This is the Disney Channel's hour-long plug for the upcoming theatrical re- release of the 1940 feature cartoon Fantasia, but it's an engaging plug. These days, we think of Fantasia, with its elaborate animation and classical- music soundtrack, as a movie milestone. But The Creation of a Disney Classic reminds us that when it was first released, Fantasia received mixed reviews ridiculing its pretensions, and was a box-office flop. And lest you think that Walt Disney was only in this for the prestige, well, as late as 1951, Disney is quoted here by animation historian John Culhane as complaining, ''That picture still hasn't made any money.''
That's about as downbeat as The Creation of a Disney Classic gets, however. Most of the time, narrator Michael Tucker (L.A. Law) just burbles on cheerfully about what a ''daring,'' ''bold'' ''triumph'' the movie was. This special was written by Leonard Maltin, whom you may know as the bearded cherub from Entertainment Tonight, but who's also a serious animation scholar. Accordingly, the hour spends a lot of fascinating time showing us how the animators fashioned much of the original beauty of this cartoon, and how the music of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Schubert was wedded to drawings of hippos in tutus and prancing alligators. Combine all this with clips from segments such as the spooky ''Night on Bald Mountain'' and Mickey Mouse-ized ''The Sorcerer's Apprentice,'' and the result is a commercial that will make you want to see Fantasia in a proper movie theater soon. B+