Movie 3: Fantasia

fantasia poster

Production- (If you want to read about the segments skip down to Segments)

In modern movies typically we see a hit followed by a million imitators.  Not the case with Disney.  Even in later, more commercial years they followed Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast with the different feels of Aladdin and Lion King.  However, this was never more true than in the early years.  A mammoth hit of Snow White was followed by 4 films that couldn’t be more different- Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi.

Fantasia was the 3rd animated feature film by Walt Disney Studios and it is a bold undertaking to be sure.  Originally Walt was worried the character of Mickey was going to be forgotten by the public and even the studio.  As his master creation Walt didn’t want this to happen and had developed an idea for the Sorcerers Apprentice.  Music had been written and the concept had been drawn.

Unfortunately Disney was left with only a short, so he got the idea to create a series of shorts that would build off of his Silly Symphonies series- pairing animation with classical music.

In the end Fantasia was 8 sections including intermission and 8 pieces of music (the intermission has notes but the last segment has 2 numbers Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria)

The music was recorded by the Philadelphia Orchestra which was led by famous conductor Leopold Stokowski.  Evidently he and Disney had met in a restaurant and Walt mentioned his idea of the Sorcerers Apprentice.  Leopold told Walt Disney he ‘liked the music’ and would be willing to conduct the piece at no cost.

Then Disney later ran into Stokowski on a train and they shared ideas for the short.  Disney told him later he was ‘all steamed up over the idea of Stokowski working with us’ and that it would ‘lead to a new style of motion picture presentation’.

So work on the Sorcerers Apprentice began in 1937 but by January 1938 the cost had climbed to 125,000 so Disney realized a short could never make that back. A feature film of a series of shorts was discussed.   Roy Disney wanted to keep the budget low because of the ‘experimental and unprecedented nature’ of the production.

However, Walt Disney became energized and “saw this trouble in the form of an opportunity.  This was the birth of a new concept, a group of separate numbers- regardless of their running time- put together in a single presentation”

It’s clear Walt liked the idea of the combined short subject feature film because after Bambi there are 6 such features (a portion of this project I must admit I am not looking forward to but it should be fun)

Each of the shorts in Fantasia involved different techniques.  In Toccata we see an homage to abstract art.  In the Nutcracker Suite professional ballet dancers were brought in, filmed and then sketched.  In the Pastoral Symphony we see almost a watercolor effect.

The music was recorded in 1939 and took 42 days, 33 microphones, and 483,000 feet of film.

Fantasia was also released in Fantasound which was developed by the engineers at Disney and RCA which had 2 projectors rolling- 1 with the sound, another with the film.

Fantasia has one of the most interesting stories at the box office of any Disney film.  Initially Fantasia struggled at the box office because it was rolled out slowly with Fantasound having to be implemented in theaters and the beginning of WWII in 1941

Eventually it was released to the general public with 20 minutes removed and then 45 minutes taken off.  It was then released again in theaters 9 more times, finally making money in 1969 release. In that release 4 scenes from the Pastoral Symphony showing black pegasus waiting on a white one were deemed racially insensitive and removed.

In 1982 a new soundtrack was recorded and in 1990 the live action scenes and original uncut film was released. I saw Fantasia in 1990 and it grossed $25 million.

The Segments

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach

It’s neat but probably not my favorite as there is no story at all.

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Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky

This is my personal favorite probably because it is the music I am the most familiar with. This shows us all the seasons through the eyes of fairies waking the forest up.

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The Sorcerers Apprentice
This is probably the section that is enjoyed by children the most as we see lazy Mickey take the wizards hat so the brooms will get the water from the well. All bedlam breaks out until the Wizard returns.

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The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
In this piece we see the galaxy, creation of the world, the planets first creatures, and the life and death of the dinosaurs.

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Yes there is an intermission in a Disney film but you kind of need it to absorb all of the beautiful images and music. We do get one brief segment called Meet the Soundtrack where different notes make visual vibrations.

Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven-
I would never have thought to put Greek mythology with Beethoven but Disney does and it is beautiful. We start with introductions to the centaurs, cupids, fauns, pegasus and other figures.
They are falling in love and having a festival for Bacchus, the God of Wine. However, Zeuss decides to rain on the parade and sends a storm and throws lightning at them.

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I really enjoyed watching the Pastoral Symphony. My favorite image was the depiction of night as a woman with a giant cloak covering the sky. Beautiful.
Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli
Next to Sorcerer’s Apprentice this is probably the most famous segment. It is a ballet with characters representing all parts of the day. Ostriches are morning, Hippos are afternoon, Elephants are evening and Alligators are night.
This is the routine that will probably entertain small children the most with the comical hippos and strange looking ostriches dancing.

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Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert
The last segment continues Disney’s early trend of embracing darker themes and messages with bald mountain being the home of Satan. We get the Devil and all his bloody minions.
But then we see a light and it gets wider until we see a tree, a forest and a band of people holding lights. It’s a beautiful contrast.

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Movie Review
It should be clear from all the work I put into this post I think Fantasia is pretty spectacular. And yet, I remember seeing it in 1990 and as a 9 year old I was kind of bored. So, is it an animated movie for adults only?
Maybe but I think there is a strategy which could make this work for kids and adults who perhaps don’t love classical music and art as much as lovers of this film do. I’ve noticed with children enjoyment of any activity comes down to timing. Fantasia is not the movie to play when the kids are driving you nuts and you need 2 hours of free time. It is not the film that will entertain kids.
It is a film that can educate kids (and adults) and should be treated like other educational experiences. Find a time when you can sit down and explain what is going to happen the way you might before going to an art museum or a play. Children under 5 are probably not going to enjoy it even then but older kids should be able to understand the difference between art and entertainment.
The film is split into segments so dividing it up may also be a good way to go. There is no reason why all 2 hours must be seen at once. You could learn about each composer and then watch their segment and I bet everyone would enjoy that.
I look at Fantasia kind of the way I saw Tree of Life. They are both art pieces more than movies. In a world of cookie cutter films how great to see something that transcends entertainment. Something that makes you want to be creative- and Fantasia will inspire you in both your ears and eyes.
I admire Walt Disney so much for making such bold films. Fantasia was such a risk and you rarely see such risks. It can be a little slow at times but I still think it is a masterpiece. I hadn’t seen it in a long time and feel inspired after watching it today. I bet you will too.
Overall Grade A+

41 thoughts on “Movie 3: Fantasia

    1. I know you aren’t a fan. I get it. If pacing is the only issue and not content (which I don’t think is the case with you) than I don’t see anything wrong with dividing it up and watching it in pieces. If a person will enjoy the experience better than why not?

      But I agree not everyone likes art museums or symphonies and this is kind of a combination of both. I really like both so a masterpiece for me.

      Plus not everyone likes classical music and that’s fine too. Different strokes.

      1. Fair enough. Luckily there is such variety in Disney- something for all types. 🙂

    2. I just went to the symphony and they played Night on Bald Mountain. Amazing! Do you like going to the symphony? I love it.

      1. I’ve never been to a symphony, but I don’t think I’ll like it. I like songs and singing more than I can stand just listening to music.

        I think that’s why I enjoyed ‘Pitch Perfect’.

      2. Pitch Perfect is hilarious. I like both but I know some people think the symphony is boring. I think that’s why some struggle with fantasia. They arent used to a concert like you get at the symphony.

  1. Awesome review once again. I saw part of his film on Netflix earlier today. Just curious, if you don’t mind me asking, how did you feel, based on your Christian views, about Disney making a segment like Sorceror’s Apprentice, making Mickey the apprentice and, in doing so, likely making witchcraft look like it was a good thing and what not? I’m just curious.

    1. Hey good question. I’m so excited this movie is available on netflix! I’m thinking of putting together some posts about good ways to introduce your children to Fantasia- maybe even some family lesson plans.

      It’s a good question about witchcraft and the like in movies. I’m ok with wizards and witches for the most part as long as it is kept whimsical and in the world of faeries. Usually it is a separate world such as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings so it is more of a fantasy.

      The only one I had a little more of a problem was with Princess and the Frog (although it wouldn’t stop me from watching the movie with my kids). I guess because I know voodoo is a real part of the occult and the characters aren’t really in a fantasy world like Hogwarts or Middle Earth it bothered me a little bit more. Does that make sense?

      With Fantasia I think it is a fantasy world with a Mickey and the magic so I’m ok with it. I guess it just depends.

      Thanks for the good question.

      1. You’re welcome! Yeah, it is rather bothersome with there being voodoo witchcraft in Princess & The Frog since that kind of magic is real and it isn’t in a fantasy setting. Still, I guess so do enjoy it anyway for what good music there is in the film and the fairly memorable or good characters and things like that. I suppose that is why I at least gave it a B, you know? Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed this film.

      2. For sure. Princess and the Frog has a lot of great things about it. Fantasia is such a bold endeavor and to have it as your 3rd film is even more bold. I love it

    1. Me too. Oh, and you do know that for the Night On Blad Mountain segment, that devil guy’s name is Chernabog, is that right? Still, he definitely is a Satan figure, that’s for sure. I thought it was cool that he and his demons got defeated by the sunlight. I liked how even when Walt Disney was alive, the theme of his films ended up being that good triumphs over evil, you know? Just curious, you think he was a Christian, or at least became one or something like that?

      1. I love that moment in Night on Bald Mountain! It’s so beautiful. Walt was definitely a Christian. In fact, in his biography it says he was a Congregationalist Christian, which I think is kind of like an evangelical. He said “Whatever success I have had in bringing clean, informative entertainment to people of all ages, I attribute in great part to my Congregational upbringing and my lifelong habit of prayer. To me, today, at age sixty-one, all prayer, by the humble or highly placed, has one thing in common: supplication for strength and inspiration to carry on the best human impulses which should bind us together for a better world” Pinocchio is probably the film where you see his religious feelings most strongly because it is a film that is clearly about how a life of sin leads you to misery and a life of prayer brings goodness (and even a blue faerie!).

    1. Hard to say. People love tearing down public figures like Disney. I would take such accusations with a grain of salt (same with the anti-Semitic rumors). Could be true, could be false but what good does it do? Let’s just enjoy the good that he gave the world.

      God works through imperfect vessels to do His work here on earth.

  2. Oh, and I’m also curious, you remember how towards the end of the Night On Bald Mountain segment, you see people with candle lights walking through the woods and then you see sunlight through the trees. Anyway, I’m just curious, those were people going to the funeral for those who died the night before, is that right?

    1. Hey, just curious, I was trying to find the biography section where it said that Walt Disney was a Congregationalist Christian and the stuff you mentioned following that. Just curious, would you mind sending me the link that mentions all that or even the site or something like that? That would be great.

  3. ‘Fantasia’ was the only Disney film my grandparents owned, and I remember the many times when I sat by the fireplace as the images and music of the film completely mesmerize me. I tended to occasionally fast-forward to the ‘Rite of Spring’ sequence and watch the rest of it from there, as you can guess dinosaurs were my bread and butter (and still kinda are today) and I used to think that the Tyrannosaurus in he film was Sharptooth from ‘The Land Before Time’, which made me even more terrified! I certainly enjoyed the ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ segment but I always found the Wizard super-creepy. ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ absolutely creeped me out, but I still watched it just out of sheer amazement, it was hypnotic!

    I almost wish it hadn’t bombed at the Box Office because I think Disney wanted to make a Fantasia every year with new music put to animation. I read somewhere that one of the considered sequences for the original Fantasia was a much-abridged version of The Hobbit to be placed alongside ‘Flight of the Valkyries’ from Wagner. A little bit of me does kinda want to see what that would have looked like. Overall, Fantasia earns it’s reputation as one of the best Disney movies ever.

  4. In addition to the racial stereotype, the pastoral symphony raised some eyebrows for showing bare breasts on the female centaurs (although sometimes they do wear garlands over said parts).

  5. Ah, Fantasia! It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste. I thought it was boring as a child, but have grown to really appreciate it. I 100% agree with you that the best approach to introduce this to a kid is to make it clear that this is art, not a typical movie, and to see it as such. I plan to homeschool my kids (evenually, they’re still in diapers now), and this movie is one I plan to include in their schooling as a music/art appreciation piece.

    I hadn’t realized that so many segments were trying to capture a variety of art styles, but once you pointed it put, I can see it.

    I can’t quite give it an A+ since it is something that doesn’t really appeal to kids or people who aren’t fans of art or classical music, and it’s not something I’d want to watch more than once in a blue moon. So I put my rating at an A.

    1. I can see what you mean. It’s not the most rewatchable for kids so an A is certainly a fair grade.

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