Does anybody, can anybody, get as much credit for molding the art style of motion picture animation as Mr. Walt Disney?
What began as one man and his mouse has developed into a vast empire of animation. Consistently and boldly Walt Disney and his associates paved the way for the platform of animation to reach new creative heights and profitability. And yet, profitability wasn’t always the case.
Only a couple years after their 1937 cultural phenomena Snow white and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney attempted to keep the ball rolling with Fantasia (as well as Pinocchio), all to no avail. The public wasn’t interested in the supposedly pretentious, artsy route Disney took and wanted more simple and classic tales like Dumbo, which would be released less than a year later to critical success. It also didn’t help that the soundtrack for Fantasia was recorded using Fantasound, a complex sound reproduction system utilizing multiple audio channels. A revolutionary use of stereophonic sound at the monetary expense of Disney, as they couldn’t front the cost to install Fantasound into most theaters.
Upon release, many in the industry immediately identified Fantasia as a masterpiece and achievement, as this overbudget experiment just so happened to be the next great leap in motion picture art. For some critics (and many audiences) the movie went over their heads at first viewing, but over numerous theatrical runs and artistic reevaluations Fantasia eventually received proper acclaim. It’s even included in AFI’s top 10 list for animations.
Fantasia gracefully depicts the lengths and bounds the arts have gone through the years. Animation, orchestra, and imagination are smoothly blended to segments of film that are stylistically distinct from one another. Everything fits so well into this sequential narrative that it may have the viewer left wondering what came first, the music or the cartoon?
Fantasia is like capturing a deep, visceral dream in the form of a motion picture. We begin with some vague, watercolor shapes that seem to mirror the tone of the music, followed promptly by the rhythmic dancing of fairies and mushrooms in The Nutcracker Suite. It’s no wonder Disney capitalized on its psychedelic splendor in the late 60’s with another theatrical run.
My favorite scene in Fantasia is everyone’s favorite scene, Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert. The demon Chernabog raises his ghoulish army for a night of evil debauchery. The music that accompanies this sequence has since become an iconic piece of terrifying music linked to the Disney brand. The dark imagery and score are beautifully contrasted by Ave Maria, which I’d describe as the calming after the storm. Lulling the viewer back to a state of comfort and security.
Also, among the most noteworthy segments is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where we get an early (perhaps the first) modern depiction of Mickey Mouse. When he steals the hat of the powerful sorcerer Yen Sid, Mickey has some fun making his job a little easier on himself, but at a cost. This fun tale gives us a taste of that excitement and humor that’s present in most of Disney’s higher-quality productions.
Fantasia is one of those films with a lot of important history that expands beyond its initial release in 1940. There have been cuts, edits, and re-releases out the wazoo, which I think speaks to the massive impact Fantasia has had on the animation medium. It represents what passion, creativity, and determination can bring to shape the future of a genre.
The Verdict: A