The animators secretly modeled elements of the Sorcerer in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" on their boss, Walt Disney. The raised eyebrow was regarded as a dead giveaway. They call the character Yen Sid, which is "Disney" spelled backwards.
Early on, Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski considered having fragrances dispersed into the theater at certain points in the movie to heighten the experience. Suggestions included cereus for "Claire de Lune," jasmine for the "Waltz of the Flowers" segment of "The Nutcracker Suite," incense for "Ave Maria," and gunpowder for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." Disney dropped the idea because of the difficulty of clearing one scent from the theater before spraying in the next one.
Walt Disney himself related the story of a chance meeting with Leopold Stokowski at Chasen's. They agreed to have dinner together. As they talked, Disney told of his plans to do "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and other possible projects using classical music with animation. Disney said that he was stunned when Stokowski, then one of the two most famous conductors in the country (the other being Arturo Toscanini), responded by saying, "I would like to conduct that for you." It was an offer he couldn't pass up.
The primeval Earth scene was filmed using a mixture of porridge, mud, and other ingredients and was enhanced by animation; apart from the orchestra sequences, it is the only live-action sequence in the whole movie.
In the "Pastoral Symphony" segment there was originally a scene showing stereotyped black assistant centaurs shining the hooves of white centaurs. The chief of these was Sunflower, who had a very stereotypical look: big, red lips and wild, messy hair. It was not until the 1969 re-release that this was thought to be objectionable, and all subsequent releases until 1980 had an abrupt cut at this point. Every subsequent release after 1990 includes the scene, but with the section blown up so that it only shows the faces of the white female centaurs.
The filming of the final "Ave Maria" sequence was plagued by mishaps. To achieve the effect of moving through the scene, several panes of painted glass were used. The whole setup was over 200 feet long, and had to be redone three times. The first time the wrong lens was placed on the camera, and the subsequent film showed not only the artwork but the workers scurrying around it. The second time around, an earthquake struck the studio, and the shot was once again scrapped. The next morning, the shot was redone, the film was shipped to the lab, processed, and couriered to the premiere in New York where it was spliced into the final print with only four hours to spare.
Bela Lugosi served as a live-action model for Chernabog, the demon named after the god of evil in Slavonic mythology in "Night on Bald Mountain". Lugosi spent several days at the Disney studios, where he was filmed doing evil, demon-like poses for the animators to use as a reference. However, Bill Tytla, the animator in charge of Chernobog, was dissatisfied with Lugosi's performance, and had sequence director Wilfred Jackson pose for the cameras. Thus it was Jackson, not Lugosi, who appeared on-screen as Chernobog. Bill Tytla supervised the animation of both him and the sorcerer in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", whose name Yen Sid (Disney spelled backwards) was originally going to be used for Chernabog. The animators modeled sorcerer after Nigel De Brulier but secretly added in some elements of their boss, Walt Disney. The raised eyebrow was regarded as a dead giveaway.
Walt Disney originally wanted to re-release the film each year with new music segments, but this proved over-ambitious. Among the pieces that were at least storyboarded for insertion were Jean Sibelius's "Swan of Tuonela," Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee," and Carl Maria von Weber's "Invitation to the Waltz" (a new concept that would have starred Peter Pegasus from the "Pastoral" segment). Some of these ideas, however, were incorporated into Fantasia/2000 (1999).
For "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", Mickey Mouse was redesigned by Fred Moore to give him a more modern look and eyes with pupils for the first time. By the time the movie was finally released (two years after "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" was supposed to be finished as a stand-alone short), four regular Mickey Mouse films (starting with The Pointer (1939) and the promotional short Mickey's Surprise Party (1939)) had been completed and released using the new Mickey design.
At the beginning of the Chinese Dance segment of "The Nutcracker Suite," Hop Low, the little mushroom, does a little jump while criss-crossing his legs. Animator Art Babbitt got the idea from The Three Stooges - it's one of Curly Howard's signature moves.
The Night On Bald Mountain sequence was cut from the film when originally released on video. When the sequence was shown in 1940 the studio was overrun with calls and letters from parents who complained that the sequence scared their children. It has since been restored to its original place in the film on subsequent home video releases.
When Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971, the only featured composer still living in 1940) was contacted about the rights to use "The Rite of Spring," he offered to compose a completely new piece for Walt Disney. This was not taken, and Stravinsky hated Leopold Stokowski's re-orchestration and re-organization of the piece (the original order of the sections was jumbled, and two of them were completely left out of Fantasia (1940)).
After initially considering and then rejecting the suggestion that Dopey (from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)) would be the star of what he saw as the ultimate Silly Symphony, Walt Disney decided that his favorite, Mickey Mouse (a character whose future on the silver screen was a prime concern for Walt), should play the key role in an animated special featuring the music "L'Apprenti Sorcie" (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) by French composer Paul Dukas instead.
Disney digitally re-recorded the soundtrack for the 1982 re-release because the original Leopold Stokowski soundtrack from 1940 sounded dated and very limited in fidelity. But for the 1990 50th Anniversary release, Disney reverted to the original soundtrack from 1940, which they cleaned up as best as possible (although the limited fidelity could not be corrected) and this is the soundtrack the film has today.
Originally, Gabriel Pierné's "Cydalise" was to have been the musical choice for the Greek mythology setting, but Walt Disney decided it wasn't expressive enough for the story, so Ludwig van Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony" was chosen instead.
This is thought to be the first American film to be released with no credits at all shown on-screen except for the intermission title card (not even the customary "Walt Disney presents"). Other than the film's title, the phrases "Color by Technicolor," "copyright 1940 by The Walt Disney Company" "certificate # 5940" and "RCA Sound Recording" are on the one frame. Programs containing the credits were distributed to patrons at the initial showings of the movie in 1940. The data was added to the 1990 50th anniversary edition at the end of the movie and is used in IMDb's credits as though they were in the original movie.
The initial wide release was a dismal box office failure. In later years, some theater chains, which would normally run any Disney release, would not book the reissues of this film. However, by the 1969 reissue, the film attracted considerable interest for its supposedly psychedelic imagery and Disney marketed the film according to take advantage of it. The reissue was successful and the film's reputation and popular appeal grew from that point to where its first home video release in 1991 broke records for sales.
The 2000 restoration was the first time the longer, so-called roadshow version of the film was seen after the initial release. This version contains much longer interstitials from Deems Taylor explaining what will be seen. The picture of these segments was easy to find and was cleaned up, since most of them were used in the 1990 restoration, but the soundtrack for the segments that had not been seen since the 1940s either could not be found or was in terrible shape. After much debate, actor Corey Burton was called in to dub all of Taylor's dialog, but the original narration can be heard in the Sound Track sequence halfway through the picture.
Early story treatments for the "Rite of Spring" extended the time line to the appearance of humankind and the discovery of fire. It was decided to end the segment with the extinction of the dinosaurs to avoid controversy with fundamentalist groups.
Before Leopold Stokowski agreed to conduct the music for the film, Arturo Toscanini was considered as conductor. In the 1990s book "Fantasia", John Culhane describes how he was told that members of the Disney staff were busy listening to a 78-RPM album of Toscanini conducting 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice', but quickly hid it when they heard that Stokowski was actually on his way to the studio.
The static title card was originally shown at the film's midway-point instead of at the beginning to introduce a 15-minute intermission used in the roadshow release; the "FANTASIA" title would remain projected on the house curtains until the beginning of the film's second act. Subsequent edited re-releases of the film shifted the title card from its intermission to its actual beginning, but for the 2000 DVD restoration the title card is returned to the original midway-point, and even includes the 'RKO Radio Pictures' distribution credit.
The first feature film to be shown in multichannel sound. The original prints featured soundtracks that were recorded in a process known as Fantasound, a four-track directional stereophonic system that was invented especially to record the soundtrack for the film by RCA and the Walt Disney Studios technical team, led by William E. Garity. The Leopold Stokowski-conducted orchestra audio was recorded onto eight separate soundtracks (six channels recorded individual sections of the orchestra, the seventh recorded a mix of the first six channels and the eighth recorded a distant pickup of the entire orchestra), which were then mixed down to three tracks (left, center and right). The three music tracks were optically matted with a fourth control track (containing signal tones that varied the speaker dynamics) onto a filmstrip separate from the projector print. Over 90 speakers were used for the playback of the Fantasound audio during the premiere of the film on 12 November 1940. A more typical Fantasound setup used three speakers behind the screen and 65 others placed around the other three walls of the theater. However, Fantasound was discontinued due to the amount of sound equipment required and the time necessary to make the installation. The advent of wartime conditions also precluded the possibility of developing mobile units that could have lessened installation time and costs. Therefore, only 12 venues ever played the original Fantasound version of the film, and only 16 Fantasound-equipped prints were ever created. When RKO took over distribution for the roadshow version in January 1941, the film was shipped with a conventional monaural track. Disney technicians recreated Fantasound for the 50th Anniversary release in 1990 using modern digital technology and the original sound cues from the Disney archives, and this mix was encoded into the subsequent VHS and laserdisc releases. This mix is active, and even aggressive at times, with music swirling or jumping around the room. However, the DVD's mix sounds considerably different. While no official verification can be found that it was changed, the DVD's surround mix is more passive, with the music in the front channels and only concert-hall reverb in the rear channels. The sound is cleaner, but it is not Fantasound as it was described in 1940 and as it appeared in 1990.
The 1947 re-release was distributed with Peter and the Wolf (1946), which was originally a segment in Make Mine Music (1946), shown as a featurette, much the way the first two or three Disney "Winnie the Pooh" shorts were shown before the main feature in theaters. This was the closest Walt Disney ever got to continuously updating Fantasia with new segments, although the "Peter and the Wolf" cartoon was not actually incorporated into "Fantasia."
On the 1982 digital re-recording of the soundtrack, Irwin Kostal decided to use Modest Mussorgsky's original orchestration (which was previously unpublished until 1968) of "Night on Bald Mountain," which is said to be much fiercer than the version orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski that was used on the original.
The soundtrack album, a 3-LP set of all the music used in the film, was not released until 1957. In 1990, in conjunction with the film's 50th Anniversary restoration, it was released on CD. (The soundtrack for the 1982 version, newly recorded in digital sound, and conducted by Irwin Kostal instead of Leopold Stokowski, had already been released on CD but was soon deleted in favor of the Stokowski version.)
In "The Nutcracker Suite," considerable live-action footage was shot of Joyce Coles and Marge Champion (who, as Marjorie Belcher, had modeled for Snow White), in long ballet skirts to simulate the movements of the blossoms for "The Dance of the Reed Flutes." For the same segment, Walt insisted that his effects technicians devised a way of transferring Elmer Plummer's (an art teacher at the Chouinard Art Institute) preliminary drawings into animation. After various attempts were rejected, they finally came up with stippled cels, on which the painted characters had a delicate pastel-like look.
The music for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" was the only piece that was not recorded by The Philadelphia Orchestra. It was recorded by a hand-picked orchestra on a shooting stage that had been configured as a recording stage at the Pathé Studios in Culver City (later the RKO Pathé Studios, Desilu Studios, and now the Culver Studios, part of Sony Pictures Entertainment), sometime around 1938-1939. The rest of the music was recorded in Philadelphia by The Philadelphia Orchestra.
A segment featuring Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune" was animated and intended as part of the original release but cut due to the film's already excessive length. "Clair de Lune" was reworked and rescored as the "Blue Bayou" sequence in Make Mine Music (1946). A restored version of the original "Clair de Lune" sequence, released in the 1990s as a stand-alone short, can be found on the "Fantasia Legacy" supplemental DVD. The framing Leopold Stokowski footage for the segment could not be found, however, so the sequence is framed by recycled footage from the "Toccata and Fugue" segment.
When the ostrich slips and falls on her rump, there is an added drum beat to the score. It was omitted (possibly overlooked) in the 1982 digital re-master since it was not part of the original score. It has since been restored.
The first film to be presented to the general public in full digital sound. In February 1985, the digitally re-recorded soundtrack premiered at the Plitt Century Plaza Theatre in Century City (Los Angeles). The theater was equipped with the Digital ready HPS-4000 sound system and had the acoustic power equivalent to 10 symphony orchestras.
Keeping in the tradition of "Fantasia" being a Stereophonic sound revolution at the time of its original release, Disney has always re-issued the film in the latest theatrical surround sound systems at the time of each re-issue since 1956: optical stereophonic sound (1956); digital re-recording of the soundtrack (Dolby Stereo reissue 1981-82); restored FantaSound Dolby Stereo reissue (1990). For home theater systems: Dolby Surround 3-4 channel sound (VHS, 1991), Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (DVD, 2000), and DTS 7.1 channel sound (Blu-ray Disc, 2010) There has never been a rerelease in theatrical Dolby Digital or DTS sound because the movie was released solely for the Home Video market since its VHS release.
Sterling Holloway recorded narration for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" before the idea was scrapped. He later lent his voice for the "Peter and the Wolf" sequence in the Fantasia-esque film Make Mine Music (1946). Both tracks are featured on the 2015 Legacy Collection soundtrack of this film.
Chernabog was referred to as "Yen Sid" in the pencil tests for the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence. Eventually though "Yen Sid" was used as the name of Mickey Mouse's magic teacher in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" scene in the film. The animation of both characters were supervised by Bill Tytla.
The main theme in "Dance of the Hours" is adapted from the opera "La Gioconda," composed by Amilcare Ponchielli (1834-1886). This theme can also be heard in the song "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp)", sung by radio comic Allan Sherman (1924-1973).