A few times every year, Walt Disney Studios re-releases another old classic and bets that "Sleeping Beauty" or "Cinderella" will pick up a bevy of new fans too young to remember the film from last time around. (Last Christmas, the strategy worked exceptionally well, when "Cinderella"--one of the few light, breezy films of a generally gritty and depressing holiday lineup--played to surprisingly large crowds). But Disney's next rerelease is an oldie with a difference: "Fantasia" minus Leopold Stokowski. It's not that Disney has anything against the conductor, whose Philadelphia Orchestra performed all the music on the original film, and who himself arranged a couple of the works. But that was 45 years ago, when recording quality just wasn't up to today's standards. So now--"On the occasion of maestro Leopold Stokowski's centennial," says Disney in a bit of unintended irony--the new "Fantasia" will be released with the same Beethoven and Stravinsky, the same animation but a new conductor, a new orchestra and a vivid, Dolby-encoded, newly recorded score. Film composer and conductor Irwin Kostal has conducted the new version with a pickup group of session musicians, but he couldn't just run in and rerecord Bach's Toccata and Fugue or Schubert's "Ave Maria." Stokowski, it seems, was a highly idiosyncratic conductor: He did a couple of the arrangements and conducted in typical Stokowski fashion, which means ragged tempos and individualistic interpretations. And since the animation was structured around the music, it's those interpretations that Kostal had to meet. "I'm not just wearing Stokowski's straitjacket," he told one reporter recently. "I'm also wearing Mickey Mouse's."
Incidentally, the new "Fantasia" also gives Disney the chance to correct, once and for all, an embarrassing scene in which, during Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, a black centaur shines shoes. Realizing what they had on their hands, the Disney folks chopped that scene out long ago, but they left an ugly hole in Beethoven's score. Now, with some deft baton work, Kostal's new version smooths things over.
"Fantasia," by the way, is a closing-night attraction at the Los Angeles International Film Exposition, better known as Filmex and now in its 11th year.