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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 4: "Fantasia"

(originally published on 1/26/22)



Run time: 125 min

Release Date: November 13, 1940

Where/when I first saw it: April, 1982. Not sure where.

How I watched it today: Blu-ray, big-screen Saturday night.

Dinosaurs. Magic wizards and sorcery. Fairies, unicorns and centaurs. Evil warlords. Dancing hippopotami. Earth's origins. Good triumphing over evil. How did this not capture the imaginations of the world upon its release in 1940, the same year the Disney studio topped themselves with “Pinocchio”? Sometimes the world isn’t ready for a bold vision. Sometimes it takes a while for everyone else to catch up and “Fantasia” was asking a lot of its audience back in that time.

But who was the audience? Classical music purists openly denounced the film as a blight on their beloved artform. How dare Disney reinterpret some of the greatest music ever written with his flights of fancy and cute little animals! As for the sales pitch to a mainstream audience, merging a night at the symphony with a block of animated shorts was not a selling point that the average moviegoer could wrap their heads around during this time. While some areas of the country (mainly big cities) did embrace the film and helped give it a long run at the box office, Disney’s vision of “Fantasia” being a traveling and ever-changing series of films over several years was just too ambitious for the time.

Nevertheless, the film that we have today remains an astonishing piece of work, a true original that hasn’t lost an ounce of magic after 80+ years. It’s a crowning achievement in animation, visual storytelling and cinematic abstract art. It defies every expectation of what a film–animated or otherwise–can be, as well as how music can be presented. There is still nothing quite like it.

It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite segment. The opening of “Toccata and Fugue” with colorful waves and flourishes of abstractions of music is a great way to set the table for what’s to come. The reinterpretation of “The Nutcracker Suite” rightfully eschews the obvious and goes for something fresh and lyrical. The ice skating fairies is a major highlight. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is the insurance clause against everything else, one that will please all audiences and it remains a delightful piece. “Rite of Spring” is a natural wonder, a stunning collage of images depicting the evolution of our planet. “The Pastoral Symphony,” with its centaurs, unicorns and drunken human characters, is the most delightfully bizarre in my book. If I had to pick a least favorite, probably “Dance of the Hours,” although there is a lot to be said for animating this kind of complex ballet choreography. “Night on Bald Mountain” and “Ave Maria” round everything out nicely with one of the scariest of all Disney creations, the horrific devil of Chernabog, wreaking havoc over the land only to be driven out at dawn by a procession of monks lighting the way toward a cathedral. The movie just ends there. No credits. No “wasn’t that great? We hope you’ll join us again” fanfare. Just a long fade to black.

“Fantasia” is Disney at its peak, a daring experiment in its day that came when the artform was still young and had so much yet to discover. You can feel the rush of ideas emanating from the artists, with every decision being made to push the envelope even further, to dare to be different. Everything about “Fantasia” is otherworldly. Even the shots of the orchestra have an animated quality to them with the colorful backlighting and the overpowering shadows.

There’s not enough I can say about it except it remains my favorite animated film of all time. I wish this year-long binge of Disney’s animated films didn’t have to peak this early.


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