Some of my greatest cinematic Blind Spots are consisted of the work of Walt Disney, mainly his animation projects like Pinocchio, Dumbo, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs and the ambitious 1940 film Fantasia. While most of his work is addressed to family audiences, Fantasia is not one of those films. Consisted of eight parts short animated films or segments, Fantasia revolves around the theme of music and how it can tell stories just as easily as words can, all narrated by the Master of Ceremonies, Deems Taylor, in front of the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Taylor talks at the beginning of the film about the three types of music: the one that tells a definite story, the one that while it has no specific plot, it does paint a series of more or less definite pictures and then the one that exists simply for its own sake.
In the latter category enters the first short, which just accompanies the music performed by the orchestra. I thought it was a nice introduction to the concept of Fantasia and despite being the simplest section it’s still entertaining. The second short is the one presenting the changes of the seasons with Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite playing along taking us through the beauty of nature. The third short is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice who tries his master’s magic but doesn’t know how to control it. It certainly has its charms given by the presence of the famous Mickey Mouse as the main character. Next is the history of the world’s creation presented with Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The fourth segment that presents the creation of the world is, besides a lesson in geography and science spanning from the Big Bang to the extinction of dinosaurs, an ambitious piece of animation, an epic retelling of the birth of Earth as we know it.
What follows is the orchestra’s break with the intermission. And then being a film about soundtracks, it got meta, by presenting us the actual soundtrack from the film stock right after that the orchestra returns. Very original and well handled, it offers another lesson for those who didn’t know how music was put together to film. The following segment is Beethoven’s The Pastoral Symphony, my favorite of all eight. It’s the one with the centaurs, cupids, fauns and other mythological creatures. It also has a strangely looking Zeus creating a thunderstorm. I was very impressed by its many colors and the richness of the story. It’s incredibly beautiful.
The second to last segment is a comical ballet with ostriches, hippos, elephants and gators with each group of animals representing a part of the day: the ostriches are Morning, the hippos are Afternoon, the elephants Evening and the gators Night on the music of Amilcare Ponchielli entitled Dance of The Hours. It’s hippos, ostriches and elephants doing ballet. This one was going for laughs. And the final short is consisted of two halves: the nightmare inducing A Night on Bald Mountain segment and the other half accompanied by the song Ave Maria. It depicts Walpurgis night also known as Halloween night when the evil spirits come out being awoken by the demon Chernabog. Its introduction is terrifying and bound to scare children and even adults. The segment ends with the dawn of day and the spirits tormented by Chernabog returning to their graves as the sounds of the heavenly Ave Maria accompany a glorious sunrise.
Being a huge fan of animation it was written in stars that I will adore Fantasia. I’ve seen other anthology animated films like Fear(s) of the Dark where there are used different styles of animation for each segment. This doesn’t apply to Fantasia. This isn’t bad thing at all because the animators drew such beautiful vibrant colors. This is one of those films that need to be seen on a big screen so you can enjoy the beautiful drawings at their best.
It works as a great introduction to classical music. The fact that is used so well with the animated segments makes the music even more appealing. It reminded me of hearing the music of Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes. I’ve heard it so many times during those cartoons but I never knew what the songs’ titles or the composers’ names were. But in Fantasia, Deems Taylor provides us with all the information before seeing each segment.
I think we can all agree that this film is majestic, epic and an incredible work of art. Its importance is undeniable and everyone should see it at least once preferably on a screen as wide as possible. Every segment is carefully constructed and the impeccably performed music fits like a glove each part. It’s definitely the most ambitious animated film I know and among the most daring works of art I have ever experienced. Even if you might not enjoy it you can’t deny its greatness.
I’m glad I finally saw this classic. Fantasia is not a children’s film even though is a Disney product. However it’s a film that needs to be seen by everyone. A film that will evoke many different feelings from joy to fear and from wonder to excitement. Do yourself a favor and watch this one.