Friday, 13 July 2012

Fantasia, 1940

Another rainy afternoon – it is apparently our wettest winter in over 60 years.   Mackay is usually sunny in July, with the temperature cool enough to actually go outside at midday – great for birthday parties at the beach.  My daughter’s 16th birthday is next week, and at the moment it looks like it will be an inside party.
With homework done, it’s time for a movie. We have around 100 kids movies on the external hard drive.  The kids pick? Fantasia.

Fantasia is a 1940 American animated film produced by Walt Disney.   It consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski; seven of which are performed by the Philadelphia OrchestraThe Sorcerer's Apprentice, with Mickey Mouse, is probably the best known piece, and it was designed as a comeback role for Mickey who had declined in popularity.   My daughter’s favourite pieces are the Tchaikovsky's ballet, the Nutcracker Suite, with fairies and dancing toadstools and the The Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven, with centaurs, cupid and fauns.  My son, on the other hand, find those bits a little boring and prefers Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, with dinosaurs and explosions, and the devil in Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky.

When it was released in November 1940, Fantasia received mixed critical reaction, and was unable to make a profit.   The movie needed special sound equipment installed in theatres, which was expensive, and some thought that Disney had got a bit carried away and didn’t bother going to see it. May be it would have done better if was more patriotic – showing a bit more red, white and blue perhaps?   Of course the war also meant it was unable to be shown in much of Europe, which cut revenue too. 

Many critics were harsh too, such as by Dorothy Thompson for The New York Herald Tribune on November 25, 1940. Thompson was recognized by Time magazine in 1939 as the second most influential woman in America next to Eleanor Roosevelt, and was notable as the first American journalist to be expelled from Nazi Germany, in 1934.   She actually compared the film to Nazism, which was "the abuse of power" and "the perverted betrayal of the best instincts."and said the film was "cruel" and "brutal and brutalizing." Interesting!
Dorothy Thompson in 1920

The film did well in Australia however.  On 15 August 1942 the Melbourne Argus reported:
SO far as the Melbourne screen is concerned, today marks what,is the most notable date in its history. Wait Disney's "Fantasia"has been taken off the Savoy programme after a full year's run. I believe that is a world record for any film. "Fantasia" opened on August 15 last year……  Had anyone prophesied that an entertainment based on classical music would hold either stage or screen In Melbourne for a year, there would have been a move to have him certified as nuts and locked up for his own safety. I do not say that the Disney organisation could not have turned out a good fantasy without the orchestra but it certainly was the orchestra that Inspired this particular fantasy. But how much of the success was due to the orchestra and how much to Disney is some-thing that can never be settled satisfactorily.
A HERE is one thing, however, of which I am sure. Had the orchestra gone, alone  to the Town Hall giving 2 performances a day it would not have run for 3weeks.  Had Disney's film been put on at the Savoy without the sound track,it might have run 6 weeks, but I doubt it.   The lesson seems to be that the public will accept classical music with an appropriate visual accompaniment.  It is to my mind significant that, practically all the long-run and most popular films have been musical, but their music has not been what is called moderne music.  Remember "Naughty Marietta and  "The Desert Song."
In emphasising the musical side of these shows I do not wish to detract In anyway from the wonderful imaginative work Walt Disney put into “.Fantasia " No 2 people seem to agree on which section should be regarded as the best from the visual aspect and there must have been hundreds of people who saw the film twice or more often” 
You can read the whole article here.

I saw Fantasia for the first time at the age of five in the early 70s and loved it – I have loved classical music ever since.  It had been re-released in the 60s and apparently did better, especially with the acid crowd, although some parts were made more politically correct (removing a black centaur maid for example), so it is no longer the version seen in the 40s.  Because of this scene, and the fact that the centaurs are colour matched into pairs (they are half horse, though, and we do often breed horses according to color), Fantasia is seen by some as one of the most racist films ever made.  Really?! I just always thought the colour thing was cute.   I am so innocent!  (Anyway, the black and white pegasus have four different coloured babies).  It’s sexist too apparently…..!

Love it or hate it, it is a must see. What do you think of Fantasia?


  1. I'm a Disney fanatic, but I think Fantasia is a bit misunderstood as it's not a "classic" style of Disney film. This one was more about art than entertainment. It's really too bad that it's not seen as both. I watched a little while ago, and I was surprised about how graphic some of the sequences were, like the Rite of Spring, but again, art.


  2. It's definatley different to normal disney movies - but then so was Bambi, which also got a lot of bad reiveiws. Maybe it was because of war - who knows?


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