Fantasia (1940)

*. I don’t think I’d ever seen Fantasia before this. At least not all of it. I know I’d seen the Sorcerer’s Apprentice episode with Mickey Mouse, but that’s it.
*. That episode was actually the germ of the film, as it was originally slated to be one of Disney’s Silly Symphony shorts but its production costs were so high they had to bundle it together with a bunch of other musical pieces and sell it as a feature. This turned out to be a smart move, as the box office was great, and would stay great for numerous re-releases over the years.
*. Critics ate it up too, as much then and now. It received two Academy Honorary Awards and regularly makes those lists of best and most important films of all time. Today, it’s status as a classic is pretty much undisputed.
*. So I was quite looking forward to the experience and was surprised to find it a chore just to sit through. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was still enjoyable, even if so familiar I wasn’t that interested in it. The Dance of the Hours with hippos, elephants, and alligators all doing a ballet was OK. Murnau’s Mephisto showing up for Night on Bald Mountain, same. But aside from that, I didn’t care for any of it.

*. I guess the animation was excellent for the time, but it doesn’t look like anything special today. It also didn’t seem to go with the music that well. I had trouble seeing the connection between Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and the progression of geological time, for example. And the My Little Pony vibe of the Pastoral Symphony segment was borderline sickening, making Pauline Kael’s overall point about the movie that “the total effect is grotesquely kitschy.”
*. David Thomson: “What happened — and I think it was predictable — was that the better the music, the more trashy, second-rate, and absurd the pictures seemed. I’m not sure if Hollywood has so naked an example of the unbridgeable gulf between high art and low art.”
*. Is the gulf truly unbridgeable? Well, at least they tried. And the thing does have a couple of interesting aspects. The sexuality, for one, with the nude centaurettes and harpies with nipples. I don’t think Disney would get away with that today. Also, the general structure, moving from creation stories to a kind of apocalypse, was ambitious. But that’s as positive as I can be.

9 thoughts on “Fantasia (1940)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yeah, that’s another problem they had. Which they tried to address with the lectures by the conductor, and it’s not insurmountable, but I just didn’t think the animation in the non-narrative sections was strong enough to carry it.

    1. Alex Good

      Yeah, I think that’s a big part of why it’s hung around so long. Entertainment for kids that’s supposed to be good for them because it’s an introduction to classical music. Looking at it now though I only thought parts of it worked like they ought to. And given developments in animation, I think kids are less impressed today.

  1. Alex's Review Corner

    This was always the disney movie that got away from me. I think mostly because my Dad got bored of it and hid it away forever as to never watch it again when I was little. I’m honestly more familiar with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice starring Nicolas Cage.


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