Fantasia (1940)

“Then the music begins to suggest other things to your imagination…”

Synopsis:
Leopold Stowkowski conducts the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra as Deems Taylor introduces a series of animated vignettes set to classical music.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
I was lucky enough to recently revisit this classic Disney animated feature by watching it “live” at the Hollywood Bowl, with all but two of its vignettes introduced by maestro John Mauceri and performed by the L.A. Philharmonic (and with fireworks on display in the background during Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite”). This was clearly a stellar way to enjoy this “most ambitious and conceptually daring of Disney’s features”, which remains a crowd-pleasing favorite decades after its rediscovery “in the early seventies when the ‘acid’ generation found that watching the almost psychedelic images was a sensory experience” (wine-drinking viewers at the Hollywood Bowl these days probably feel much the same way!).

Peary notes that Fantasia was Disney’s attempt “to impress the highbrow audience”, but he “was viciously attacked for taking much leeway with the music and for being so pretentious as to try to teach others about classical music when he himself was completely ignorant of the art”. Peary argues that “today one will probably be less upset by the mishandling of the music … than by the repetition of the images (characters napping, reflections on water); the lack of good personality animation (a Disney trademark) as characters of the same type tend to act identically; and the predictable way that nature goes haywire in almost every sequence… and the way scenes end as they begin, in tranquility.” Bah, humbug, Peary! In our post-modern era, the complaint that music can possibly be “mishandled” by an artist attempting to use it for secondary purposes seems naive at best — and while some of the imagery and/or thematic constructs may be repetitive, the animation is so consistently well-drawn and creatively conceived that one doesn’t really mind. Meanwhile, “good personality” isn’t exactly what one expects in a film like this.

Despite his grumpy overall attitude, however, Peary does call out a number of the film’s undeniable highlights — including “the exciting ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, starring Mickey Mouse and featuring a cosmic storm and march of the brooms; the creation of the world in ‘The Rite of Spring’ with otherworldly Kubrick-like shots of a newly formed volcanic landscape; ‘Dance of the Hours’, which has acrobatic ostriches, hippos in tutus, elephants, and alligators parodying ballet with a knockabout dance; and the spooky ‘Night on Bald Mountain’, featuring Vlad Tytla‘s magnificent demon”.

Interestingly, sixty years later, Disney Studios released Fantasia 2000, consisting of six new vignettes (and the original “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” thrown in for good measure). This is in keeping with Disney’s original intent for the film, which he envisioned as a true cult favorite which would stay in theaters permanently, with new vignettes gradually inserted over time. To that end, I should note that the Hollywood Bowl screening also included a couple of “new” vignettes — such as the Dali-inspired “Destino”, and the never-completed segment “Clair de Lune”. Very fitting, indeed.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Plenty of creatively conceived, expertly rendered animation


  • The justifiably famous “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence
  • The truly stunning “Night on Bald Mountain” finale

Must See?
Yes, as a genuine Disney classic.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Fantasia (1940)”

  1. A no-brainer must – this is a frickin’ masterpiece!

    In a sense, one doesn’t really write about ‘Fantasia’, not really. What’s to discuss? One just watches and gives over to its spell. If I were to discuss it, I would almost have to go frame-by-frame and then suffer exhaustion.

    I was one of those in the ’70s who (shall we say) rediscovered ‘Fantasia’ for myself when it returned to theatres. (Afterwards, as I recall, I returned to the parking lot to discover that my car had been stolen!…apparently while I was blissfully swept away, watching hippos in tutus being vamped by alligators. I did get my car back but, ah!, the things we associate with certain films…)

    Needless to say, this is a one-of-a-kind film experience – offering much on repeat viewings. I decided on a revisit, to start off 2012 on a lovely note (or notes, as the case is).

    btw: Happy New Year!

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