Fantasia was Walt Disney's third feature film, following on from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Pinocchio (1940)
The Sorcerer's Apprentice, perhaps the most famous short of the film Fantasia, starred Mickey Mouse as the, er, Sorcerer's Apprentice. This role was intended as a come-back role for Disney's famous mouse, who was losing out in popularity to Donald Duck. However, also considered for the role of the apprentice was Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The animation itself was also originally going to be a one-off cartoon, but since it was more expensive to produce than regular Disney cartoons and was unlikely to make any profit, Disney decided to make it part of a collection of animated sequences with classical music accompaniments which could then be released as a feature film. That collection of animated shorts would become Fantasia.
The conductor of the music used in Fantasia was Leopold Stokowski. When The Sorcerer's Apprentice was being worked on, Stokowski offered to conduct the orchestra for free.
Live action sequences shown between the animated segments show an orchestra playing the soundtrack. In those scenes, the orchestra were miming! The music for all sequences apart from The Sorceror's Apprentice was played by Philadelphia Orchestra. In the film, members of the orchestra pretending to play to the pre-recorded music were local musicians and employees of the film studio.
The original release of Fantasia featured an intermission which was announced by the film's host, Deems Taylor. The members of the orchestra are seen leaving their seats while the curtains close, both on the film and in the movie theatre showing it. After the intermission, which would have lasted for fifteen minutes, the curtains in the theatre and on the film open and the orchestra are seen to return to their seats, and then have a bit of a jam session.
Fantasia, which was essentially a way for Walt Disney to show off animation and sound techniques in films, was the first commercial film to have its soundtrack recorded in stereo. It was also planned that parts of it would be shown in widescreen and other parts to be in 3-D, and, to make the film a real treat for the senses, for perfumes to be sprayed into the theatre during the Nutcracker Suite sequence.
Nowadays, films are completed weeks, months or even years before they get their premiere. Fantasia however was completed four hours before premiering in New York City on November 13th 1940. The final scene to be produced was flown to New York on the day of the premiere and edited into the film in time for its first showing.
Despite getting generally good reviews, Fantasia was only shown in twelve movie theatres on its first release due to Disney's distribution company RKO initially deciding not to distribute it. The meant that the film could not make a profit, and meant that the budget for Disney's next film, Dumbo, was quite low. The film got a national release a couple of years later, although heavily edited (from the original 125 runtime to 81 minutes) and in mono. Again it was a commercial failure. A release in 1956 restored the stereo soundtrack, although it was only on its release in 1969 that the film finally made a profit, due to its psychedelic nature being popular with the teenage and college student audiences of the time. Its soundtrack was completely rerecorded for a 1982 release. Even the host's introductions to each segment were dubbed over. A 1990 release used the original soundtrack which had been digitally remastered, and a release for 2000 saw several of the original 1940 edits finally restored and the film back to its original length.
Fantasia was turned into a video game in 1991. Released for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis console, the game allowed the player to control Mickey Mouse as he made his way through various scenes in the film. The game wasn't particularly well-received. It was later pulled from sale, not because it wasn't very good, but because it was discovered that Disney should not have awarded a license to produce a video game based on the film. Disney did later bring out a Fantasia-based video game in 2014. This was Fantasia: Music Evolved which was released for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One
The sorcerer in The Sorcerer's Apprentice was nicknamed Yen Sid by the animation department although was never given a name in the film. Yen Sid is Disney backwards.