We all know that Walt Disney loved music. In 1940 he decided to take music and animation to the next level. After a chance meeting with famed conductor Leopold Stokowski the idea of just the Sorcerer’s Apprentice short grew into the “Concert Feature” and would later be renamed Fantasia. Fantasia was one of the most ambitious and risky films in animation history. It abandoned all traditional storytelling and instead animation would be used to accompany a piece of classical music and the animation would be an interpretation of the piece. Stokowski himself conducted the orchestra and Deems Taylor, a classical music expert, was brought on to be our MC. The film was extremely expensive to produce and one of the longest animated films with a length of about 2 hours. Due to it’s unconventionality, cost, and really long length the film was a big risk. If this film failed Walt would lose a lot of money. Fantasia was a box office dud because of the foreign markets being closed off due to WW2 and the American people not appreciating the concept. It wouldn’t be until decades later where animation historians, critics, and scholars would give Fantasia it’s just due as one of the greatest and unique animated films ever made.
TOCATTA AND FUGUE IN D MINOR (Bach)
The film begins with the orchestra getting into place and tuning their instruments. Taylor then steps out and welcomes everyone just as if this was a real concert. He then explains the concept of the film and introduces the three types of music. One of the types of music is abstract. Tocatta and Fugue is the representative piece and is animated with abstract imagery. The concepts are creative and is a visual and audio treat.
The Nutcracker is a very interesting piece. The animators took well loved Christmas story and turned in to a magical nature setting that had nothing to do with a nutcracker. The vibrant colors and animation that match the music brilliantly is the perfect way to contrast the opening and give us that Disney magic.
SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (Dukas)
The iconic piece that everyone knows. I don’t need to tell you this story do I? Good! Mickey’s appearance aside, this is one of the greatest sequences in the whole film because the action and music match perfectly! Even though mickey’s movements are exaggerated they are extremely expressive and convey his emotions perfectly. It’s also worth noting that this is the first appearance of one of the most AWESOME Disney characters EVER! The one and only Master Yen Sid! (spell Yen Sid backwards for an easter egg) This is considered by some to be one of the greatest animated sequences ever made and it’s not hard to see why!
THE RITE OF SPRING (Stravinsky)
This is one of the more underrated sequences in the film. The story of the piece is the history of prehistoric Earth. It goes from the baron landscape, to the creation of amoebas and other single celled organisms, to the life and death of the dinosaurs. The environments are dark and alien that truly transport you back in time. The dinosaurs are also animated in a very animalistic manner (as opposed to Don Bluth’s more human dinosaur characters in Land Before Time which is a good film and childhood favorite of mine). The design of the T Rex is great and frightening.It also has a very morbid and uncompromising ending that isn’t really seen in Disney films. Also if you listen closely enough you might hear a few parts that inspired Nobuo Uematsu when writing his Magnum Opus the great “One Winged Angel”.
THE PASTORAL SUITE (Beethoven)
The show continues after a short intermission and an encounter with the “soundtrack” . The next sequence is one that uses an excerpt from the 6th symphony of Beethoven. The setting is in Greek mythology and the centaurs, centaurettes, charobs, and Bacchus god of wine and partying (Greek gods kick ass) are getting ready for a celebration and it’s soon crashed by Zeus. It’s interesting to note that the backgrounds and art direction are very similar to a movie that wouldn’t come out for 5 decades. Disney’s Hercules ripped off these backgrounds. The piece itself is very nice and full of color and it complements the music.
DANCE OF THE HOURS (Ponchielli)
This is a weird little sequence. The sight of ballerina ostriches, elephants, tutu wearing hippos and cape wearing alligators may be the biggest WTF moment ever. Seriously what were they smoking? And where did they put it? Because I want some. Joking aside the odd characters make a vibrant and entertaining sequence that is a good match for the music.The cartoony elements are greatly contrasted by the finale.
NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN/ AVE MARIA (Mussorgsky/ Scubert)
The finale is a symbolic battle of good vs. evil. The dark atmosphere and mood is absolutely perfect. Chernabog’s design is simple and intimidating. The dance of evil is a perfect representation of what goes on at Bald Mountain. This is the perfect visual accompaniment to the piece. Chernabog is so awesome that he was a great surprise boss battle in Kingdom Hearts 1. The perfect piece to contrast Bald Mountain is Ave Maria. It’s a very soothing song and a perfect representation of good and harmony. (Chernabog=Chaos and Sunrise= Cosmos a paralell for all of you Final Fantasy fans out there).
Fantasia is an excellent animated feature. I believe it has some of the finest animation ever 2D, 3D or otherwise. It was a bold new step for animated films and even though it’s original release in 1940 was seemingly a failed experiment it’s influence on animation has never ceased and it has produced an artistic qualityÂ that other animation studios have yet to produce.Some Dreamworks films may have celebrity voices and fart jokes, but do they have a deep, moving and emotionally satisfying, and unique artistic achievement like Fantasia? The answer is NO. Even though Walt’s pet project didn’t do well it’s legacy had enough life to make at least one successor. Join me next time when I review Fantasia 2000!
VERDICT: 5 sorcerer hats out of 5