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…