‘Fantasia: Music Evolved’ brings pop music to the Disney franchise

June 04, 2013 | 11:48 a.m.

“Fantasia” will live on. The Disney brand, first unveiled to the public via a 1940 film that put classical music to animated sequences and introduced the world to Sorcerer Mickey Mouse, is coming to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the new Xbox One platform in 2014.

“Fantasia: Music Evolved” is a motion-controlled musical adventure that utilizes Microsoft’s Kinect device and takes the player through a number of newly crafted animated worlds — only this time the soundtrack isn’t Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. The animated action in “Fantasia: Music Evolved” is set to a pop-heavy soundtrack that features the likes of Bruno Mars, Queen, Fun., Kimbra and AVICII.

“Walt described it as being about the classic music of all time, and that was where we jumped off,” says Chris Nicholls, Disney Interactive’s director of product development. “We saw a little chink in there and said, ‘OK, it’s not about classical.’ ”

“Fantasia: Music Evolved” was designed by “Rock Band” and “Dance Central” maker Harmonix, and is said to feature more than 25 of the “industry’s biggest acts.” It takes perhaps a rather liberal approach to Walt Disney’s musical vision. As noted in Neal Gabler’s biography “Walt Disney, the Triumph of the American Imagination,” Disney was fiercely protective of “Fantasia’s” classical music choices.

Gabler recounts one scene in which Walt’s brother, Roy Disney, asked for some music that “the ordinary guy like me can like,” to which Walt brushed him out of the room. “Even if the thing’s a flop,” Walt’s quoted as saying, “we’ll have gained a thorough appreciation of what can be done with music.”

An underwater scene in "Fantasia: Music Evolved." (Hamronix / Disney Interactive)

An underwater scene in “Fantasia: Music Evolved.” (Hamronix / Disney Interactive)

Nicholls made a point to try to allay any concerns fans might have over Harmonix taking musical liberties with “Fantasia”

“I want to be very clear that we do have classical in there,” he says, adding that much of the music featured in the game will be revealed at a later date. “We wanted to create a soundtrack that resonated with lots of different players. We have classic rock songs, we have contemporary songs and we offer remix opportunities around those songs. When you let people bend and shape them, there’s a lot of fun to be had in that experience.”

“Fantasia: Music Evolved” was showcased for select media by Disney Interactive in late May, and the project will be featured at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) next week in Los Angeles.

In describing “Fantasia: Music Evolved,” Harmonix director of communications and brand management John Drake says it’s “not a movie game.” “Fantasia: Music Evolved” is, in fact, a rather abstract exploration of song.

Unlike Harmonix’s popular “Dance Central,” there are not necessarily scripted movements for the player to follow. A simple wave of the arm can animate a school of musical fishes on the screen, and a dash of the arm may send some jazzy clams into a tizzy.

The goal is to use movements and gestures to bring to life the world in front of the player. Disney was mum on what role, if any, Sorcerer Mickey and the famed broomsticks might play in “Fantasia: Music Evolved,” but the basic premise puts players in a Mickey-like role as an apprentice to powerful wizard Yen Sid. Players don’t need a wand, though, as any movement will result in some correlating action in the game.

“We wanted to make music malleable,” says Nicholls. “We wanted to put the player in charge of the orchestration and do it in a way that felt unconstrained. We wanted to take you through an adventure via music …. We wanted to allow people to play with music and understand the simple joy and thrill of playing music, but do it in a way that was approachable and easy to enjoy.”

Explore an echanted printing press "Fantasia: Music Evolved." (Hamronix / Disney Interactive)

Exploring an enchanted printing press in “Fantasia: Music Evolved.” (Hamronix / Disney Interactive)

Nicholls says “Fantasia: Music Evolved” updates Walt Disney’s original vision for the interactive era. Disney once spoke of “Fantasia” as a never-ending, constantly evolving project, one in which new animated sequences could constantly be added to the original 1940 film. Audiences, Disney mused, could consult a program in advance to see which songs and animated shorts would be shown.

“Fantasia: Music Evolved” will isolate individual pieces within a song — the rhythm of Fun.’s “Some Nights,” for instance,” or the piano in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” — and allow players to find visual cues that can speed up, slow down and sometimes even merge the songs. Other cues challenge the player to remix the song in any way he or she sees fit, such as adding guitars or a string section.

It’s a dramatic departure from existing musical games. “Fantasia: Music Evolved” is not about pressing various buttons on a makeshift instrument to follow a certain path; instead it encourages the player to “look under the hood of a song and start to listen to how it works and see what happens when you change it,” Nicholls says.

The game’s success will hinge on whether players view it as a tool for musical creation, or if the animated worlds — Disney has thus far shown a coral reef-like universe as well as one centered around an enchanted printing press — can hook players enough to explore it through movement.

Music changes the environment in  "Fantasia: Music Evolved." (Hamronix / Disney Interactive)

Music changes the environment in “Fantasia: Music Evolved.” (Hamronix / Disney Interactive)

“The secret,” says Nicholls, “is trying to visualize music, and not just in the cues themselves. How does the world show you the music? How do the characters in the world show you the music? It could be as simple as making something animate in time to something.”

A release date has not yet been set, but “Fantasia: Music Evolved” is arriving at a time when the future of mass-market music games has been in question. While franchises like “Dance Central” and “Just Dance” remain popular, the “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” brands that were once a booming business saw a rapid decline in consumer demand in 2009 and 2010.

“No matter what the appeal of current music gaming is, people still love music,” Nicholls says.

“Fantasia: Music Evolved” will attempt to be a full-on music traversal game. Visual cues early on will encourage players to move in a certain way or direction, but ultimately the game will set players free from following any prescriptive actions. If it works, it could blur the line between game and animated short.

“As you go from world to world to world and uncover the different things you can find, we wanted to have a sense that this is an adventure.” Nicholls says. “We wanted the sense that music is around you all the time and can change how you feel about the world. It sounds trite, but we believe music has the power to transform your life.”

– Todd Martens

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex



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2 Responses to ‘Fantasia: Music Evolved’ brings pop music to the Disney franchise

  1. JeffRI says:

    What a pity – – Bruno Mars – – that's pathetic – – you could have had some "vision" instead of pandering and dismissing "classical" music altogether – – nimrods!

  2. Kenny says:

    "“Fantasia: Music Evolved” is arriving at a time when the future of mass-market music games has been in question." So, let's make it for only one gaming platform. That's a great way to open it up to the masses! Very short-sighted, and disappointing.

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