they've proudly shared concept art and sketches. But perhaps Porath puts it best, declaring, "To put in perspective: almost every movie goes through radical shifts like this. Megamind had a bit longer journey than others, but not by much. I would by no means consider it an outlier. There were a phenomenal number of talented, funny people working to make it great, and it was a fun time at the studio. DreamWorks treated us all really well; I will never work for somewhere that took better care of me."

Original image
Courtesy Fathom Events // GKIDS
arrow
entertainment
Hayao Miyazaki's Greatest Hits Are Coming Back to Theaters This Fall
Original image
STUDIO GHIBLI FEST: Castle in the Sky
Courtesy Fathom Events // GKIDS

Get ready, anime fans. As part of an upcoming film festival, some of Japanese animation icon Hayao Miyazaki’s best-loved films will be coming back to U.S. movie theaters this fall.

Fathom Events and the North American animation distributor GKIDS are running a film festival devoted to Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki's Tokyo-based animation studio. As part of a series of monthly events that began in June, the festival will be showing Castle in the Sky, Nausicaä, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Earlier this summer, the festival showed My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Due to the festival’s popularity, Studio Ghibli Fest is adding an extra day of showings, beginning with the August re-release of Castle in the Sky. Instead of two days of movies, there will be three screenings on three different days.

The films will be shown on the last Sunday of the month, with subsequent screenings the following Monday and Wednesday. The Sunday and Wednesday films will be dubbed in English, while the Monday showings will have subtitles. The festival runs until November 29.

Since it’s through Fathom Events, the films will be shown at hundreds of theaters around the country. You can check where screenings are available near you by entering your ZIP code here.

Miyazaki is technically retired, but he hasn't been able to resist the call of Studio Ghibli. He's scheduled to release Boro the Caterpillar, a film he's calling his last (several years after saying the same about 2013's The Wind Also Rises) in 2019. So maybe we can expect an extended Studio Ghibli Fest in a few years.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios