Fantasia suffered, man. For those unaware of the film’s troubled sound history, the long and the short of it is that the original nitrate stems, that made possible the final 4-track Fantasound mix, no longer exist. All that was left for sound engineer Terry Porter to work with for the Dolby remix in 1990 was a magnetic copy of the original mix made in 1955 (only one Fantasound print had survived by that point, so Disney worked fast to preserve what was left). In addition, he used notes by Stokowski himself that told mixers where to pan the sound and when during the film, so it would say things like, “Left wall…,” “Kill the fronts…,” “Back only…,” and so forth in order to correlate the movement of the sound with the movement on and off screen. For instance, the church bells near the end of Bald Mountain ring from the back of the theater as they were meant to, originally causing Carthay Circle Theatre patrons to turn around in their seats in complete disbelief that they were hearing what sounded like actual church bells coming from the back of the room.
Armed with Stokowski’s copious mixing notes, the resulting remix was as faithful a recreation of the intended Fantasound as anybody has ever gotten. So far, VHS tapes and LaserDiscs of that same reissue, fed through a receiver with Dolby Pro-Logic decoding, are the only way you can hear that mix, with hard pans to the left, right, front, and back. Pretty cool stuff.
The 60th Anniversary Edition DVD from 2000 has a 5.0 mix that, on paper, looked like it was going to be a discrete version of the same Dolby mix from the 50th anniversary edition, which would’ve been welcome, but the score never steps out of the front to move around the room as it did before. Plus, it sounds insanely compressed, even in DTS.
The 70th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray from 2010 has a 7.1 mix that is a truly curious case. The left/center/right Fantasound audio was not only DNR’d to death but also thrown to the back of the room (???) while a mono downmix of that very same information overpowers it from the front, narrowing if not completely erasing the original stereo image during playback. It’s like this throughout the entire film, not once moving around the room the way that it should. As a result of the previously mentioned (and excessive) DNR’ing, details in quieter passages have been filtered out along with most of the noise floor, and now sound muddied. What’s more, there’s this strange series of chirpy, crackling artifacts found in the upper frequency region during loud passages that’s almost impossible to ignore. A seriously troubled mix this one is, and to think it got a 5/5 on several well-known Blu-ray review sites.
I’ve heard professional captures of the magnetic stereo mix from a SuperScope reissue (not from poita’s upcoming project, but from a collector who owns a 1963 stereo print) and the film is much better heard this way than through anything else officially available to consumers. In addition, Fantasia also had what sounded like a dedicated mono mix-- it wasn’t just a fold down of the 4-track stereo mix. Different sections of the orchestra were better prioritized here than they were in the stereo version, and because of several technical tells I am thoroughly convinced that what you’re hearing really is a dedicated mix that sourced the original stems before they were forever lost to time… with an exception made to what sounds like an alternate take for “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker Suite; doesn’t line up with the stereo mix at all. Julietta Novis’ first “Ave Maria” towards the end of the film sounds like a different take, too, but the rest of her vocals and the segment in general sounds otherwise identical to the stereo version.
It’s a shame neither the mag stereo nor the optical mono tracks were just given as clean a capture as possible and offered as a listening option; both sound great.