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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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Walt Disney Studios
15 Things You Might Not Know About Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Walt Disney Studios
Walt Disney Studios

As both a groundbreaking feat for the world of animation and an enjoyable crime comedy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit stands in a class all its own. Here are a few interesting nuggets about the cartoon-live action classic, on the 30th anniversary of its release.

1. IT WAS THE MOST EXPENSIVE MOVIE EVER MADE.

At the time of its release on June 22, 1988, Who Framed Roger Rabbit boasted the highest budget of any film to date: a whopping $70 million (nearly $150 million in today's dollars). It topped the previous record holder, Rambo III (which had come out less than a month earlier), by about $12 million. Roger Rabbit held the designation until July 1991, ultimately falling to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which cost $100 million.

2. THE FILM ALSO BROKE THE RECORD FOR LONGEST END CREDITS.

Recognizing a cast and crew of just over 800, Who Framed Roger Rabbit featured the longest closing credit reel ever upon its release. The film’s credits ran for over 10 minutes, even without attribution for Jessica Rabbit’s voice actor, Kathleen Turner.

3. BOB HOSKINS WAS NOT THE FIRST PICK FOR EDDIE VALIANT.

Director Robert Zemeckis and producer Steven Spielberg communicated with a number of big name actors in regard to the casting of human protagonist Detective Eddie Valiant. Among those considered for the curmudgeonly private eye were Harrison Ford (who was too expensive), Chevy Chase (who was not interested in the part), and Bill Murray (who allegedly never got the message and was dismayed to learn he had missed such an opportunity). Other names tossed around included Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Wallace Shawn, Ed Harris, and Charles Grodin.

4. CHRISTOPHER LLOYD WASN'T THE FILMMAKERS' FIRST CHOICE EITHER.

Christopher Lloyd in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' (1988)
Walt Disney Studios

Before landing on Zemeckis’s Back to the Future colleague Christopher Lloyd as the nefarious Judge Doom, producers considered Tim Curry (who they deemed too scary), John Cleese (not scary enough), and Christopher Lee (who turned the role down). Also in early contention: Roddy McDowell, Eddie Deezen, and Sting.

5. LLOYD WAS MORE TERRIFYING THANKS TO ONE SIMPLE TRICK.

Prompted by a suggestion from Zemeckis, Lloyd does not blink even once while onscreen in the film.

6. CHARLES FLEISCHER ACTUALLY DRESSED UP LIKE ROGER RABBIT WHEN PERFORMING HIS LINES.

Voice actor Charles Fleischer was so devoted to his role as the animated title character that he asked the costume department to create a full-body Roger Rabbit suit for him to wear on set. Fleischer delivered all of his lines from inside the suit, claiming that it helped both him and costar Hoskins immerse within the fantastical world of the film (even though Fleischer admits that Hoskins initially thought he was out of his mind).

7. THE “DIP” IS REAL.

Kathleen Turner and Bob Hoskins in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' (1988)
Walt Disney Studios

Who Framed Roger Rabbit subverts the old maxim about cartoon characters never dying by introducing the one thing that proves fatal to the lot: a liquid concoction known as “dip.” There is actually a bit of science behind this plot device. The ingredients of the dip are revealed to be turpentine, benzene, and acetone, which are all paint thinners commonly used to erase animation cells (in other words, wipe out cartoon characters).

8. THE FILM SENT BART SIMPSON TO STARDOM.

One of the film’s most chilling sequences sees Judge Doom exacting his wrath upon an anthropomorphic cartoon shoe. The character never speaks, but it squeaks and whimpers as the Judge lowers it into a vat of dip. Those cries were the work of relatively unknown voice actor Nancy Cartwright, who would rise to fame one year later as the voice of Bart Simpson.

9. EARLY DRAFTS OF THE SCRIPT WERE DARKER.

The screen adaptation of Gary K. Wolf’s 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? underwent quite a few changes before it hit the big screen. Some drafts involved Jessica Rabbit and Baby Herman each turning out to be the story’s villain, Judge Doom revealing that he was the hunter who shot Bambi’s mother, and even Roger’s death.

10. ROGER AND EDDIE HAD FAMOUS STAND-INS FOR TEST SHOOTS.

At various stages in the film’s development, animators put together test reels for studio presentation. An early go at the project employed the vocal talents of Paul Reubens, better known as Pee-wee Herman, for a variation of Roger marked by neurotic stammering. Some time later, Richard Williams (who eventually became Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s animation director) treated Walt Disney Pictures to a taste of his talents via a scene uniting a more recognizable Roger with an appropriately cranky Eddie Valiant. Here, Eddie is played by future The Sopranos star Joe Pantoliano.

11. ROGER WAS MODELED AFTER BIG STARS.

In designing Roger Rabbit, Williams wanted to incorporate elements from classic animation. He has expressed that Roger is meant to embody the production caliber of Disney, the character design of Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes, and the personality and sense of humor of animator Tex Avery. Furthermore, Roger’s anatomy and attire can be broken up by studio influence: His face is meant to resemble a Looney Tunes character’s and his torso a Disney hero’s, while his overalls are a nod to Goofy, his gloves to Mickey Mouse, and his bow tie to Porky Pig.

12. JESSICA WAS INSPIRED BY SOME A-LISTERS, TOO.

While Jessica Rabbit’s principal aesthetic inspiration was the titular heroine of Avery’s famous short “Red Hot Riding Hood,” she had a few human influences as well. Among them were Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth, and Veronica Lake.

13. THE FILM SPAWNED THE INDUSTRY TERM “BUMPING THE LAMP.”

For movie animators and special effects artists, the phrase “bumping the lamp” refers to the application of tremendous effort to a particular aesthetic feature that viewers will more than likely never even notice. The saying entered the lexicon thanks to a scene that involved Bob Hoskins’s character repeatedly bonking his head on a low-hanging ceiling lamp, causing it to swing around the room. Animators had to draw and redraw Roger Rabbit in a fashion that was consistent with the rapidly fluctuating illumination of the scene. While the team was well aware that absence of the effect wouldn’t bother most audiences, they were so devoted to their craft that they stuck with it. (You can watch the scene above.)

14. THE FILM FEATURES OVER 140 PREEXISTING ANIMATED CHARACTERS.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the only film to date to unite Disney mascot Mickey Mouse and Warner Bros. icon Bugs Bunny; the pair shares a scene in the latter half of the movie, merrily skydiving next to an airborne Bob Hoskins.

In addition to Mickey, Disney showcased 81 distinct characters, as well as 14 “groups” of characters (for instance, the titular sprites from the short “The Merry Dwarfs” or the anthropomorphic fauna from the short “Flowers and Trees”) in the movie. Meanwhile, Bugs was one of 19 Warner Bros. characters to get screen time. MGM, Paramount Pictures/Fleischer Studios, Universal Studios, 20th Century Fox, King Features Syndicate, and Al Capp’s cartoons all had characters make appearances as well.

15. THAT SAID, THERE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE MANY MORE CAMEOS.

Although Zemeckis and his crew managed to populate Who Framed Roger Rabbit with a vast array of recognizable characters, their original ambitions were even more sweeping. Contractual issues and time constraints kept characters like Popeye, Chip and Dale, Pepe Le Pew, Mighty Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Pedro from Saludos Amigos, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Witch Hazel, Heckle and Jeckle, several characters from Fantasia, and even Superman from the final cut.

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Pixar
10 Fast Facts About Cars
Pixar
Pixar

Pixar’s Cars was released on this day 12 years ago. So put on your helmets, rev those engines, and let’s take a look at some behind-the-scenes facts about the Oscar-winning animation studio’s fastest-moving film.

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY AN UGLY DUCKLING-TYPE STORY ABOUT AN ELECTRIC CAR.

Cars started off life as Little Yellow Car, about an electric car that faces prejudice from its gas-guzzling counterparts. Pixar animator/artist Jorgen Klubien, who developed the story during production on A Bug’s Life, was inspired by real-life automotive history from his home country of Denmark.

“In the 1980s some enthusiastic folks got the idea of making a three-wheeled one-person car that ran on electricity,” said Klubien. “They put it into production and it worked great in the city, but out on the highway it was too slow. People also thought the car was ugly. I thought the electric car was ahead of its time, and it struck me as odd that my fellow Danes didn’t agree. It reminded me of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. This famous Danish character wasn’t accepted at first, but in the end it proved to be right on the money.”

The story was deemed too slight to carry an entire movie, but the small-town setting remained an inspiration.

2. ITS CO-WRITER/DIRECTOR PASSED AWAY DURING PRODUCTION.

Cars is dedicated to Joe Ranft, the film's co-writer and co-director, who died in a car accident on August 16, 2005—while Cars was still in production. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005), which Ranft executive produced, is also dedicated to him.

3. MATER IS BASED ON A REAL-LIFE NASCAR ENTHUSIAST.

The country bumpkin tow truck Mater got his name from NASCAR superfan Douglas “Mater” Keever, whom the filmmakers met while on a research trip to North Carolina’s Lowe’s Motor Speedway (now called the Charlotte Motor Speedway). Keever has a voice cameo in the film, as the motor home who says “Well dip me in axle grease and call me slick” early in the film. (Keever improvised the line, which was originally “Well dip me in axle grease and call me lubrication.” Producer Darla Anderson opted to change it, Keever speculated, because “maybe she thought it sounded sexual, I don’t know.”)

4. MANY AUTO WORLD LUMINARIES LENT THEIR VOCAL TALENTS.

Reigning racing champ Strip “The King” Weathers is voiced by legendary racer Richard Petty, who has the same nickname as his animated counterpart. Weathers’s wife, credited as “Mrs. The King,” is voiced by Petty’s wife, Lynda Petty. Several other automotive notables contribute their vocal talents: announcer/former racer Darrell Waltrip plays “Darrell Cartrip”; Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of NPR’s radio show Car Talk, voice Lightning McQueen’s sponsors, Rusty and Dusty Rust-eze; and racers Michael Schumacher, Mario Andretti, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. voice automotive versions of themselves. (Despite voicing announcer “Bob Cutlass,” sports analyst Bob Costas doesn’t actually cover racing.)

5. SEVERAL ACTORS CHANGED FOR INTERNATIONAL RELEASES.

For Cars’s UK release, Jeremy Piven was replaced as the voice of Lightning McQueen’s never-seen agent Harv by Top Gear co-host Jeremy Clarkson. “The King” was also voiced by different racers in some international releases, as Richard Petty isn’t as well known outside of the United States. In Germany, The King is voiced by Formula One champ Niki Lauda, while in Spain he is Formula One’s Fernando Alonso.

6. MOST CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON REAL CARS.

Lightning McQueen, Mater, and Chick Hicks are all original Pixar designs, but most of the other characters are based on existing cars. Among them are Doc Hudson (1951 Hudson Hornet), Ramone the body paint specialist (1959 Chevy Impala), tire salesman Luigi (1959 Fiat 500), hippie Fillmore (1960 Volkswagen Microbus), military surplus store owner Sarge (1942 Willys Jeep), and Mack, the truck that drives Lightning around (Mack Superliner). Sally, as a 2002 Porsche 911 Carrera, is the only Radiator Springs character modeled after a contemporary car.

7. IT BROUGHT A NEW STANDARD OF REALISM TO ANIMATED FILMS.

Cars was the first Pixar feature to utilize a technique known as “ray tracing,” which properly renders the way light passes through and collides with surfaces. More simply, it enables artists to accurately depict reflections without having to go through and “paint” them individually. Ray tracing takes up a massive amount of computer power; as a result, each frame (or about 1/24th of a second) of Cars took an average of 17 hours to render. Some frames took up to a week.

8. IT WAS PAUL NEWMAN’S FINAL FILM—AND HIS HIGHEST-GROSSING.

Cars marks the final film of Paul Newman, who in addition to being an actor/entrepreneur/philanthropist also became a racing enthusiast after starring in the 1969 racing drama Winning. Cars is also the highest-grossing film of Newman’s career (not adjusted for inflation).

9. ONE OF LIGHTNING MCQUEEN’S CHARACTER INSPIRATIONS WAS KID ROCK.

To help get a handle on the character of rookie racing sensation Lightning McQueen, directing animator James Ford Murphy “put together a series of little bios of great personalities that were really cocky but really likeable.” Among the people he pulled inspiration from were sportsmen Muhammad Ali, Charles Barkley, and Joe Namath, plus musician Kid Rock.

10. YOU CAN VISIT THE MOUNTAIN RANGE THAT SURROUNDS RADIATOR SPRINGS IN REAL LIFE (SORT OF).

The mountain range surrounding Radiator Springs is inspired by the real-life Cadillac Ranch, an outdoor art installation located outside Amarillo, Texas that consists of heavily spray-painted Cadillacs, half-buried facedown in the ground.

Additional Source: The Pixar Touch, by David A. Price

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