I love Fantasia. I can’t recommend this film enough. In fact it’s up there on my list of films people MUST SEE. No, there isn’t really that much of a joke to the start as yeah it’s really damn good.
For people who have experienced the more unusual events at the Proms, like Dr Who or Movie Themes, Fantasia can be seen as a precursor to these. A means to introduce people that would normally never sit through an orchestral symphony, to experience classical music. While those modern shows would entertain the audience with monsters coming down the lanes, Fantasia accompanies the classical music with breathtaking Disney animation.
It was released in 1940 and.. well you can see there was an issue distributing it outside of America so initially it didn’t sell very well, fortunately since then it has been redistributed multiple times. I can only imagine how great it must be on the big screen, a true sight and sound to behold. But anyway onto the show.
Right away Fantasia treats this as a proper orchestral show rather than a movie, as our first sights are of the orchestra setting up before we are introduced to our master of ceremonies and announcer. He will introduce us to each section and talk directly to the audience as if we were sitting in a theatre, a nice touch.
Our first piece is referred to as Absolute Music, a piece that has no real theme or story to it, and as such rather than tell a story with it, they make abstract images that accompany the sound. It’s like when you close your eyes to music and just envision patterns with it. It is essentially a warm up for the orchestra before they start the real pieces.
The first proper piece after the warm up are selections from the Nutcracker Suite. I’m amused that they mentioned not many people do it now. Must have been back in the 40s it died down but with the invention of tv, and the fact it was ‘free to use’ music at Christmas you hear it all the time now. Well anyway rather than show us a nutcracker or the story, they instead accompany the music with a sequence following fairies as it is a change in the seasons, ending with winter and some lovely scenes of ice fairies ice-skating and their trails leaving a path of frost. It’s a lovely piece hearing music we all know but used in such a different tale, sadly it’s over shadowed by what comes after.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the single most famous piece in the film. A musical rendition of the 1797 poem, only as we all know, the role of the apprentice is played by Mickey Mouse. A simple tale of power and wanting it the fast way but without the means to control it. Essentially this tale is often done these days as a turn to the dark side story so it’s nice seeing the young apprentice not turning evil as the power goes to his head. We all know this bit even if you have never seen it so moving on.
Rites of Spring follows, rather than showing Spring though they show a 1940’s rendition of the origin of life on the planet, starting with explosions from volcano and flows of magma colliding with the newly formed seas. Then the first life forms developing into more complicated ones, and then the massively inaccurate depiction of the age of dinosaurs (was 1940s remember, we have learned A LOT since then) and I’m not talking about the dinosaurs not having feathers. While I would love that to be more mainstream I’m meaning we see a 3 fingered T rex (and yes it is a T rex they describe it as such) fighting a stegosaurus. This is followed by it becoming massively depressing as we see them slowly die of a drought turning the world to desert and even the T rex collapsing and dying. I recall getting openly upset as a child watching that part.
The next bit is a short intermission (don’t worry you don’t wait through the 15 minutes it picks up right after they leave) followed by another short entitled “Meet the Soundtrack” Just a short where you see a stylized version of how the music played is rendered, record any audio on a computer and you grasp what I mean. Once again this is done to feel like a warm up before it gets back to the show.
Following that is a piece by Beethoven the Pastoral Symphony. They use this to show scenes of Greek mythology, featuring unicorns, fawn, centaurs, Pegasus and some of the Greek gods like Bacchus the god of wine. All before Zeus reminds us he’s a dick (fortunately not in THAT way… he was a … best to not discuss that here) by throwing lightning bolts down on the people having a good time, couldn’t help but recognize the similarities in design with the Disney Hercules movie over 50 years later, wonder if it was intentional. Hope so.
Next up is one of the more famous segments but also my least favourite, as animal ballerinas move about representing the passing of hours in the day. Ostriches for morning, hippos for mid day, elephants for evening and crocodiles or alligators (hard to tell in animation) for evening. While memorable for the animals, I feel it lacks the imagination and wonder of the others and just feels like a short you would find in a regular cartoon. One neat point though is when you look at the elephants you see that they do look a lot like the pink elephants from Dumbo (not looking forward to the live action film of that) which is because the pink elephants were originally planned for Fantasia, neat titbit huh?
The final sequence is by far the most breathtaking and… no way Disney would make this now a days. Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria. The (profanity) Devil appears on top of a mountain and summons forth ghosts and ghouls for a big party as he relishes in the suffering he causes to even his own servants, all before the light of day and the faith of man sends him back into the shadows. Seriously I can’t see any western media doing anything like this anymore. (And not just because of the nipples on the harpies that fly towards the screen, go on look, you know you want to). Though you are drawn to the shocking images in the first section, the second and thus the end of fantasia is a bright procession of light and calming images that contrast to what you saw, almost as if calming you down at the end of the show itself.
As mentioned above, this is a film I INSIST people watch, perhaps pick it up so you and your family can see it during Christmas after dinner, you won’t be disappointed. Sit down and watch excellent classic music accompanied by breath taking Disney hand drawn animation.