The same year that Walt Disney’s animation studio released Pinocchio, he also released another animated feature. While Pinocchio was marketed as a family film and was received very well, even though World War 2 seriously cut into its initial profits, Fantasia was different.
Fantasia isn’t really a movie. It’s more of a classical music concert with artistic animation. The concept is that the animation team interpreted the music in their own ways, through the animation. The original plan was to re-release Fantasia every few years with a different set of orchestrations and accompanying visuals, making Fantasia an ongoing project. It’s a fascinating, if risky idea at the time. It was loved by critics, but beyond the war overseas, a lot of the general audience didn’t know what to make of it at the time. It really didn’t make its money back at first, but it’s since gained a huge following, a lot of respect and a handful of alterations through the years.
Fantasia is best described as an experience. Whether you’ll enjoy it or not depends on how you feel about classical music and weird imagery to go along with it. I won’t go into too much detail on what famous compositions are played or what kinds of visuals go along with them. As someone who enjoys classical music but doesn’t consider myself an expert, I’ll just say that much smarter people than I have deconstructed this film much deeper than I could ever hope to. The only two segments I’ll describe are The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Night on Bald Mountain (the finale).
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is more of a comedic animation featuring Mickey Mouse as … you get the idea. The visuals are also loosely based on a poem of the same name from the 1700’s. In this segment, Mickey is told by his sorcerer mentor to fill a cauldron with water. Feeling a bit lazy, he comes up with the bright idea of magically altering a broomstick to do the work for him. It works at first, but the broomstick doesn’t stop and begins flooding the basement. As this segment goes on, things get more and more out of hand. It’s entertaining, and like all the animated segments, it works with the music’s flow perfectly. This segment is famous enough that it’s been turned into several video games, a number of parodies and a live action movie starring Nicolas Cage. I’ve heard nothing good about the live action movie, so I’ve never seen it and I don’t plan to, but it exists.
The Bald Mountain is almost more of a horror-inspired segment. It prominently features Chernabog, a devilish Slavic deity. Pretty much the entire short is creepy skeletons flying around, Chernabog screwing around with his powers and torturing people, and his followers dancing around the fires of hell. That’s not to say it’s scary, but you probably don’t want younger kids watching it. Walt Disney himself talked about how he wanted Chernabog portrayed as Satan himself, and with his massive size and starting blue fires in his hands, it’s hard not to see that. There were also a couple quick shots that kind of looked like topless female imps flying around, complete with nipples. That caught me off guard. Of course it’s highly stylized and doesn’t look realistic in any way, but it still happened in a Disney movie.
That’s all I can think of to describe this experience really. To sum it up, it’s classical music with artistic animated interpretations. Some of it’s meant to be cute, some of it is abstract, and the last segment, while not scary, is horror inspired. If that sounds interesting, then you really should check it out. If not, then you’ll probably be bored.
On a personal level, I do enjoy classical music from time to time, and I very much enjoyed it. This is the first Disney movie that I’ve never seen before I started this blog series. It’s not the kind of film I’d watch often, but I’d certainly watch it again sometime.
The next Disney animated movie is Dumbo. After that, there’s Bambi, and then 5 movies in a row that were made during World War 2 that are essentially animated short collections and music collections. I’m not yet sure whether I’ll watch all of them or not, but either way, I’ll probably sum them all up in a single post.