Fantasia

Fantasia

“What you’re going to see are the designs and pictures and stories that music inspired in the minds and imaginations of a group of artists.”

The pairing of classical music and animation might not seem all that revolutionary today, but it sure was in 1940, especially when the latter part was imagined by the creative visionary, Walt Disney. The result was Fantasia, a creative masterpiece that amazed audiences when it debuted, and is still beloved over seventy years later.

Deems Taylor, who was the voice of the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts at the time, served as the film’s narrator. In the opening scene, he explains the premise of the movie, while conductor Leopold Stokowski and the Philedelphia Orchestra are shown in silhouette. Taylor sets the mood by explaining that some music tells a story, other music paints pictures, and some music, “absolute music,” exists for its own sake.

After the opening, the audience is eased into the morphing of music and animation with Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” synched to the occasional abstract image such as lines, waves and shadows. Things get more ambitious in the next segment, as audiences are treated to a mesmerizing ballet of mushrooms, flowers and fish, all set to Tchaikovski’s “Nutcracker Suite.”

Mickey Mouse is the star of the next segment, set to a version of Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Left alone by his master, Mickey decided to dabble in some magical mischief of his own. After animating a broom to fetch him some water, things quickly get out of control, leading to catastrophic results.

Now, the mood turns from comical to serious again. To the backdrop of stravinski’s “The Rite of Spring,” the film offers an animated look at the Earth’s evolution, from lifeless sphere to the days when dinosaurs roamed the planet. At this point, it’s time for a brief, but entertaining, intermission.

After the break, audiences are whisked off to Mount Olympus to watch Zeus and his mythical cohorts interact to the backdrop of Beethoven’s “The Pastoral Symphony.” An amusing ballet follows, featuring a comical assortment of hippos, elephants, ostriches and alligators, each representing a segment of the day.

For the finale of Fantasia, things turn more sinister with “Night on Bald Mountain” by Modest Mussorgsky. The devil Chernabog unleashes a swirling storm of of evil spirits, skeletons and other restless souls at midnight. He delights in his destructive abilities until a bell is heard that robs him of his power. The music segues into Franz Schubert’s “Ava Maria” as a procession of monks makes their way to a monestary, having thwarted evil once again.

To help bring Fantasia to life, Disney partnered with RCA to create a stereo surround system called “Fantasound.” It was way ahead of its time, and prohibitably expensive, as it required elaborate equipment to be setup in each individual theater. As a result, the film opened in a limited amount of theaters around the country and did quite well at the box-offices, although it was not a financial success for the studio.

The love for Fantasia has only grown over time. For it’s fiftieth anniversary in 1990, a remixed and re-edited version of the film with restored visuals and sound was released nationwide, introducing a whole new generation of fans to this Disney masterpiece.

Ten years later, Walt Disney’s nephew Roy introduced Fantasia 2000, a brand new film based on the original format. Originally shown only in the extra-large IMAX format, the movie featured seven new classic pieces of music and animation, including Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” as well as the original “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

The sequel was met with approval by critics and fans alike and did quite well at the box office, making it far more successful than the original in terms of revenue. It doesn’t quite match up to the charm of the 1940 original, however – a stunning and timeless masterpiece that could only have come from the creative vision of Walt Disney.

If you have fond memories of seeing Fantasia as a youngster, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your recollections in our comments section below.

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