Disney Classics Challenge: Fantasia

I’m so sorry it took so long to write this blog. As you might know I got sick a weeks ago, and it was the kind of sick that made me want to sit on the couch with a blanket watching Disney movies all day. Then I got better, and I was busy with the real-life stuff I couldn’t do when I was sick. Then I got sick again, but this time it was the kind of sick that made me unmotivated for absolutely everything except for staying in bed grunting for aspirins.

So now I’m better again (kind of, I hope), and I’m finally motivated to write about Fantasia, which I watched 3 weeks ago. Fantasia was released in 1940, the same year as Pinocchio. Mickey Mouse was losing popularity, so Disney made an extra-long Silly Symphony: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. But soon they discovered that production costs grew higher than it could earn, so they decided to add stuff to make it a full-length film. The result is Fantasia.

Fantasia made use of a sound system called Fantasound, a system that made it possible, for the first time ever, to show commercial films in stereophonic sound. However, the length of the film was 120 minutes, and it was believed that this was too long for a general release. In 1940 and 1941, the film was released in a roadshow format: It was shown for a limited time at 13 theaters across the US, you had to reserve your seats and the price was higher than regular releases. The film had a regular release in 1942, 1946, 1956, 1963, and 1969 in mono sound, and it was edited to reduce several times, only to lengthen it again after. It was released in stereo again in 1977. For the releases 1982 and 1985, Disney re-recorded the soundtrack completely. In 1990, the film got restored to its original format. Fantasia was released in VHS in 1991, on DVD together with Fantasia 2000 in 2000 and on DVD and Blu-ray in 2010.

But enough history lessons! What is Fantasia? I’ve never watched Fantasia before, but I heard of it of course. And I must admit that I wasn’t really looking forward to watch a 2-hour movie of psychedelic images and classical music. Did it meet my expectations? Kind of. The word I would use to describe Fantasia is… experimental. As in… what did Disney smoke?-experimental.

We start with the conductor explaining some stuff about classical music, that some pieces have specific stories and some don’t, and that Disney and co. just made some footage that they imagined while listening to the music (this conductor gave a short explanation before every piece btw) The first piece was Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, accompanied by abstract clouds and random images. I wasn’t looking forward to the next 1 hour and 55 minutes… (Yes, the image underneath is actual footage from the movie).

After a short introduction of the conductor it was time for Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and we saw fairies and fish and flowers. I liked this part because I actually knew the music and I was feeling kind of fever-ish, so I liked the fishies.

Next up was the famous The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I knew the story because my grandma had all kinds of small Disney booklets with the famous stories, but it was nice to see it in motion and with the actual music.

After that it was time for Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky, which showed the story of the origin of life, starting with primordial soup and ending with the extinction of the Dinosaurs (I missed the comet, but maybe that wasn’t common belief yet in 1940). Up next was an actual pause, where we see the entire orchestra leave and retake their seats. Yes, we are only halfway there.

But now stuff gets really trippy. While listening to The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, we travel back to the ancient Greece, where we see unicorns (who behave exactly like swans, including the swimming, see, I learned something about unicorns!), we see centaurs picking a mate, which was borderline sexist. But I see clearly that the mermaid scene from Peter Pan drew some inspiration from this! And we see boobs *shocking*. We also see Bacchus the Wine God entering a party with his companions (which was downright racist) and we see Zeus interrupting the party with lightning. Although this part was a bit trippy and some stuff wouldn’t be accepted in the current time, it was one of the more enjoyable parts of the movie, since we see an actual story.

I later found out there was also a scene containing the images underneath, but it was removed from the version that I watched, for obvious reasons…


Up next: Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli. The drugs have now fully reached Disney’s brain. Dancing ostriches, dancing hippo’s, dancing elephants (I see some foreshadowing to Dumbo here) and rapist crocodiles. I’ll just let the images explain the rest…

And FINALLY, the last piece: Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert. We see the actual devil raising from a mountain torturing his minions after which he is driven back by passing monks singing the Ave Maria.

So what did I think about Fantasia? It was interesting, but I didn’t like it. The stories and random images couldn’t hold my attention for long, so I was bored pretty quickly. I can imagine that young children may find the music and the images quite fascinating, but then again I don’t see young children sit through this 2 hour movie. Again there is some stuff that would be culturally unacceptable at the current time, which I find interesting, but it also is the reason that this movie didn’t age very well. But what I do like is that this movie covers different views and beliefs on history (scientific, Greek Mythology and Christianity) without really making a statement.

Next up is Dumbo! I’m looking forward to this one!


About Tekira

26 year old psychologist, on the quest of finding a job, loves anime and games.

One thought on “Disney Classics Challenge: Fantasia

  1. Astrid says:

    I watched it when I was a child. It was long, but we all sat through it. Kids sit through long movies, Sound of Music, Lord of the Rings, Start Wars. 6 year olds. And repeat often.

    I didn’t want to repeat Fantasia often. It really helps if you are into the music, or are a free form animation buff. My family was all that, so I saw it a fair few times in the early days of video tape. Fantasia was one of the very first movies or on video tape, here in the Netherlands.

    I’m of two minds about this censoring for modern audiences. Yes it’s better for the kids. But film also records the sentiment of the times. There should be integral versions of them so we can remember and truly see how racist those days were.

    Finally I would add that Fantasia stands alone, and was way ahead of its time. General audiences didn’t ever get to see such spectacle of colours that this animation provided. Colour movies were rare, and certainly nothing as abstract as this was ever shown. It contains bits of pure video/film art, which seems unremarkable with today’s eyes. Turn on the children’s channel, for clean lines and gorgeous motion of colours. It wowed audiences in that time. It was unique and stayed that way for a good many decades.

    Fantasia was probably the first animated art.

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