Fantasia is one of the most unique animated movies ever made. Apart from eventual imitators, there was simply nothing like it made at the time. Fantasia is best described as a 2 hour long collection of music videos. What began as a simple Mickey Mouse short, grew into Walt Disney’s third motion picture. It was Disney’s idea to create an experimental film that blends classical music with animation through visual storytelling.
Like Pinocchio, World War II hurt it’s box-office performance. But the idea is still so different that I can’t imagine it would have made a huge difference. Regardless, Fantasia was still a marvel to behold for those who gave it a chance. Fantasia is made up of 8 animated shorts that all begin with a live-action orchestra introducing a program that I can only talk about separately.
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – The first piece was originally written by Johann Sebastian Bach. It’s a theme mostly associated with horror, but the visuals are actually warm and inviting. Just a series of bright colors, shapes, and abstract patterns. Guaranteed to sum up the trippy experience we’re about to witness.
The Nutcracker Suite – The second piece was originally written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The theme’s association is obvious since it’s in the name. However, only the sugar plum fairy is depicted from the Nutcracker. The rest is an even trippier arrangement of anthropomorphic dancing mushrooms, flowers, and fish. The gentle spirited music actually blends together nicely.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – The third piece was originally written by Paul Dukas. Which in turn was based on a poem. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is easily the most iconic short in Fantasia. It’s arguably the biggest reason people remember the movie. The short was originally conceived to make Mickey Mouse popular again. Disney saw its potential and so he decided to expand on it. The only reason I know the theme is because of the movie.
The short itself tells the story of a powerful sorcerer named Yen Sid (Disney spelled backwards). Mickey is his apprentice who borrows his magical hat. With it he brings life to brooms and teaches them to do his chores. Things get out of hand nearly flooding everything, but the Sorcerer steps in to set things right. The image of Mickey with that blue starry wizard’s hat and red robe will forever be icon. You don’t get more classic Disney than this…
The Rite of Spring – The fourth piece was originally written by Igor Stravinsky. I’m not overly familiar with the theme, but I can tell it’s supposed to convey something ominous and/or powerful. The story of creation and a depiction of dinosaur life actually makes perfect sense. After the Earth is formed, many species of dinosaur live together in harmony. Until an evil T-Rex goes searching for food. This is definitely one of the more mature segments. As it depicts a T-Rex killing a Stegosaurus and then every dinosaur going extinct. A brutal lesson that’s very well executed.
The Pastoral Symphony – The fifth piece was originally written by Ludwig van Beethoven. The theme is peaceful and makes you think of green pastures. So a story about Greek mythology also made perfect sense. There are centaurs, cupids, Dionysus the lesser known God of Wine, and Zeus himself. This segment is actually quite risque. As it depicts very naked female centaurs bathing in a stream. No nipples, but still plenty of cupid butts. Dionysus is turned into a fat drunken party animal. While Zeus decides to hurl some lightning bolts just for the fun of it. It’s a memorable part of the movie, but not always for good reasons. An offensive black centaur servant girl had to be edited out. Aside from that, Greek mythology has never been this fun.
Dance of the Hours – The sixth piece was originally written by Amilcare Ponchielli. With a more lively theme, it only made sense to make a lighthearted segment to accompany it. There are four different anthropomorphic animal dance troupes. The ostriches, hippos, elephants, and alligators. All of whom come together in the end. I guarantee you’ve seen these characters somewhere before and probably didn’t know they were from Fantasia. This segment adds some much needed levity to the film.
Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria – The seventh and eighth piece was originally written by Modest Mussorgsky and Franz Schubert respectfully. The first theme is as creepy as the segment depected. You don’t get much darker than the literal devil summoning demons and evil spirits. This would be the second most memorable short after “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” As the giant bat-winged horned devil Chernobog became very iconic as well. With demons dancing in Hell and harpies with uncensored bare breasts, it’s truly hard to believe Disney made this. The second theme begins right after Chernabog’s reign ends with the rising sun. We hear an angelic chorus that depicts monks heading towards a church. It’s an appropriate follow up that beautifully symbolizes good vs. evil.
In conclusion, Fantasia isn’t something I frequently watched when I was younger. I’m positive I saw it at a young age, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until I rewatched it as a teenager. Only then did I fully understand what was going on. I was surprised that I knew every piece of music that was used. Then again, these are classical themes that everyone should know. The animation just gets better and better. Walt Disney really got a chance to improve his craft. No narrative structure or voice actors meant free range to do whatever he wanted.
The idea isn’t for everyone and that’s probably why it didn’t become the once every few years event Disney intended. Instead Fantasia stands alone as Disney’s most grown up movie to date. It’s still accessible for children, but they don’t shy away from deeper themes. Fantasia is an animated masterpiece that takes you on a musical journey you have to see to believe.
Followed by: Fantasia 2000