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  • Writer's pictureLoren Javier

A LOOK BACK: Fantasia

Photo: Disney

The third film put out by Disney was the musical classic Fantasia also in 1940.

Different from the films before it, Fantasia was almost the precursor to MTV (or a classical music version of it) when it showed music videos. Walt Disney selected various classical music pieces and told stories around them. He then asked acclaimed conductor Leopold Stokowski to conduct the pieces.

The film is divided into eight segments. The first is "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach which was an experiment in animated sound through shapes and images. Next up is "The Nutcracker Suite" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky which represented the famous ballet in a series of ice skating fairies and dancing flowers. Then we have "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by Paul Dukas which was an original piece inspired by the poem "Der Zauberlehrling" by Goethe. This was also the debut of Mickey Mouse's new redesign by Fred Moore. Next is "Rite of Spring" by Igor Stravinsky which takes us back to the brutal days of the dinosaurs.

Photo: Disney

After this, we have an intermission where, when we come back, members of the orchestra jokingly play some jazz as animated to an animated sound bar. "The Pastoral Symphony" by Ludwig van Beethoven is represented in mythological Greco-Roman times with frolicking centaurs and centaurettes, fauns and gods. Next up is "Dance of the Hours" by Amilcare Ponchielli which is a full ballet filled with dancing hippos, alligators and ostriches. And, finally, we have "Night on Bald Mountain" by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert represented by a horrible night on Bald Mountain with the devil Chernabog culminating in the light of hope for another day.

Fantasia is a wonderful way that animators could experiment with different styles which you can see represented in the various segments. The beautiful pastel fairies in "Nutcracker Suite" are as different from the hard and harsh colors and shapes of "Rite of Spring" and the cartoonish world of "Dance of the Hours."

Photo: Disney

For Fantasia, Disney created Fantasound which would "create the illusion that the actual symphony orchestra is playing in the theater." The project was so costly when the movie went on tour that Disney was losing money showing the film. That said, the movie opened to mostly critical acclaim. Although, Igor Stavinsky, the only living composer, expressed his displeasure for Stokowski's arrangements. Fantasia, though, was a labor of love for Walt Disney, though. His brother Roy wanted to keep costs down, but Walt wanted this film produced to its full fruition. It showed what a genius and risk taker he really was.

It may not be a movie for everyone, especially if you are not a fan of classical music. But, Fantasia remains a solid classic in the Disney line.

Disney+ is apparently developing a project based on Fantasia and I hope they actually do it. Like their "Short Circuit" program, I think it would be an excellent way for animators to experiment to sound and music. It would also be contributing to Walt's legacy and how he really wanted Fantasia to be a living organic thing that would continue to grow.

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