‘Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved’ plays with remix culture

Oct. 25, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.


Utilizing only touch controls, "Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved" allows participants to play with colorful environments. (Harmonix/Disney)

Utilizing only touch controls, “Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved” allows participants to play with colorful environments. (Harmonix / Disney)

Walt Disney’s 1940 film “Fantasia” opens with a series of bold, inventive proclamations. Audiences are welcomed to a “new form of entertainment,” one in which the animation isn’t afraid to veer toward the abstract and the music isn’t concerned with what’s on the charts.

But as the British narrator early in the new “Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved” says, “Let’s see how you handle something a little more contemporary.” Words that sent a shiver down the spine of this stubborn “Fantasia” loyalist.

Indeed, the first voice we hear in “Fantasia: Music Evolved,” a just-released interactive interpretation of the experimental but venerable brand, is that of Lady Gaga. This is dangerous territory. Beethoven is timeless, but “Applause” is already dated, its glittery melodic tendrils firmly gripping 2013. Of course, those who own the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One are the target market here, not the millions of Americans priced out of symphony halls.

But even though “Fantasia: Music Evolved” begins not with a composer-scholar such as Deems Taylor, who in 1940 invited listeners to view the “designs and pictures and stories that music inspired in the minds and imaginations of a group of artists,” there is a thesis at play here. And a surprisingly effective one.

Mouse ears are a rare sight in "Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved," but the original film's Yen Sid is a regular. (Harmonix / Disney)

Mouse ears are a rare sight in “Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved,” but the original film’s Yen Sid is a regular. (Harmonix / Disney)

This “Fantasia” is built for a remix culture — a rare game that solely relies on Kinect motion controls and puts players in the role of a virtual conductor to mash-up songs and styles by swiping, waving and gesturing toward the screen. Our shadowy image is superimposed in the game, and confetti-bursts of sparkles twinkle from our digital fingertips. That’s the cue, of course, for Disney magic, as the primary objective in “Fantasia: Music Evolved” is to channel a little of Sorcerer Mickey’s tuneful knack for a spell, albeit with little actual presence of the mouse himself.

Gone in this populist-focused “Fantasia: Music Evolved” is the Philadelphia Orchestra. In its place are Queen, Sting, Lorde, Bruno Mars, Drake, the White Stripes and others. The music is presented in a series of colorful realms — underwater universes with symphonic turtles and harmonic jellyfish, enchanted forests with adorable monsters and chandelier-carrying deer — and each song comes with two remixes that can be intertwined with each other.

The concerns of a traditionalist and the gripes of a music geek aside, “Fantasia: Music Evolved” is far from flippant with the brand. Although over-licensed songs such as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” are going to need more than a sprinkle of pixie dust to sound fresh, this is not, for instance, the embarrassment for all that was Disney’s pop-leaning 1946 clip film “Make Mine Music.”

Fears that the all-the-hits approach to the soundtrack would be detrimental prove largely unfounded, as the core element of “Fantasia: Music Evolved” has players twisting songs into something that’s often wholly unrecognizable from the original.

Concerned that listening to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” for part of an afternoon is going to bum you out? Don’t sweat it. The game soon has the song morphing into something that sounds as if it’s emanating from a 1980s-era calculator. This “Wall-E”-like makeover of the song gives it more of a sprightly feel, and we swipe and wave our way through a sci-fi-like virtual corridor populated with TVs floating in space.

Music is controlled by gestures in "Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved. "(Harmonix / Disney)

Music is controlled by gestures in “Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved. “(Harmonix / Disney)

Explaining the actual mechanics of the game is a bit tricky, but know that it captures some of “Fantasia’s” most vital qualities. “Fantasia: Music Evolved” possesses the movie’s sense of experimentation and wonder, as well as its desire to challenge its audience. At its core, this is a rhythm game, and developer Harmonix has drastically livened up the formula from its once-popular, timing-focused series “Guitar Hero.”

The game isn’t exactly difficult, but it is odd. Music is brought to life by gesturing at lines and circles that appear on the screen. Tinkerbell-like fairy dust prompts players to slash left, swipe right or push forward. Some moves can be a little complex, such as having to wave one’s hand and then hold it steady while the other arm is tasked with dashing in all directions, but the game doesn’t punish too much for a lack of precision.

Music is treated as a magic-making experience in "Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved." (Harmonix / Disney)

Music is treated as a magic-making experience in “Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved.” (Harmonix / Disney)

Though only the Xbox One version of the game was tested, the Kinect controls were relatively responsive. One plan of attack is to simply keep moving, and as more cues are hit, the more animated and tuneful the world becomes. Outside of the songs, one can explore the cartoon realms, twisting and turning so fruit and vegetables will shake their tails, or guiding fairies to make like string instruments.

There aren’t really any full animated sequences, and though it was cute to give EDM-like makeovers to some of the few classical songs included — or improve a Police song by minimizing the vocals and increasing the jazziness — there were times I wished “Fantasia: Music Evolved” would let some of the enchanted creatures take more of a center stage. But outside of Electric Daisy Carnival the art of remixing is rarely this multicolored.

There is, of course, one major snag with “Fantasia: Music Evolved.” It simply seems somewhat cruel to label a game “Fantasia” and not give the players an extended sequence in which they can control hundreds of bucket-carrying brooms.


— Todd Martens | @Toddmartens | @LATherocomplex


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