"Fantasia" — Disney's landmark animated film from 1940 — featured classical music masterpieces, including Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring" and Bach’s "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor."
So when Chris Nicholls got involved to turn the iconic film into a video game, it's understandable that he had some trepidation. "It's only when you start to dig in, the humbling starts to happen," says Nicholls, "and you're treading some pretty heavy roads and a lot of thought has been invested in this property."
Nicholls is the executive producer of “Fantasia: Music Evolved.” He had access to the Disney vaults where he and his team read through the transcripts and accessed the exact dialogue, conversations and struggles Walt Disney had with his team during the making of the film. "You realize that they were wrestling with very similar creative problems as we were," Nicholls says.
"Fantasia" was originally conceived by Walt Disney to be an ongoing program of music, where it would be continuously updated with new music and segments for a long time. "That really encouraged us to really continue what we were doing," says Nicholls, "which was to look more broadly at the kind of music that we wanted to reach out to and the kind of visual stories that we wanted to tell."
The game allows players to conduct a variety of songs and classical music pieces, similar to how Mickey Mouse conducted mops and brooms in the original film. One of the most daunting tasks was to assemble an eclectic soundtrack that could serve as a modern day "Fantasia."
"That's kind of a big statement," Nicholls says. "You have to realize that you only get so many cards to play."
For Nicholls and his team, their main goal was to create something that would be just as playful as "Fantasia" was in the 1940's. One way they accomplished that was through remixing. Nicholls and his team took classical pieces from "Fantasia" and songs by modern artists, including M.I.A., David Bowie and Nicki Minaj, and remixed each track in a variety of musical styles. Nicholls says is was in this moment where music from the film and the music of today started to show a commonality of musical language.
Nicholls was responsible for two remixes in "Fantasia: Music Evolved." The first was "Burning Down the House" by Talking Heads. The second was New Order's "Blue Monday," which Nicholls had a personal connection with. Both tracks were given an electro make-over.
"As I grew up and studied in Manchester and had some formative years working around the Hacienda [club]," says Nicholls, "that was a personal gift for me to be able to go in and remix a song that I think is a landmark from my youth."
After working on this game, Nicholls, says he was surprised at how invested he became in the project. As a parent, it became his personal mission, "not just to make a game, but to make an experience where people could share the joy of collective music making and sharing," says Nicholls, "which makes reading reviews incredibly interesting."
"Fantasia: Music Evolved" is out now on Xbox One and Xbox 360.