Hi friends so I have been tagged by Natalie over at her Disney Freak blog. The Golden Era of Disney films is considered 1937-1942 or basically 5 films- Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi. They are all true masterpieces and such bold artistic visions and I think they all hold up very well both animation and otherwise. As I love this era it was a pretty easy tag for me to do so here are my answers:
1.Are there films you haven’t seen from this era? Nope seen them all! You can read my reviews of all of the films here: (These were the first reviews I ever wrote for the blog!)
2.What is your favorite film from the era? My favorite is Fantasia because it has the most variety and I love seeing the artists interpret the beautiful music. I honestly don’t get it when people think it is boring- a new world, characters, story, music happens every 10 minutes or so!
3.What is your least favorite film of the era? Pinocchio. I didn’t like it as a girl and while I appreciate it now it still isn’t a favorite of mine. The animation is beautiful but as a morality tale it can be a little heavy handed and scary.
4.What is your favorite main character? I love Timothy Q Mouse. He sticks up for Dumbo and doesn’t allow him to be bullied or made fun of by the elephants.
5.Who is your favorite villain? Night on Bald Mountain aside there really is only 1 villain in these films- the Evil Queen. She is great because she is queen. She has all the power and money but her vanity wants more. She must be fairest in the land and when she isn’t she wants Snow White killed. That’s pretty wicked! I also love the vocal performance and her design both as old lady and evil queen.
6.Who is your favorite sidekick? Well I already said Timothy Q Mouse so I will go with Dopey. He’s so funny and sweet.
7.What is your favorite song of the era? When You Wish Upon a Star is about as good as it gets. It’s a song about hope and daring to dream for greater things in life. That’s what Disney does at its best is inspire hope and imagination. I would put Baby Mine as a close second.
8.What do you consider to be the most underrated film of the era? Dumbo because it gets a bum rap for being racist. I think the crows are a caricature but I personally don’t find them that offensive. I think it is especially forgivable when the entire message of the movie is about accepting people (or elephants) that are different.
9.What is your favorite thing about this era? I’m just blown away by the artistry and how bold Walt was. It would have been so easy for him to pump out 5 more Snow Whites but he went for Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi which are all artistic masterpieces and bold storytelling. Dumbo is the simpleton of the group and that’s saying something because it is also bold in kind of a simple way. They are challenging in tone and themes and take multiple viewings to absorb. I love all 5 more each time I see them.
10.What is your least favorite thing about this era? My least favorite scene is when the boys get turned into donkeys; although, as an adult I find it more enjoyable. As a kid I was petrified of it! The scene where Dumbo and Timothy Q Mouse get drunk isn’t my favorite either.
I haven’t mentioned Bambi at all in this tag, which is a shame because I really do love it. It’s so textured and beautiful to watch. I love how it doesn’t have much plot but is just a baby deer growing up. It’s sweet and simple and then sad when it needs to be. The scenes with the fire are stunningly animated and the way it uses music as a sound effect was groundbreaking. I was probably a little too tough on Bambi when I reviewed it. I definitely should have given it an A.
Over at AMC Movie News they are doing a fun project in honor of March Madness which is a college basketball bracket tournament but in this case it is Animation Madness! They have selected 32 animated films and you have the chance to vote on different pairings at their website
Here John Campea and the team debate the value of different movies and what their picks would be. I especially liked when all the girls started singing Little Mermaid (I would have done the same). Some of the pairings are unfortunate as films would go a little farther if not initially up against such strong competition. But here’s what they have to say.
I watched Akira tonight so I have seen all of the films in the bracket and they are all worthwhile although I would have made a few changes but there isn’t a bad film in the bracket IMO. So I have filled out my bracket with their 32 and I also created a bracket with my own 32 films. The interesting is that despite being very different I ended up with the same final 4, 2 and winner on both! I guess my favorite animated movies are Up, Little Mermaid, Spirited Away and Fantasia however you shake it.
My Best 32 Bracket
It would be fun if a bunch of my fellow bloggers put up their own brackets. You might be surprised with how things work out. Brackets are different than making a list because you are thinking about 2 movies at a time instead of an overall top 10. Anyway, it’s all in fun so go and vote for your favorites and share your brackets.
After 4 bumpy rides on the package film track I am delighted to tell you my friends that the last 2, which I watched today, are delightful.
Melody Time is the last of the package films with more than 2 stories and it might as well have been called Make Mine Music 2 but it is not as odd as it’s predecessor and the quality of animation and writing is significantly better. This does not feel like the scrap heap projects that MMM did.
Melody Time was released in 1948. Like MMM it is stories put to modern music like Fantasia had been classical music.
The war was over by that point and Disney was hard at work on their triumphant return to fairy tale stories in 1950 with Cinderella. In the meantime we get Melody Time and Ichabod and Mr Toad.
The project is introduced and narrated by Buddy Clark who sounds a lot like Bing Crosby. The entry is a little bit strange with masks
Once Upon a Wintertime-
Christmas song with images that look like a Currier and Ives printWe learn it is about young love. Then we see a couple in a sleigh and then on the ice. A rabbit is skating much like in Bambi. But unfortunately the ice becomes cracked and quickly the fair maiden is taken down stream towards a waterfall (don’t ask how a rushing river can be completely frozen over that close to a waterfall…)
Eventually all is saved and we are back to our Christmas song which I liked.
A very strong segment about a bee confronting the music of the Flight of the Bumble Bee. You see a Dali influence in this one for sure.
Legend of Johnny Appleseed
If you aren’t Christian I don’t know if you’d enjoy this as much as some of the rest of us that are. The music is a nice spiritual song called The Lord is Good to Me.
In a world where Christianity is basically abhorred by the media and kept out of anything mainstream it is nice to hear a little shout out on a Disney film.
The artistry in Johnny Appleseed reminds me a lot of Grandma Moses folk art. With the clouds merging with the apple trees it is beautiful.
This isn’t breaking huge new ground but it is very sincere and sweet and I liked it.
Johnny is inspired to spread happiness around the world in the form of apple trees where ever he goes.
It does drag in a few sections but overall I enjoyed it. The kind of short you could play in Sunday School. Nothing wrong with that!
This is very similar to the Pedro story from Saludos Amigos. Basically the little tug boat is treated poorly. Then his size saves the day- another Rudolph story.
It’s sweet and clips along so I didn’t mind it.
The Arrangement of Trees
Our Dali friend is out again. The story of a tree told with a surrealist touch. Actually it’s not even a story. It’s just a piece about the majesty of a tree and an oddly shaped one at that.
Kind of a surrealist tree.
The only thing I didn’t like in this piece is that all of the sudden the tree is the cross which seemed to come out of nowhere.
That caught me off guard because nothing in the piece really spoke to religion and there it was.
Blame it on Samba
This feels like an extra from The Three Cabelleros. We get our troupe back including Jose, Donald and Panchito. We also get a latin singer similar to Aurora Miranda but I don’t think it is her.
They dance, they sing and it is all very tame but enjoyable. Nice to see Jose for the last time.
A very sweet story. Pecos has been raised by coyotes in the wild. Eventually he cleans up and falls in love.
Unfortunately for Bill his love wants to wear a bustle at their wedding and it becomes a bustle trampoline (you will have to trust me on that).
In the end we find out why coyotes are crying to the moon. There’s no happy ending which for Disney is a big step. I enjoyed it.
Pecos sings one song about the west and how the colors of the Native Americans made the rocks red, orange, gold and even purple. Some could find that a little bit racist but it isn’t so bad.
I really liked Melody Time. It is much better than Make Mine Music which was entertaining in a so bad it’s good way but Melody Time I genuinely like.
It is appropriate for all ages. Each set is around 8 minutes and it is narrated by Roy Rogers and his wranglers (we meet them in a live action scene). The music is uniformly good and the colors and artistry looks like real effort went into them not an afterthought. There is also a pretty good variety; although I think the Pecos Bill story goes on a little bit too long. Still, it’s sweet and well done so I enjoyed it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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+