All movie lovers have that one experience that makes them a devout fan of the art form. It could be sharing your favorite movie with your kids and having them love it just as much as you did. It could also involve watching a flick late at night that you and your sibling were not allowed to, but took the chance anyways. The one that stands out for me is the first time I ever saw a movie in a theater. Where I grew up there was a multiplex that had eight theaters in one building, another one a few miles up the road had four and one just across the street from that had only one screen. This would be the venue where I would experience my very first movie on a big screen. That movie was Walt Disney “Fantasia“.
Back when I was a kid(Damn I kinda wished Daniel Stern was narrating this ala “Stand by Me” right now) Movie theaters haven’t reached the volume that they are now. In the suburbs having a movie house with only a few screens was a lot at that time. Especially when there were two more places down the road. Now the place where I saw “Fantasia” was one that I have never seen before. On the outside it didn’t look like much. A round brown brick structure that looked like it could be a roller skater rink instead of a movie house. However Inside was something completely different. I remember the ceilings being very high, and it might have been because I was very short back then, but they had these long red velvet curtains all strung up around the lobby. All the ushers and staff were dressed in either suits or dresses and the whole attitude of the place was of class and style. The actual auditorium looked liked one where people went to watch plays. They had balconies up on top, a stage where the screen was and there was what looked like a small pit where an orchestra would fit. Those same red velvet curtains that I saw in the lobby where now covering the screen as I sat down with my sister and parents for what was to be my first theater experience watching “Fantasia“.
When the screen opens and I see the members of the orchestra on screen I just thought they were in the pit and that there was a camera on them. When the actual animation segments begun, I thought they just switched reels to show that. Believing at a young age that this was all done live really added to my enjoyment of this movie. Oh and when Mickey Mouse went up on stage to thank the conductor, I almost lost it. I really thought he was there and I remember trying to look in the pit but I couldn’t see anything. Damn my small height.
“Fantasia” is broken up into seven segments that are each based on a classical composition. Now I am no expert when it comes to classical composers and you don’t haft to be either to enjoy this. You don’t even haft to fully love classical music either, but if you think animation is just something strictly for kids and not an art form. You won’t be into this as much. The following segments are as followed.
Toccata and Fuge in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach.
This is the most abstract piece of animation that the Disney studios have ever released. Simple shapes and colors are used to represent the music and it’s really quite remarkable . There is one moment where it looks like you are going up and down on some sand dunes and with the music attached. It was really impressive.
Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
I know a lot of people will start thinking of Christmas whenever they hear these tracks but for me. I will start conjuring up images of dancing mushrooms and leaves that waltzes. My favorite moment and one that still amazes me involves some ice skating faeries. It’s very simple animation but it mixes so well with the music. I could not begin to fathom how long it took them to make it sync up so well.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas
This is the most famous selection of this feature. It stars Mickey Mouse as an assistant to a powerful wizard. When he is giving a task to fill the well. Micky instead decides to use the wizard’s magic and what results is not something he had planned. This is is the first one that tells an actual story and it’s impressive how much with only visuals and songs but no dialogue. I think too many movies now use talking just to fill up time when there really doesn’t need to have any at all .
Rite of Spring by Igor Straviknsky
Disney animators bring to you the beginning stages of evolution. From the formation of the planet Earth to it’s first inhabitants, the Dinosaurs. I wondered if there was any controversy about this sequence when it was first released. Dismissing the idea of one god creating the Earth and using scientific facts had to ruffle a few feathers I’m sure.
The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig Von Beethoven
Mythical creatures, dance, fall in love , get drunk and party all through out the day. That is until Zeus ruins it all by throwing lighting and rain at everyone. There is one character who comes to the party just completely trashed, but the movie never addresses it as a problem. I find that to be quite bold for a movie to feature this. Especially an animated one.
Dance of the hours by Amicare Ponchielli
In this section we see different animals represent the stages of time during the day. Ostriches are the morning, the hippo is the afternoon, the elephant is the evening and The alligator is the night. All characters converge near the end and do a great dance with each other. This one has a lot of humor to it and just knowing that they hand animated this to the track makes it that much more impressive.
Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert.
I remember this giving me nightmares when I was a kid, and I can imagine kids having the same reaction after watching this. Satan himself appears on top of a mountain and raises the souls of the dead to dance and perform for his amusement. The ending of this selection is still pretty messed up to this day. Especially considering that this is a Disney Feature. I could swear that in some scenes there was nudity, but it happens so fast. Most parents won’t have time to gripe and kids will barely notice it. The use of Ave Maria is a perfect way to end the program as it brings up feelings of hope and that no matter what bad things come our way. There is always going to be brighter days ahead.
Whew that was a long post folks and if you stuck with it I thank you heavily. Thanks for reading.
Great post here on a beloved classic! I love Fantasia and have ever since I was a child. I think my favourite segment is the dinosaurs one, and you’re right, it was a bold move for it to be so scientific. People always talk about the broomstick one but I think the dinosaur one is the best, that or the one where everyone gets wasted with Dionysus.
Ahh Yes, That is the name of the drunk guy with the donkey who parties with all those mythical creatures, Thank you Anna.
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I just saw Snow White and loved it. I don’t always connet with animation, but I’ll give Fantasia a try. Oh, and my very first movie on a big screen was also an animated film, An American Tale (1986), which I loved(I was about 5)
Since you also write about music. It’s a movie I think you would appreciate too. It’s only classical music, but it’s done in a way not seen before that time. Thanks for reading
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