Thursday, April 7, 2011

Disney's Fantasia

It may seem unbelievable now, but in the 1930's, Mickey Mouse wasn't that popular. I'm not saying that he hadn't been, because he really had. It's just that for some reason or another, Donald and Goofy became highlights. Even Popeye was considered more popular during this decade. Walt Disney knew that he had to do something to bring Mickey back into the limelight. He wanted to do a very elaborate Silly Symphony called The Sorcerers Apprentice. It was to be longer than any of the others and have Mickey as it's main star. As production costs grew, Walt Disney recalled a piece of advice that Leopold Stokowski, the famous orchestra conductor, gave him: Take that segment and put it with a few other songs and cartoons using classical music. Disney decided this was the best way to go about bringing his idea to life. While in production, the feature was called The Concert Feature. That doesn't quite roll off the tongue. It was Stokowski who described what they were making as a "Fan-ta-zee-ah." So, that's how they came up with the name. Disney intended the feature to also bring people back to classical music. Some ideas came very fast for the group, such as having a segment for dinosaurs and one for a mythological setting. Others came later, such as Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria, whose section was finished two days before the movie's release. They even had Bela Lugosi come in to model poses for Chernabog, the demon from the Night on Bald Mountain segment. Disney was afraid that he wouldn't be able to convey the feeling of being at an orchestra concert with a single speaker behind the screen, so they developed a multi-channel sound process that was dubbed "Fantasound." With many microphones recording the orchestra in the studio, they took separate sounds and fed those to distinct speakers. Several speakers were put around theaters to make a surround sound effect. This was all very costly however, and sound engineering took up about a fifth of Fantasia's budget. With their new technology, Disney became the first to release a record on stereo sound.

The movie featured seven musical numbers and one "Meet the Soundtrack" segment. As a way of showcasing the orchestra itself, the movie starts off with Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. There isn't much to say about this section, because it does basically focus on the orchestra the whole time.


Next up is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. This takes select pieces from the ballet and uses them to characterize the changing of the seasons. The first part of this segment is Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairies, or for It's Always Sunny fans, the song that plays every time that Charlie is waiting in dark. This segment features the transition from winter to spring as brought on by fairies. I knew it! My teachers didn't believe me! I'll show them! The next part is the Chinese Dance featuring the mushrooms. Dance of the Flutes has floating flowers. Arabian Dance has fish. Russian Dance has more flowers, and Waltz of the Flowers has...you guessed it...flowers. This is actually one of my favorites because almost every song is recognizable.

The next segment is the most recognizable of all, save for Night on Bald Mountain: Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice. This segment made us all afraid of two things: drowning and brooms. Not much to say about this one besides don't let a mouse do any magic...ever. For some reason, I never liked this segment. I'm pretty sure it was the whole brooms flooding the place scenario. Some Disney movies made me anxious as a child.

Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring comes next. If the title doesn't look familiar, this is the dinosaur one. This is the segment that was really boring as a kid until the two dinosaurs started fighting near the end. The segment basically goes through the formation of the planet, it's first inhabitants and through the reign of the dinosaurs. What happens to them in the end? Spoiler Alert! They all die. Sorry to disappoint you. You'll never get to ride a T-Rex.

Mythical characters from ancient Greece inhabit Ludwig van Beethoven's The Pastoral Symphony. All you remember about this was the Pegasus'. Believe me, that's all I remember. The world is inhabited by many mythological creatures such as centaurs, fauns and Pegasus', who all get together to celebrate with Bacchus. For those who don't know their Greek Mythology, Bacchus was the god of wine. Everything's dandy until Zeus crashes the party, i.e. throwing lightning bolts at everyone.

Amilcare Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours is the one with hippos, ostriches and gators. I'm pretty sure I didn't like this one as a kid because they spent too much time focusing on the ballet of the ostriches and all I wanted to see was the gators. I mean come on. Gators make everything better. If you ever wanted to see a hippo in a tutu, this is the segment for you.

To end off the movie, we have Modest Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, and Franz Schubert's Ave Maria. This is by far the best of the whole movie. I have a penchant toward scary stuff, even in my childhood, so this was always my favorite. Chernabog comes out of the mountain, raises the dead and even eats a few of them. The whole segment is so creepy, but awesome at the same time. Chernabog is forced back to sleep however by the ringing of the church bells and the singing of Ave Maria, which ends the movie.

Fantasia did not do well initially when it debuted in November 1940. It literally only showed in fourteen theaters because Fantasound was hard as hell to transport and expensive. Even though it only showed in fourteen theaters, it was immensely popular, with people making reservations for a show well in advance and driving from hundreds of miles away to see it. The movie was finally able to make a profit in the late sixties, when the film took on a stoner feel. When it was re-issued in 1969, a bunch of people went and saw it while they were on cannabis and LSD. This lead to Disney basically using psychedelic advertisements for the movie. So, thanks to stoners, Fantasia finally made Disney a profit. In total, it has made 76 million and is the 21st highest grossing movie of all time when adjusted for inflation.

The film met with mixed reviews. There were many who felt it wasn't a kids movie at all. People couldn't imagine their kids sitting through the whole ordeal. People marveled at the music and sound quality though and today it has extremely high marks. Walt Disney himself labeled it as a failure and decided to move on to his old formula, which was taking old stories and making them new.



Warning! Watching this movie too many times may result in ending up like Steve Buscemi.

2 comments:

  1. I must admit that I have NEVER been able to get through this movie. It was way too boring for me. Maybe I'll try again as an adult. Anyone want to lend me their Fantasia DVD?

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  2. You can watch it when you come out for the wedding!

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