The Disney Marathon: ‘Fantasia’


Just to mess with the flow of the series the randomiser has taken us from the traditional Snow White to the modern Big Hero 6 and now to the experimental Fantasia. All easily comparable for young viewers.

For newcomers the purpose of the marathon is to rank the Disney movies according to an old cynic (me), a princess obsessed 7 year old (Amelia) and a 9 year old gamer (Joshua).

Film: Fantasia

Released: 1940

Director: An ensemble of directors, with composer Leopold Stokowski.

Cast: Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor

Plot: A collection of vignettes, each being experimental animations inspired by and set to classical music.

Review: Well…they tried something different. Although Fantasia was and continues to be an outlier in the Disney canon it’s more of a big budget, big ambition return to Disney’s original works. Silly Symphonys are a collection of animated shorts set to available music tracks, often surreal and abstract in story telling. They are, by definition, experimental because the form was still in development. Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks were part of a small group of film-makers paving the way for the industry that was to follow. Essentially, this is Disney doing what Disney had always done. Just bigger.

To say that Fantasia was unsuccessful is a difficult claim to make. It was a financial failure, yet it has become such integral part of the Disney Brand. Mickey Mouse dressed in his sorcerer robes is the most recognisable version of the character outside of his default shorts and gloves. A few of the segments have remained popular outside of the context of the film itself.

There’s not much of a framing device here, just Deems Taylor as the host explaining what’s coming up. This dude turns up in between every short film to discuss the song, the animation, the story and so forth. It feels as though Team Disney were reluctant to leave anything up to our imaginations. There’s little open to interpretation, with simple themes and plots to follow. We have abstract lines, fairies against a nature scene, dancing flowers, the famous ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, centaurs, dinosaurs, ballet dancing hippos and, finally, demonic terror.

A couple of these can be skipped over. Not that they don’t do anything interesting with the animation and music, but they simply don’t do anything to impress a modern audience. The ‘jazz session’ that occurs during the intermission grows dull very quickly. For the younger set the opening number takes a long time to get going, so it’s worth jumping ahead to the fairies.

On the flip side, the good ones are really, really good. There’s a reason why ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ is so well known. It provides a well crafted story told without dialogue with surreal dream sequences to make the most of the form. ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ is also a stand-out finale and provides some of the darkest imagery the House of Mouse has put out.

Another thing that makes this a trickier watch for modern viewers and that’s the racism that they haven’t managed to trim away. For those not in the know, ‘The Pastoral Symphony’ sequence featured an African American stereotyped centaur named Sunflower who waits on the other centaurs. In a surprising moment of forward thinking, shots featuring this character were cropped to exclude her. That’s the most egregious example of outdated representation in Fantasia, but there’s still some uncomfortable racial stereotyping dotted throughout.

It’s very hard to decide how to score this one…it’s about half solid, half filler.

Coolest Easter Egg: Did you know that the name of the sorcerer is ‘Yen Sid’? If you didn’t, try reading it backwards.

Rating: FIVE out of TEN

THE RANKING

ME

You’re going to lose points if we’re skipping scenes out of boredom. It’s a failure of basic storytelling.

  1. Big Hero 6
  2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  3. Fantasia

Both kids ranked the movie in-between Big Hero 6 and Snow White, finding ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ worth the price of admission alone.

AMELIA

  1. Big Hero 6
  2. Fantasia
  3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

JOSHUA

  1. Big Hero 6
  2. Fantasia
  3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves