#30) Fantasia (1940) – Part 2

Previously on “#30) Fantasia (1940)”…

Meet the Soundtrack

  • The “jam session” coming back from intermission is cute, and shines a brief spotlight on the xylophone, jazz’s unsung hero.
  • My brother and I always loved the Soundtrack segment as kids. It’s fun to watch the visualization of each instrument. In particular we enjoyed the low sounds of the bassoon, the waves starting to spill out under its own weight. This whole segment is even more impressive when you learn that the entire section is hand-drawn, and not just an actual sound wave (the sound wave of a triangle does not actually make a triangle shape).

The Pastoral Symphony

  • My “Six Degrees of Separation” from this film comes courtesy of my friend Ryan (whose was kind enough to share his zombie knowledge with me for a previous post). Ryan’s grandmother was dating Disney animator X. Atencio in the late 1930s, and X based the look of the dark blue-haired centaurette on her. Now that’s a legacy!
  • Cherubs have never done it for me. They’re supposed to be cute, but really they’re just naked babies with wings. Maybe they’re in here to appease the religious groups protesting the “Rite of Spring” dinosaurs? One thing’s for sure: thanks to the cherubs this movie has more butts than an ashtray.
  • A reminder that this segment once contained one of the most offensive stereotypes in Disney’s history, the black servant centaur Sunflower. Sunflower was removed in response to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, proof that this kind of cultural modification existed long before conservatives started yelling about the sanctity of Mr. Potato Head’s genitals. I agree with Roger Ebert, who once wrote that although films like “Fantasia” should always be preserved in their original form, the general public does not need to be subjected to the racial insensitivity of the time in a family movie.
  • And then the second half starts throwing in Greek gods: Bacchus, Zeus, Vulcan; it’s starting to look like a test run for “Hercules”.

Dance of the Hours

  • Random shout out to Alvise Loredan, the Venetian duke whose palatial home this segment apparently takes place in.
  • The whole segment is a lot of fun, but the punchline has been spoiled over the years by the occasional appearance by the hippos and gators in other Disney media. The elephants never seem to make the cut though. Overshadowed by “Dumbo” maybe?
  • It was during this segment that I realized how sleep inducing this whole movie is. And that’s not a comment on it being “boring”; practically every segment features a character yawning and/or napping: Yen Sid, Zeus, the Hippos, Chernabog later on. I also watched this movie on a particularly rainy Sunday, which didn’t help matters either. At this rate, who needs NyQuil?

Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria

  • “Bald Mountain” is the ultimate anti-Disney segment. I’m sure the current management hates that they constantly have to defend an 80 year old piece of animation that centers around ghosts gathering to worship the devil. Given that subject matter, “Bald Mountain” is hands down the scariest thing Disney ever produced (the Headless Horseman being a close second).
  • Also, just to clarify, this evil demon is Chernabog, not to be confused with Chernobog, the Slavic god of bad fate (and the evil yin to Belobog’s good yang).
  • Wow, Chernabog is ripped. Someone didn’t skip ab day.
  • All the ghost animation is stunning, but my favorite is the shot of spirits flying through the loop of a noose on their way to Bald Mountain.
  • HD transfers are great for animation, but you can definitely see where the animation ends and the background begins. It’s pretty easy to spot which parts of Chernabog will not be moving in any given shot.
  • Ave Maria” has some lovely visuals – and features the only vocals within the instrumental segments – but then it just kinda ends. Adding to this anticlimax is the film’s lack of end credits which, while preserving the film’s presentation as an actual concert, robs the audience of a chance to sit with the movie and see the names of the film’s creative talent. If I were Walt, I’d be a lot nicer to my animators right around now.

Legacy 

  • The original run of “Fantasia” consisted of a roadshow presentation at 13 theaters throughout 1940 and 1941. While a success with audiences and movie critics (though not necessarily music critics), “Fantasia” failed to recoup its investment due to the expensive installation of Fantasound equipment at each theater, and the ongoing economic impact of World War II. While “Fantasia” would be released several times over the decades, the film didn’t get out of the red until its very psychedelic reissue in December 1969.
  • Disney had talked about re-releasing “Fantasia” every few years with new segments. The closest he ever got in his lifetime was a selection of low-budget “package features” with musical-based shorts made to save money during the war. Among those films is 1946’s “Make Mine Music”, which includes the deleted “Clair de Lune” animation repurposed with a new song called “Blue Bayou”.
  • Ideas for a proposed “Fantasia” sequel always seemed to fall through, until the 50th anniversary reissue in 1990 (and subsequent success on home video) showed the Disney company that there was an audience for more “Fantasia”. Co-produced by Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney, “Fantasia 2000” features seven new segments set to classical music. It’s…shorter than the original, I give it that.
  • I’m not sure if “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” ended up helping Mickey’s film career, but it did give him one of his most iconic outfits. Fantasmic would be a lot weirder if Mickey was dressed as Steamboat Willie the whole time.
  • The Sorcerer’s hat even became a landmark at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, blocking the Grauman’s Chinese Theater and being an unpopular eyesore/pin trading station from 2001 to 2015.
  • Speaking of “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, did the Nicholas Cage movie have anything to do with the short? Asking because I’m definitely never watching that movie.
  • Among Roger Meyers Sr.’s proudest achievements was the full-length musical “Scratchtasia”.
  • Sure, we’ve had other movies on this list that have inspired video games and theme park attractions, but “Fantasia” may be the only NFR movie to inspire a themed mini-golf course. Fantasia Gardens opened at Walt Disney World in 1996, and is still there!
  • But perhaps the biggest impact “Fantasia” made on pop culture was on Walt himself. Following the underwhelming critical and commercial response to the film, Disney never again attempted a film that emphasized artistic freedom over commercial appeal, opting to stick with the kind of safe, popular entertainment that became synonymous with the Disney brand. Walt occasionally struggled with this choice later on in his career, one such example occurring at a screening of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1962, after which Walt told his family, “I wish I could make a picture like that.”

Listen to This: Leopold Stokowski shows up three different times on the National Recording Registry: twice with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and once with his All-American Youth Orchestra. Of the film’s eight composers, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Beethoven, and Mussorgsky all have their work represented on the NRR. Honorable mention to Ponchielli, whose “Dance of the Hours” is reworked as Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”.

Favorite Other Notes from the Original Post

  • Stokowski conducts the same way I dry my hands in a bathroom when there’s no paper towels left.
  • Pretty gutsy to do selections from “The Nutcracker Suite” but not the main march theme.
  • Did that dinosaur just mug at the camera?
“Hey Ma, I’m in a movie!”
  • I always felt sorry for the people who live in the town at the base of Bald Mountain. That can’t be fun. Every night with these ghosts and the loud music. Some of us have work in the morning!

2 thoughts on “#30) Fantasia (1940) – Part 2”

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