Fantasia (1940) dir. Ten people get credits, but really, it’s Walt Disney
By Alan Bacchus
It’s kinda hard to believe that Fantasia was made in 1940, and was only Disney’s third feature film (after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio). And since Pinocchio was released the same year as Fantasia, 1940, we can realistically say the film was conceived and produced after only having one animated film released. Snow White, of course, was a huge hit, but it was a narrative feature based on a fairy tale, with singing and dancing, a love story, a prince and a princess!
Fantasia is a non-narrative film, without dialogue, without singing, without any traditional characters all timed with classical music. In short, an experimental film in a time when there was no such word. It was cookie-cutter studio system at it’s peak. What a gamble, and what a success. Well not initially, the film was a financial failure, and took years before audience caught up to Disney's forward thinking.
It’s actually a slow start to the picture. A live action introduction, Deems Tayler, music critic, talking to the camera tells us exactly what we’re about to see, and listening to the warming up of the orchestra. The first musical segment, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, features an abstract piece of animation, which to audiences used to the rambunctious qualities of Disney’s work must have been shocked, or bored or both.
In fact, the majority of the eight sequences are abstract in nature. The Rite of Spring for instance tells an ambitious and the possibly controversial 'non-creationist' history of the earth, from the planetary formation to the evolution of dinosaurs into man. It, like every thing else in the film, is a delight to watch, imaginative and intellectually stimulating. One of the most most traditional or mainstream accessible segments is the Nutcracker Suite featuring Tchaikovsky’s marvellous, foot tapping compositions, along with a series of brilliant shorts showing the ballet dancers as mushrooms, thistles, blossoms and goldfish.
The Scorceror’s Apprentice is the celebrated piece, with Mickey Mouse battling the army of wooden brooms endlessly filling his water basin with water, thus causing a biblical-worthy flood.
The Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven offers a fun and delictable showcase of Greek and Roman mythology including blatantly nude female centaurs, and..ahem... Bacchus, Roman God of Wine, partaking in his debaucherous behaviour.
The varied animation styles and changing tones from comedic to dark, brooding and heavy to light and ethereal is what makes the film so special. But there’s no doubt we can see the German expressionism influence and prevailing gothic style of the 1930’s. Especially the big finale, the first part, set to Modest Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain , featuring a dark demon giant, a Chernabog, summoning up the evil creatures of the dead to roam the earth, before being turned away by the sound of a Angelus bell and a procession of torch-bearing monks. The perfect composition work combined with the Ava Maria music makes for a heavenly finale and in fine Disney fashion, the triumph of good over evil.
It’s the first time on Blu-Ray for Fantasia, packaged with the 2000 revival version Fantasia 2000, a very minor film in comparison, a noble effort to use Disney’s inspiration and create a modern version his celebration of music. Unfortunately without the real Walt Disney at the helm, the ‘magic touch’ just isn’t there. The 1940 version is the real treasure here.
“Fantasia and Fantasia 2000” is available on Blu-Ray from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Fantasia | Movie Trailer