Disney released its masterpiece, Fantasia, November 13, 1940. Unprecedented for its time, Fantasia went on to become the 22nd highest-grossing film of all time (as of 2012 – adjusted for inflation), and ranked the 58th greatest film by the American Film Institute. [click images to enlarge]
The film is eight classical pieces set to animation; from abstract art (Toccata and Fugue in D Minor) to the classic Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Bordering on the controversial, The Rite of Spring depicts evolution of life on earth from the formation of the planet to the first living things to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Humans were purposely left out of the animation to skirt even more controversy from the staunch religious beliefs of the 1940s.
Clip from The Rite of Spring
Conducted by Leopold Stokowski, seven of the pieces were performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Stokowski, who by the way abhorred the segregation of women and minorities in symphony orchestras, was recognized as one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century and the father of the modern orchestral standards.
Fantasia was the first commercial film to be released in stereo. Disney called it Fantasound, designed by the Disney engineers. Fantasound eventually led to the development of “surround sound”.
Because of the requirements of Fantasound and its initial label as a “longhaired musical”, Fantasia was only exhibited in a limited run called a “roadshow attraction”. The first of which opened at the Broadway Theatre in New York on November 13, 1940.
Ticket demand was so high that eight telephone operators were hired to handle the demand. The Broadway rented out the next-door adjoining store to handle box office bookings. The Broadway ran Fantasia for forty-nine consecutive weeks, the longest run for a film at the time. Its run continued for a total of fifty-seven weeks.
Disney re-released the movie several times but I first became aware with its 1969 release. At the time it was promoted as a psychedelic event becoming popular with college students; some of who were reported to have taken drugs for the experience. No way… really?
Animator Ollis Johnson recalled that, “young people thought we were on a trip when we made it … every time we’d go to talk to a school or something, they’d ask us what we were on.”
The film received many accolades. Critic Edwin Schallert of the LA Times “considered the film to be a magnificent achievement in film which would go down in film history as a landmark film.”
Dance Magazine said that, “the most extraordinary thing about Fantasia is, to a dancer or balletomane, not the miraculous musical recording, the range of color, or the fountainous integrity of the Disney collaborators, but quite simply the perfection of its dancing.”
Clip from Hippo and Crocks:
Mae Tinee of the Chicago Tribune felt the film was “beautiful … but it is also bewildering. It is stupendous. It is colossal. It is an overwhelmingly ambitious orgy of color, sound, and imagination.”
Roger Ebert rated the film four stars out of four, and noted that throughout Fantasia, “Disney pushes the edges of the envelope.”
For me, Fantasia opened the door to the love and appreciation of classical music. Sure there was Bugs Bunny, but really… what’s up Doc.
Fantasia Musical score
- Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
- Nutcracker Suite
- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
- The Rite of Spring
- The Pastoral Symphony
- Dance of the Hours
- Night on Bald Mountain
- Ave Maria
On a side note, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was inspired by the poem, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. If you’re interested here is a link to the poem: http://germanstories.vcu.edu/goethe/zauber_e3.html