How bad does a game have to be for Disney to wipe it from existence?
Fantasia is an action platformer game for Sega Genesis that was released in 1991, roughly fifty years after the release of the original Fantasia film. Presumably commissioned thanks to the success of Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Mickey is the star of the show, as the “sorcerer’s apprentice” has to travel through four levels to collect some music notes that were lost thanks to a malevolent force that no one decided to actually program into the game. Blame invisible music thieves. Mickey predominantly is stuck tackling enemies with a jump attack, but he also has strong and weak magical spells that are about as plentiful as Mario’s P-Wings. Most of the stages are horizontally scrolling affairs (one is vertical), and the general challenge of the game comes from avoiding enemies with largely predictable patterns. Aside from a few moving platforms and attendant “trap” floors, that’s all there really is to Fantasia. It’s a pre-Sonic the Hedgehog Sega Genesis platforming game. Nobody was expecting The Epic of Mickey here.
But how did this wind up being a game that Disney demanded be destroyed?
Well, if you sit down and play Fantasia, you’re immediately faced with the simple fact that this game is a bear to actually play. Right from the start, the screen is obscured for arbitrary reasons, and that transforms even the most basic platforming from “fun” to “mouseicide”. There’s also a pretty dreadful knock-back/invincibility window going on here, so making it past the first screen requires a little practice, left alone surviving the later levels that actively take place in Hell (excuse me, “Bald Mountain”). Magic is in short supply (not a metaphor), and Mickey always feels underequipped to deal with the monsters du jour. And speaking of monsters, practically everything takes up way too much screen real estate, so even a successful dodge or two usually ends with a third, initially unseen monster taking the sorcerer’s apprentice down a peg.
And the worst part? Some levels are going to have to be repeated forever. The goal of this game is to collect a number of missing musical notes that have been scattered across four elemental-themed levels. And, unfortunately, this is not the kind of platformer where every lost note is simply waiting at the end of a stage like a Toad waiting to inform Mario he got some bad princess intel. No, this is a game where you have to actively search for and collect every last (or at least the majority of) doodad. It’s a collectathon before collectathons ever came into style! And, while that might be an interesting bit of “prehistory” in any other game, in Fantasia, the concept of a “collectathon” isn’t ironed out well enough to be actually playable. The issue? If you don’t collect enough of the hidden musical notes in an area, you have to repeat the whole of the level. It’s essentially the same failure state you’d see after having to choose “continue” in Mega Man or alike, and, given this was back in the old days of vaguely non-verbal titles, there is very little indication as to why you have to repeat a level. And, for that matter, no additional “clues” or hints are given to aid you in finding those missing notes, so it’s very likely you could be stuck repeating a level over and over again with no real idea why. And, while it may seem silly to think that you could unknowingly be stuck in an infinite loop in the year of our virus 2020, consider that this was a game intended for Disney-loving children in 1991, a year with titles like Captain Commando, where your only goal is “go right and hit things”. Why would Mickey Mouse have goals more lofty than a future cyborg and his mech-riding baby pal?
But if you think that is reason enough for Disney to permanently cancel a videogame, think again. Disney already had its fair share of stinkers across gaming by 1991 (we do not discuss Mickey Mousecapade and a weeping Wee Goggle Bob on this blog), and it’s not like Disney would stop its lousy videogame output and prevent the eventual borderline sex-crime that was Disney’s Tarzan Untamed. For every Ducktales or Aladdin in Disney’s oeuvre, there’s a Timon & Pumbaa’s Jungle Games or Toy Story Racer. There are some abhorrent Disney titles out there, so why was Fantasia singled out as a game Disney decided could no longer be produced, and must be recalled. What made the badness of Fantasia so damn bad?
And, as ever, it comes down to nepotism. Disney’s Fantasia was not recalled because it was a terrible game, it was recalled because someone was afraid they had pissed off daddy.
Or at least his uncle.
In 1991, Roy Edward Disney was an executive at Disney. This was because, as of his birth, Roy was the nephew of Walt Disney (and the son of Roy Oliver Disney, who was probably also related to somebody). Roy’s history with the Disney corporation is long and complicated. He was the obvious successor to good ol’ Walt, but Disney also had a series of… let’s call them “issues” after Walt’s retirement/cryogenic freezing. Roy practically resigned in ‘84 due to Disney selling out to The Man, but when investors attempted a hostile takeover of what was left shortly thereafter, he organized a “Save Disney” campaign that involved a number of “good” investors rescuing the animated heart of Disney. And aren’t we all glad Roy saved Disney from becoming some soulless, massive corporation beholden only to stockholders? From there, many look to Roy E. Disney as the man responsible for Disney’s 80s/90s renaissance period… Assuming they’re not crediting Jeffrey Katzenberg, which wound up being a whole “thing” for Roy, and eventually was theoretically a significant reason for Katzenberg resigning. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in Disney town! But Roy did theoretically go out on a high note, as his final project saw release and general acclaim: Fantasia 2000.
Apparently Roy was a big fan of the original film Fantasia, and believed it to be a huge part of his uncle’s legacy. This made a certain amount of sense, as Walt Disney himself considered Fantasia to be one of his greatest masterpieces. And, by all accounts, it was! Fantasia is unlike anything that has ever appeared in animated features before or since, and the level of craft and detail on display is plain to see to even the most jaded audience that may or may not appreciate dancing hippos. And, while the movie as a whole doesn’t naturally lend itself to platforming hijinks, it is the kind of film that could equally be enjoyed by a toddler as an octogenarian. You still have to be in the mood to survive a visit from Chernabog, but otherwise, it is pretty close to being a perfect movie. It’s the Citizen Kane of movies featuring racist centaurs!
So you can understand how a situation wherein Walt Disney told his nephew, “Please never make crappy licensed merchandise based on Fantasia,” would have happened. And you could see how, when Roy Disney was faced with how absolutely atrocious Fantasia for the Sega Genesis turned out to be, he immediately recollected this statement, and threw the game under the bus with the explanation that there had been a “misunderstanding” regarding what properties were allowed to have games. And that’s why, despite the fact that Fantasia appears to be in literally everyone’s Sega Genesis lot on Ebay, Fantasia is historically one of the few Sega Genesis titles to be outright recalled. Roy didn’t want to offend Walt’s frosty ghost, and Fantasia was destroyed for the good of the Disney brand.
And that’s why, thanks to Walt’s dire warnings about never licensing Fantasia for any reason, there was never again a lousy videogame bearing the name Fantasia.
Oh son of a bitch.
FGC #483 Fantasia
- System: Sega Genesis alone for this one. There are some other good Mickey games on Genesis, and a trio of excellent ones on the Super Nintendo, but Fantasia doesn’t come anywhere close to good, and is sequestered to the Genesis.
- Number of players: One Mickey, and he isn’t particularly hidden.
- Great Injustice: Bald Mountain is the final area, but the one and only Chernobog is nowhere to be found. Maybe this is why Nomura eventually had to wedge that fight into a couple of better-known videogames.
- Favorite Level: There are only four, and I have a hard time picking a favorite. Not because they’re all that great, but simply because they’re all on varying levels of horrible. Level one has way too many (required) concealed areas hiding in esoteric spots. Level three’s vertical scrolling is awful paired with Mickey’s limited life bar. Level Four is just a grueling gauntlet of way too many monsters at once. I suppose Level Two, the “earth” stage, is the winner for simply being the most… forgettable.
- Did you know? This game uses music from Fantasia, which is predominantly from classic musicians. And the instruction manual lists the composers for all those classic songs. And that’s pretty great for a time period that barely acknowledged videogames even had music composers.
- Would I play again: Not for all the films locked in the Disney Vault. There are so many better, less outlawed games to play.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mr. Do! Arcade Classic for the Super Nintendo. I bet he’s going to do… uh… something? Please look forward to it!