We’re going backwards in time to review this one. I’m going to pretend I meant to do this because it will be easier to compare this “classic” with its sequel back to back, but I can’t lie. I simply forgot that I bought this as a double pack blu-ray and filed it where Fantasia 2000 went. Whoops!
Anyway, this movie is always heralded as a classic and one of Walt Disney’s finest works. Now please don’t get me wrong: I love this idea of putting animation to music. I love that this movie makes people listen to classical music when they wouldn’t before. It makes people appreciate things that they might not appreciate otherwise. The ideas behind this movie are phenomenal. I know why it’s heralded as a classic. But me? I’m not really that into it. I’m not going to just randomly sit down on a saturday night and watch this movie. I have favorite pieces and favorite animations, but to watch this whole thing… it’s long. And for me, it’s a bit like torture.
This movie was thought up as Walt was finishing a silly symphony short entitled “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Apparently Mickey Mouse’s popularity was declining at the time, and he hoped staring him in a cartoon would give him a little push. When production costs got too big, he decided to combine this short with a few other classical pieces that would be animated – some to tell stories, some not. Thus, Fantasia was born.
This movie is all about beauty and the experience. In Fantasia (as well as the sequel) there are 3 different types of music and animation: 1) music that tells a definite story, 2) music and animation that paints a series of set pictures but has no strict storyline, and 3) music that exists for it’s own sake. Disney called this “Absolute music” and it was animated with a series of abstract images.
With all that in mind, let’s see what Fantasia has to offer:
Piece #1: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johan Sebastian Bach.
As if we didn’t realize that this movie isn’t really for kids, Disney starts us out with a piece of music that has no definite pictures and simply starts with dramatic lighting on the orchestra. My thoughts? the animation and the music is beautiful. It’s just… not a story, and I tend to like those better. Would my mind think of the same pictures? maybe, maybe not. I imagine if I meditated maybe my mind would be imaginative enough to think of stuff like this. Not my favorite, and certainly not a good way to start the ball rolling in my opinion.
#2: The Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky
This one falls into the second thing up there: this music paints definite pictures but there’s not a strict storyline. Instead, we get the depiction of nature and a bit of the changing of the seasons in the way that only Disney can do. We have frost fairies and Chinese mushrooms. To me, this one starts out a bit slow, but I really enjoy the music and the animation is perfect for the music.
#3: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas
Mickey stars in this classic tail (ha… I typed that by accident but I’m leaving it in bc it’s a horrible pun) of an apprentice who uses magic from his master to help with his chores. How many people out there don’t know of this one? It’s fun and fantastical, not to mention, once again, the music fits the animation incredibly well. Classic and wonderful.
#4: Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
I know I’ve said that I enjoy music that paints a definite picture, and for the most part, it’s true. Then there’s this thing. Disney uses this music to depict the history of life on earth, mainly focusing on the Dinosaurs. Again, the music fits well, surprisingly. But this is the one I have the most qualms with. Mainly because this piece is just so goddam boring. And LONG. The animation is literally dark. The music isn’t that interesting (to me at least). I do think it’s interesting though from a historical perspective. What we used to think Dinosaurs looked like vs what we think they look like today is mind-blowingly different. This movie and this clip almost reminds us of that fact, and I think that’s kinda cool.
#5: The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig Van Beethoven
I LOVE this one. The music fits perfectly (again), I love how we move from random character to character in the mythology world. I love that there’s a story but not really. It’s more of just a day in the life in this place. We still have humorous characters and love and action. The portrayal of the gods is magical. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s my favorite clip in the entire movie.
#6: Dance of the Hours by Aimilcare Ponchielli
What better way to expose kids to the ballet than with Ostriches, Hippos, Elephants and Alligators? Again very well done, I always enjoyed this too just because a) it is humorous, and b) they take it seriously. What I mean is that we know kids are going to laugh because here’s a hippo and an elephant being all graceful, but man, these characters are serious about dancing! Love it! *On a side note, every time I hear this music I can’t help but think of Allan Sherman’s popular 1963 song… “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”
#7 : Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
Fun fact: Disney still gets complains from parents that watching this segment terrified their child and caused nightmares. What do I have to say for that? Go Disney! Way to shed that family friendly image! But in all seriousness, I was one of those kids, to the point that when I watch this segment I really have to remind myself that I’m not a kid anymore. It tells the story of the Devil Chernabog and a night when he summons the evil spirits. This music and the animation is terrifyingly good. It’s haunting and scary and beautiful at the same time. It is a bit boring though. It suffers from the same thing that the Rite of Spring does. The animation is Dark. The music (although this is much better) is kinda “eh.” Especially that Ave Maria part in the middle. If I wasn’t terrified of this thing as a kid, I was nodding off to sleep.
So there you have it. Fantasia is an amazing idea, and executed very well. Is it a favorite? As I mentioned in the beginning, I wouldn’t just sit down and watch the whole thing. I would probably pick out my favorite segments. Those I could watch over and over. At over 2 hours, it’s long, and it feels it. But the segments are great, and it’s a great way to introduce the idea of classical music or animation with no words. It’s unique, wonderful, and I wish I could say one of a kind. But I can’t…
I give Fantasia (1940) a 4.4 out of 5.
Up Next: Fantasia 2000 (1999)