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Fantasia

Director(s): various

Theatrical Release: 1940

Cast: Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor, Bela Lugosi, Walt Disney

Genre(s): Children, animation

Countries: USA


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Running Time: 125m.

Fantasia, Walt Disney's animated masterpiece of the 1940s, grew from a short-subject cartoon picturization of the Paul Dukas musical piece The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Mickey Mouse was starred in this eight-minute effort, while the orchestra was under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. Disney and Stokowski eventually decided that the notion of marrying classical music with animation was too good to confine to a mere short subject; thus the notion was expanded into a two-hour feature, incorporating seven musical selections and a bridging narration by music critic Deems Taylor. The first piece, Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor", was used to underscore a series of abstract images. The next selection, Tschiakovsky's "Nutcracker Suite", is "performed" by dancing wood-sprites, mushrooms, flowers, goldfish, thistles, milkweeds and "frost fairies". The Mickey Mouse version of "Sorcerer's Apprentice" is next, followed by Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring", which serves as leitmotif for the story of the creation of the world, replete with dinosaurs and volcanoes. After a brief jam session involving the live-action musicians, we are treated to Beethoven's "Pastorale Symphony", enacted against a Greek-mythology tapestry by centaurs, unicorns, cupids and a besotted Bacchus. Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" is performed by a Corps de Ballet consisting of hippos, ostriches and alligators. The program comes to a conclusion with a fearsome visualization of Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain", dominated by the black god Tchernobog (referred to in the pencil tests as "Yensid", which is guess-what spelled backwards); this study of the "sacred and profane" segues into a reverent rendition of Schubert's "Ave Maria". Originally, Debussy's "Clair de Lune" was part of the film, but was cut from the final release print; also cut, due to budgetary considerations, was Disney's intention of issuing an annual "update" of Fantasia, with new musical highlights and animated sequences. A box-office disappointment upon its first release (due partly to Disney's notion of releasing the film in an early stereophonic-sound process which few theatres could accommodate), Fantasia eventually recouped its cost in its many reissues. No Disney film was as "abused" in re-release as was poor Fantasia: For one return engagement, it was idiotically retitled Fantasia Will Amaze-ya, while for the 1963 reissue the film was inartistically "squashed" to conform with the Cinemascope aspect ratio. Other re-releases ruthlessly pruned the picture from 120 to 88 minutes. In 1983, Disney redistributed the film with newly orchestrated music, and with Tim Matheson ineffectively replacing Deems Taylor as narrator. At long last, a pristine, fully restored Fantasia was made available to filmgoers in 1990 (well, not quite fully restored; in the spirit of political correctness, a brief shot of a black centaurette maidservant in the "Pastorale" sequence was obliterated by "cropping" the picture). Hal Erickson (allmovie.com)
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