Starring: Deems Taylor (himself),
Leopold Stokowski and the
Orchestra (themselves), Mickey
Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 120 minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Samuel Armstrong
Producer: Walt Disney
Writer: Lee Blair, Elmer Plummer &
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FANTASIA was the most impressive piece of animation to come out of the Disney studios up to that time (1940). It was not only the first full length animated feature; but, it was also revolutionary in integrating great classical music with imaginative animated-visuals, running the gamut from dancing hippos to the purely abstract.
The film opens with narrator Deems Taylor explaining the three types of music: that which paints a picture, music that tells a story, and music for music's sake, or "absolute music." In this last category is heard first Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor", one of eight symphonic numbers which are generally reserved for the concert halls, but here illustrated abstractly. That is, as the musicians tune their instruments, the sound is seen as yellow light flowing and beaming out of each piece as it begins to play. This is one time you won't want to listen to music with your eyes shut.
Next is Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite", illustrated by different forms of dancing, starting with the fragile and shimmering beauty of tiny fairies placing dewdrops on cobwebs, and moving through Chinese mushrooms, flower petals, fish, and finally ending up with thistles and orchids doing "The Cossack Dance".
The next segment is the famous, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", starring Mickey Mouse. When the old sorcerer goes to bed, apprentice Mickey tires of carrying buckets of water back and forth to scrub the floor, so he tries on the sorcerer's hat and commands a broom to grow arms and legs and carry buckets of water. As Mickey watches the broom tirelessly fetching buckets he nods off, but awakens to find the room half filled with water. He feverishly tries to stop the broom, but it will not obey any command. Mickey grabs an axe and chops the broom to pieces, but each piece grows arms and legs and continues to fetch water, although now they are completely submerged...
From there, the film continues with the titanic upheavals of the earth and the roaring battles of prehistoric animals in Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring"; the winsome charm of baby fauns, nymphs, centaurs, and the like in Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony"; and, the superb satire on ballet in "The Dance of the Hours", with ostriches, hippos, crocodiles, and elephants whose stomping make the walls shake and a heavy door crumble.
The final selections are Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain", visualized with a weird and terrifying assortment of skeletons, ghouls and imps who rise from a graveyard and fly through the night to the top of Bald Mountain, where Tchernobog, the Black demon, waits for them to do him honors. The spirits swirl around him surrealistically, as the evil one revels. The dawn breaks, church bells ring, and as the spirits return to their rest, Tchernobog is driven back into the mountain. The piece segues into Schubert's "Ave Maria", which spreads over the countryside with the light.
At the time it was made, Mr. Disney said that FANTASIA was an experiment. The elaborate sound-production system, which was able to "place" sounds, may have amplified them too much in certain passages. Also the length of the picture, more than two hours, tends to weary the senses. Furthermore, little children may be frightened by "The Night On Bald Mountain", but there is nothing really objectionable for older children if their parents discuss the fallacy of the evolutionary worldview in the section featuring the "Rite of Spring". In fact, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" serves as a good illustration of why magic is evil.
On the other hand, FANTASIA will help children and adults alike to understand and appreciate great music in a new and exciting way. In fact, FANTASIA is one of the few films which stands out as an artistic masterpiece. Furthermore, it is one of the few films you will want to see again and again, especially now that it is restored.