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Film Review: Fantasia

Updated on December 24, 2016

Background

In 1940 Walt Disney released Fantasia which starred Deems Taylor, Leopold Stokowski, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The film grossed $83.3 million at the box office. .

Synopsis

Interspersing between animated sequences synchronized to classical piece of music and Deems Taylor introducing the pieces, the film has eight sequences. First is “Toccoata and Fugue in D Minor” set to abstract patterns, then “Nutcracker Suite,” underscored by changing seasons, followed by “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” featuring mickey as a young sorcerer’s apprentice. After an intermission where the soundtrack is met, there’s “The Pastoral Symphony” set to a Greco-Roman world, “Dance of the Hours” as a comic ballet and “Night on Bald Mountain,” featuring Chernabog summoning evil spirits and restless souls.

Review

Though an initial flop, Fantasia is a decent film and while some of the synchronizations aren't really suitable, many of the others do. The intermission with the soundtrack is also capably thought out and the best of the sequences seems to be the one everybody remembers: “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” It’s great because not only does it have Mickey doing what he did best back then, but it has some thoroughly done shots. The brooms marching looks fantastic and many of the waves feel like they’re going to jump off the screen. Further, it's interesting how he doesn’t fix the problem. Rather, Yen Sid does when he comes back, resulting in punishment.

However, a strong contender for best sequence also has to be “Night on Bald Mountain,” as the heaviness of the music coupled with all the evil Chernabog summons does well in it conveying the unleashing of a powerful and seemingly unstoppable evil. At the same time, this sequence also shows evil can’t just run wild and will be driven back by the sound of church bells and “Ave Maria” and monks. This demonstrates a notion of evil looking and sounding imposing, but it’s cowardly and driven back by the little things.

The first sequence is done very appropriately too, containing shots of the orchestra fading into abstract patterns, showing not all music has to have a concrete impression to accompany it. Instead sometimes, there is nothing really established and the only image able to go through one’s mind are the most basic forms. This bolsters the case of music being the universal language as the shapes, colors and imagery are something everyone can seem to understand.

“Nutcracker Suite” is presented in a notable way, especially considering it has all sorts of fairies, fish, flowers, mushrooms and leaves dancing to the different dances found in the piece. Moreover, the changing seasons coinciding with the changing tempos, rhythms and dynamics makes for an appealing supplement.

In addition to all of the main sequences, the intermission is fascinating and creative, displaying sound waves as an actual person. It's a clever way for the audience to get some education in an entertaining way concerning how music and sound works, from the highest piccolo to the lowest bass.

Yet, there are a few sequences that don’t appropriate for their pairings. One being “Dance of the Hours.” Expressing the times of day through animals seems like it’s a good idea, but alternatively it feels like the animators chose the wrong animals to represent the times. For instance elephants don’t really evoke the feeling of evening and night doesn’t feel like a group of alligators.

“The Pastoral Symphony” also seems a little out of place, using Greco-Roman mythology connected to a piece revolving around the Austrian countryside. On the other hand, it's could fit had the Beethoven written the piece in Italy or Greece.

Finally, “The Rite of Spring” and dinosaurs don’t quite seem to mix. Both ideas are good for the film, but it just feels there should be one or the other here. For this sequence, different animation to go along with the piece as well as a separate and distinct piece more suited for the animation would correspond much better.


3 stars for Fantasia

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.

Awards won

Academy Awards

  • Honorary Award - Leopold Stokowski (For the unique achievement in the creation of a new form of visualized music in Walt Disney's production Fantasia, thereby widening the scope of the motion picture as entertainment and as an art form.)
  • Honorary Award - Walt Disney, William E. Garity, and J. N. A. Hawkins (For their outstanding contribution to the advancement of the use of sound in motion pictures through the production of Fantasia.)

DVD Exclusive Video Premiere Awards

  • Best DVD Overall Original Supplemental Material (For the Anthology)

National Board of Review Awards

  • Top Ten Films

National Film Preservation Board

  • National Film Registry

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Special Award

Online Film & Television Association Awards

  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame - Motion Picture


Nominated for

DVD Exclusive Video Premiere Award

  • Best DVD Original Retrospective Documentary/Featurette (For "The Fantasia Legacy: The Concert Feature." For the Special 60th Anniversary Edition)

Hugo Awards

  • Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form


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