Fantasia (1940) is an motion picture which was a Walt Disney experiment in animation and music. The soundtrack of the film consists of seven pieces of classical music, played by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. Animated artwork of varying degrees of abstraction or literalism is used illustrate or accompany the concert in various ways. The film also features live-action segments featuring Stokowski, an orchestra, and Deems Taylor, a music scholar who serves as the host for the film.
The musical pieces used in the film:
- Johann Sebastian Bach - Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565 (Stokowski's own transcription for symphony orchestra) (abstract images)
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Nutcracker Suite Op. 71a (a variety of dances, just as in the original, but danced by animated fairies, mushrooms, fish, etc.)
- Paul Dukas - L'apprenti sorcier (English title: The Sorcerer's Apprentice, with Mickey Mouse in the role of the apprentice)
- Igor Stravinsky - The Rite of Spring (early history of the planet Earth, dinosaurs and their extinction)
- Ludwig van Beethoven - 6th symphony in F, Op.68 "Pastorale" (centaurs, fauns, and other creatures of classical mythology lounge about, cavort, fall in love, etc.)
- Amilcare Ponchielli - La Gioconda: Dance of the Hours (used in Allan Sherman's Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh). Also a ballet in the original, performed in the film by elephants, ostriches, hippos and crocodiles.
- The last part of the film links:
Most of the works played in the film are program music; that is, instrumental music that depicts actual events in sound. However, the Disney program is generally not the same as the original. Stravinsky's ballet was about the dances and rituals of the pagan ancestors of the Russians, not about dinosaurs. Beethoven meant to depict a joyous and inspiring visit to the Austrian countryside, not classical mythology. Schubert's music was composed as a song (1825) for single voice and piano ("Ellens dritter Gesang"; "Ellen's third song"), with German words translated by Adam Storck from Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake. In the song, the character Ellen prays to the Virgin Mary while in hiding. The song was subsequently reset to the Latin prayer Ave Maria.
Only the Dukas work is a straight setting of the composer's original intention. The story told musically by Dukas is taken from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poem "Der Zauberlehrling." The Dukas is often considered the best sketch in the film, and was the only sequence carried over into Fantasia 2000 (see below).
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
In the late 1930s, Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse was losing his popularity with movie audiences. The Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts series had spawned the spin-off Donald Duck series, which was proving to be more popular (and profitable) than the Mickey Mouse series. Mickey's fame had also been eclipsed by that of Popeye the Sailor, a competing character and series from Fleischer Studios. Walt's brother and business partner Roy Oliver Disney urged Walt to discontinue the Mickey Mouse series because of its unprofitability, but Walt wasn't ready to give up on his favorite character just yet. He devised a special short that would be produced as a "comeback" film for Mickey Mouse: The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which would be completely silent save for the classical music piece by Paul Dukas (Walt feared that one of the reasons for Mickey's decline was the squeaky falsetto that Walt himself performed for Mickey).
As work began on The Sorcerer's Apprentice in 1938, Walt happened to meet famed composer Leopold Stokowski in a Hollywood restaurant. Stokowski offered to record the score for no charge, and assembled over 100 of the best musicians in Los Angeles to record the score to The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
The animation department worked hard to make The Sorcerer's Apprentice one of the most ambitious works they'd ever completed. Animator Fred Moore redesigned Mickey to give his figure shape and form, and also to give him eyes with pupils for the first time on-screen. Everything about the film was done with extensive attention to detail and creativity: the color styling, the pacing and layout, the character animation, and the effects animation.
All of this excess came at a whopping price: $125,000, a price Walt (and especially Roy) knew they could never make back (to compare, most Disney shorts at this time averaged a cost of $40,000, which was $10,000 above the average budget for an animated cartoon outside of the Disney Studio. Disney's most successful short cartoon ever, Three Little Pigs (1933), had made $60,000). Taking Stokowski's advice, he decided to expand The Sorcerer's Apprentice into a "Feature Symphony" with several animated sequences set to music, of which The Sorcerer's Apprentice would be one. To provide continuity and explanation, the composer and music critic Deems Taylor was recruited to provide live-action narrative introductions at the beginning of each segment. Originally to be called the Concert Feature, Stokowski suggested the title "Fantasia" (which literally means " A medley of familiar themes, with variations and interludes." ), which became the film's final title.
Main article: Fantasound
Stokowski enlisted the Philadelphia Orchestra, of which he was the conductor, to record the music for the six remaining segments. Walt was present on the sound stage during an early session, and was very pleased with what was hearing until he heard the playback from the recording engineers. He felt the recorded version of the music sounded tinny and undynamic, and asked his engineers to see what they could do about developing a better sound system. The engineers (led by William E. Garity) responded by creating a multichannel ( stereophonic) sound format they called Fantasound, making Fantasia the first commercial film ever to be produced in stereophonic sound. The film also marked the first use of the click track while recording the soundtrack, overdubbing of orchestral parts, and simultaneous multitrack recording.
Always wanting to try new things, Walt also had plans to film Fantasia in widescreen and to spray different perfumes into the theatre at appropriate times during the Nutcracker Suite, but those plans were never fully carried out.
Production and synopsis of remaining segments
With The Sorcerer's Apprentice nearing completion, the rest of Fantasia entered production in early 1939, and the same attention to detail that was given to The Sorcerer's Apprentice was given to the other segments as well:
- Toccata and Fugue in D Minor was a completely abstract work--a first for the Disney studio--and was inspired primarily by the work of German abstract animator Oscar Fischinger, who worked for a brief time on this segment. The first third of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is in live-action, not animation, and features an orchestra playing the piece, illuminated by abstract light patterns set in time to the music and backed by stylized (and superimposed) shadows. Although the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the music for the film (excepting The Sorcerer's Apprentice), they do not appear on-screen; the orchestra used on-screen in the film is made up of local Los Angeles musicians and Disney studio employees like James MacDonald and Paul J. Smith, who mime to the pre-recorded Stokowski / Philadelphia Orchestra tracks.
- The Nutcracker Suite is a personified depiction of the changing of the seasons; first from summer to autumn, and then from autumn to winter. featured delicate fairies, fish, and flowers, many rendered carefully and painstakingly using techniques such as dry brush and airbrush.
- The Rite of Spring, a condensed version of the history of the Earth from the formation of the planet, to the first living creatures, to the age, reign, and demise of the dinosaurs, showcased realistically animated prehistoric beasts, and utilized extensive and complicated special effects to depict volcanos, boiling lava, and earthquakes.
- The brief Meet the Soundtrack sequence gives audiences a stylized example of how sound is rendered as waveforms to record the music for Fantasia. The sequence features inspired animation by effects animator Joshua Meador and his team, who give the soundtrack (initially a squiggly line which changes into various shapes based upon the individual sounds played on the soundtrack) a distinct and interesting personality.
- Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony utilized delicate color stylings to depict a mythical ancient Grecian world of centaurs, centaurettes (a Disney studio creation), a pegasus and his family, and the gods of Mount Olympus. It tells the story of the mythological creatures gathering for a festival to honor Bacchus, the god of wine, which is interrupted by Zeus, who decides to have a little fun by throwing lightning bolts at the attendees.
- The Dance of the Hours featured comic ostriches, hippos, elephants, and alligators allattempting to perform the actual The Dance of the Hours. The segment is animated with an energy and franticness rarely seen in Disney films.
- Night on Bald Mountain segment is basically a showcase for animator Bill Tytla, who gave the demon Chernabog a power and intensity that was rarely equalled in subsequent Disney films. Bela Lugosi served as a live action model for Chernabog, and spent several days at the Disney studio, where he was filmed doing evil, demon-like poses for Tytla and his unit to use as a reference. Tylta later deemed this reference material and had studio colleague Wilfred Jackson perform in front of the cameras for the reference footage.
- The horror of the demons, ghosts, skeletons, and harpies in Night on Bald Mountain comes to an abrupt end with the sound of church bells, which send Chernabog and his followers back into hiding, and, in one of the most effective (and complicated) multiplane camera shots the Disney studio ever did, the camera trucks far, far away from Bald Mountain to reveal a line of monks with lighted torches, and the camera slowly follows them as they walk slowly and solemnly through the forest to the sounds of the Ave Maria. The animation of the monks is some of the smallest animation ever done: the camera had to be so close to a lot of the work that it had to be rendered at only an inch or so high. Even a slight deviation in the width of the final painted line would have been distracting to a movie audience on the big screen. The multiplane camera then finally trucks through the trees to reveal a beautiful sunrise as the film fades to its conclusion.
Walt Disney intended for Fantasia to be more than just a film; it was to be an event, something you would have to reserve seats for and dress up to go see. Special program books were prepared for the film, featuring production artwork and photographs, dedications by both Walt and Stokowski, and the credits and synopsis for each segment. Each theatre was rigged with 30 or more speakers, all lined around the perimeter of the ceiling, to provide the full Fantasound experience. And the format of the actual film follows that of a concert rather than a motion picture. Besides the Deems Taylor narration passages, a proper presentation of Fantasia features a 15-minute interlude, which falls between The Rite of Spring and the Meet the Soundtrack segment. Unusual for an American animated film, Fantasia has no opening or closing credits. During its intermission, a solitary title card is to be played over the movie theatre's closed curtin that contains only this text:
"Fantasia. Copyright 1940 by Walt Disney Productions (Inc). Color by Technicolor. RCA Sound System."
Fantasia was originally released in 1940 by Walt Disney Productions itself as a roadshow release, since Disney's distributor RKO Radio Pictures backed out of the film. Its first playdate (the premiere) was in New York City on 13 November 1940. The final scene to be shot (the long multiplane pan in the Ave Maria sequence) was shot, developed, printed, and rushed via airplane to New York that same day, where it was spliced into the film only a mere four hours before showtime. Primarily because of the difficulty of getting the necessary speakers and audio equipment because of the looming potential danger of World War II, the full-length Fantasound version of Fantasia was only shown at 12 theatres, and only 16 Fantasound - equipped prints were ever made. The financial failure of Fantasia left Walt Disney in financial straits, which is why he followed Fantasia with a relatively low-budget feature, Dumbo.
Starting with the 29 January 1941 playdate in Los Angeles, California, RKO assumed distribution of Fantasia. They had the film's soundtrack remixed into monophonic sound and added their logos to the film's solitary title card.
In 1942, RKO had the 125-minute Fantasia chopped down to 83 minutes (done by deleting the entire Toccata and Fugue in D Minor segment and shortening the Deems Taylor sequences as much as possible). This version of the film was released nationwide (the first time Fantasia was given a wide release) with the infamous tagline "Fantasia Will Amazia!" Unfortunately, audiences were not responsive at all to the film, and it played as a B-film in most movie houses.
Fantasia was edited once again in 1947, adding the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor back into the film, but still keeping the Deems Taylor sequences as short as possible. This is the version most familiar to the public and the version most future releases of Fantasia were based upon, and is therefore called the "General Release Version".
The film never turned a profit until its 1967 re-release. By 1967, Fantasia had become immensely popular among teenagers and college students, many of whom would take illegal drugs like marijuana and LSD to "better experience the film." Disney therefore promoted the film as a "trip-film" for its 1967 re-release, even creating a psychedelic poster to match this campaign. The re-release was a major success, especially with the psychedelic young adult crowd, many of whom would come lie down in the front row of the theatre and experience the film from there.
The 1969 theatrical re-release was edited again to remove Sunflower, a centaur. According to the Memory Hole, "Performing menial duties for the blonde, white female centaurs, Sunflower is a racial stereotype along the lines of Amos and Andy, Buckwheat, and Aunt Jemima."
For its 1982 re-issue, as motion picture sound technology was advancing, Disney decided to completely re-record the film's soundtrack with a new digital recording arranged and conducted by Irwin Kostal, marking the first ever release of a motion picture with digital stereo sound. However, judicial edits were made, including replacing Deems Taylor's original narration with a sound-alike. This would be the version released numerous times throughout the 1980s.
For its 50th Anniversary in 1990, Disney decided to go back to the original Fantasound tracks, and using whatever film elements were still available, restored the film to more or less its original format to closely resemble the 1947 General Release Version. Both the picture and the Fantasound tracks were digitally remastered, and thus a new generation was able to experience the film with Leopold Stokowski's original Philadelphia Orchestra recordings.
Finally, for its 60th Anniversary DVD release, Disney recovered the remaining lost footage from the Deems Taylor segments that had been cut away decades earlier for general release, and was able to reconstruct the original 125-minute 1940 Roadshow version, complete with intermission. However, most of Taylor's narration for the long-lost sequences was unusable or missing, so Disney had voice actor Corey Burton come in and to completely re-record Taylor's lines, and some portions from the "Beethoven 6th Symphony" were "zoomed in" (to avoid showing the black centaur). Beyond that, this is the most complete version of the film that currently exists.
The movie won two Honorary Academy Awards:
- 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 (certificate).
- Leopold Stokowski (and his associates) - For their 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 (certificate).
Critics to this day differ in their evaluation of the film. There are certainly many critics who admire the film greatly, particularly the animation work, and the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
Others have taken a more negative view, often invoking the rather loaded word kitsch. For instance, the famed movie critic Pauline Kael wrote "'The Sorcerer's Apprentice,' featuring Mickey Mouse, and parts of other sequences are first-rate Disney, but the total effect is grotesquely kitschy." The Beethoven sequence is frequently singled out for criticism.
Classical music lovers who know the pieces are sometimes offended by the cuts that were taken, which were particularly heavy in the Beethoven sequence. The cuts in The Rite of Spring angered Igor Stravinsky, the only living composer whose work was represented in the film.
As expected about North American attitudes towards animation, the film is regularly recommended as an excellent means to introduce children to classical music. As it is, young children often enjoy the movie, particularly the dinosaur sequence. Parents who own a copy and let their children watch repeatedly are sometimes startled to hear their toddler singing passages of Stravinsky.
Disney had wanted to Fantasia to be an ongoing project, ideally with a new release each year, but this proved too costly. The plan was to repeat some of the scenes while replacing others with different music and animation, so that each version of the film would include both familiar material and new segments. Ironically, one segment intended for the original Fantasia was completed, then left out of the first release (a casualty of Fantasia's excessive length). This segment was Clair De Lune, which was later completely re-worked and re-scored as the Blue Bayou segment of Make Mine Music (1946). The original version of Clair was ultimately restored as a separate movie short and can be found on the Fantasia Legacy supplemental DVD. Other segments such as Ride Of The Valkyries, Swan of Tuonela, and Flight of the Bumblebee were storyboarded but never fully animated, and thus were never put into production for inclusion in a future Fantasia release. Both World War II and overseas costs prevented Disney from revising Fantasia during his lifetime.
Disney's dream was belatedly and finally realized with the 1999 release of Fantasia 2000 in IMAX theaters. Fantasia 2000 reused The Sorcerer's Apprentice with Mickey Mouse, but otherwise consisted entirely of new material.
In 1943, Leon Schlesinger Productions (later Warner Bros. Cartoons) director Robert Clampett did a Fantasia spoof short film, A Corny Concerto, with Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Daffy Duck acting out the musical segments (and Elmer Fudd doing an impression of Deems Taylor). Then, in 1976, Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto released his own Fantasia parody called Allegro non troppo.
- Big Cartoon DataBase: Fantasia
- The Character Cut From Fantasia
- Fantasia at JustDisney.com
- "Fantasia" best selling video yet, 1991
Also, in the movie version of The Neverending Story, Fantasia is the name of a fictional world containing all of human fantasy; in the book it is called Fantastica.