“…action controlled by a musical pattern has great charm in the realm of unreality.”–on Fantasia
DIRECTED BY: Norman Ferguson, James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe, Jr. Jim Handley, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Ben Sharpsteen
FEATURING: Leopold Stokowksi and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Deems Taylor, Walt Disney (voice of Mickey Mouse)
PLOT: An orchestra files in to a concert hall, followed by classical music critic Deems Taylor, who introduces the film and describes the different purposes of classical music. The first musical selection, Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D-minor,” illustrates “absolute” music, and consists of a series of abstract images combined with views of the orchestra in silhouette. The six animated musical sequences that follow compose the bulk of the movie, following the adventures of fairies, Mickey Mouse, dinosaurs, centaurs, hippo ballerinas, and demons set to the music of Tchaikovsky, Dukas, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Ponchielli, Mussorgsky, and Schubert, all introduced by Taylor.
- The meeting of conductor Leopold Stokowski and animation god Walt Disney, in 1937 at Chasen’s restaurant, is the stuff of legend. Disney was starstruck with the conductor’s celebrity, mysterious accent, and fierce mane. The seed of an idea for a “concert film” sprang from the meeting. At this time Disney had only produced and released one previous feature: Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937). The idea of an animated feature had seemed risky and radical, with the naysayers predicting bankruptcy. The profits and critical acclaim from Snow White forever silenced those doomsday prophets. Now, Disney was ready to take another risk. 1940 saw the release of Disney’s second and third feature films. Artistically, it paid off as Pinocchio (1940) and Fantasia are, to date, Disney’s two greatest films, released only nine months apart. The former was a critical box office hit. The latter did not make money for nearly twenty years.
- Fantasia was an expansion of Disney’s “Silly Symphonies” series of musical shorts (which were set to original music commissioned by Disney studios rather than classical masterpieces). The “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment, starring Mickey Mouse, was originally made as a Silly Symphony but cost over $100,000 to animate, and Disney realized the only way to recoup that budget was to make it part of a feature.
- Fantasia was (mostly, despite some notable howls of derision) well-received by critics and audiences on release. It failed to turn a profit because of its enormous budget, difficulties in distribution (new sound systems had to be installed in any theater that wanted to play it, so it was rolled out piecemeal as a roadshow feature), and the fact the the onset of WWII cut off the foreign markets. Disney studios continued to re-release the film every five to ten years up until 1990, however. By the late 1960s, spurred by its discovery and embrace by the psychedelic generation, Fantasia had become both a beloved classic and a cash cow.
- Bits from the original “Pastoral Symphony” sequence were later erased due to their depictions of black centaurs, who were caricatured and depicted as servants to the white centaurs.
- Disney had planned more editions of Fantasia (one of which included a collaboration with Salvador Dali), but its initial failure laid such plans to rest until sixty year later, when Walt Disney Productions released Fantasia 2000. Fantasia 2000 had fleeting moments of brilliance, but was mostly a disappointing sequel; too clean, too crisp, lacking the risk-taking intensity and provocativeness of the original.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: In an entire film of indelible images, alligators swooning over and dancing with hippos may have been the “eureka, it’s weird!” moment for the film’s 1960s acidhead crowd. We concur.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Dancing mushrooms; Stravinsky dinosaurs; alligator/hippo romance
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Pinocchio may have had boys turning into jackasses, and Dumbo (1941) had it’s mind boggling “pink elephants on parade,” but Walt Disney’s Fantasia is chock-full of progressive strangeness and an ardent embrace of art for the sake of art. It’s Walt’s weirdest.
1956 re-release trailer for Fantasia (including part of the scene later deleted from prints due to charges of racism)
COMMENTS: Over a thirty year period I have seen Fantasia (1940) Continue reading 205. FANTASIA (1940)