Fantasia (1940)


Walt Disney combines animation with classical music. Eight animated sequences are accompanied by the works of Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Schubert, etc.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“And now we’re going to hear a piece of music that tells a very definite story.”

Without a doubt, Fantasia is Disney’s most ambitious project to date. This provocative production isn’t my favorite Disney movie by a long shot, but I like it a lot — the animation is spectacularly good, and the music is absolutely beautiful.

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

Above all, Fantasia attempts to recreate the theater experience — this is essentially a classical music concert with visuals. We get to see the musicians (The Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski) tune their instruments before the show starts. Joseph Deems Taylor, a well-known music critic, introduces each segment. Taylor also provides valuable information about each sequence.

The movie kicks off with “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” (approx. 9 minutes), music by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. We are treated immediately with a potpourri of abstract images that mimic the rhythm of music. It’s a simple, but visually and phonetically pleasant segment, a sort of hors d’oeuvre to whet our appetites.

The Nutcracker Suite

The next segment is Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” (approx. 15 minutes). The famous classical music piece, which has become a staple of Christmas festivals, is accompanied by animation that features fairies and various forest creatures. It’s an effervescent, joyous sequence that will make viewers tap their feet.

The film’s most famous sequence is next, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (approx. 9 minutes), with a guest appearance by Mickey Mouse as the title character. It’s based on both Goethe’s 18th century poem and French composer Paul Dukas’s 19th century symphony. The segment proved to be so popular that it was re-released as a short film.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Next is my favorite, the fascinating “Rite of Spring” (approx. 23 minutes). Disney uses Russian composer Stravinsky’s ballet to depict the creation of the world. Today, it’s rather  interesting to see the conservative Disney tell the story of creation in a Darwinian fashion. Anyhow, it’s a gorgeously animated sequence with tremendous music.

“Rite of Spring” is followed by “The Pastoral Symphony” (approx. 20 minutes), which has given the Disney corporation endless headaches. The music is an adaptation of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6. The segment revolves around various Greek mythical figures. Complaints about nudity and racial stereotypes forced the company to alter this sequence. Newer prints don’t contain the “offensive” material. I’m very much against artistic censorship, but I do get the criticism.

Dance of the Hours

The sixth sequence is called “Dance of the Hours (approx. 12 minutes), which uses portions from Italian composer Amilcare Ponchielli’s legendary 19th century opera, La Gioconda. It’s a semi-serious ballet with animals dancing to Ponchielli’s exquisite and first-rate music — it’s also by far the funniest, goofiest section of the movie.

Fantasia wraps things up with two interesting sequences: “Night on Bald Mountain” and “Ave Maria” (approx. 15 minutes), music by Modest Mussorgsky and Franz Schubert respectively. The freaky “Night on Bald Mountain” begins with a batch of nasty demons and other ghostly creatures basking in their own ghoulishness. The out-of-this-word entities are driven away by the sound of a church bell. Later, a chorus sings “Ave Maria” as monks walk through the forest (a corny but lovely sequence).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Fantasia didn’t do as well as expected. The failure of the film (well, it did eventually become a cult favorite) forced Disney to return to mainstream fare. That being said, Fantasia managed to introduce a series of technical innovations. The film’s use of sound is particularly impressive — the movie received a special Oscar for its incredible soundtrack. It’s probably a bit too long, but it’s hard to complain about a movie with such wonderful music and great animation. Color, 126 minutes, Not Rated.

Followed by Fantasia 2000 (1999)


10 responses to “Fantasia (1940)

  1. Most definitely one of Disney’s masterpieces. These days, audiences would say it is “boring” because of the classical music, but upon its release, this was exciting stuff.

    Not to mention the animation it mind-blowing still today. Chernobog gave me nightmares for days when i first saw it!

    Liked by 2 people

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