Walt Disney Presents: Fantasia (1940)

Synopsis:

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

Reaction & Thoughts:

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, who was 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 simple, but visually and phonetically pleasant, 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 a lively, joyful sequence that will make you tap your 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. VHS aficionados will remember Mickey’s sorcerer as the logo for Disney’s home video releases.

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. What is interesting about the segment is that Disney chose not to include God in the creation. It’s curious to see the very conservative Disney tell the story of the world in a Darwinian fashion. You couldn’t do this today without attracting some type of criticism. Never mind the controversial nature of the approach, it’s a gorgeously animated sequence with tremendous music.

Speaking of controversies, “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 — this is no difference from eliminating nudity on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel — 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 famous 19th century opera, La Gioconda. It’s a semi-serious ballet with animals dancing to Ponchielli’s beautiful music — it’s 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’s bell. Later, a chorus sings “Ave Maria” as monks walk through the forest.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Fantasia didn’t do as well as expected. The failure of the film (well, it did become a cult favorite eventually) 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)

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10 responses to “Walt Disney Presents: 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 1 person

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