Sunday, March 13, 2016

Fantasia (1940) - 7 stars out of 10

Fantasia (1940) - 7 stars out of 10

"Fantasia" is a classic but it is not without its faults.  This huge undertaking tackles eight pieces of classical music in their entirety, but there comes a point where this feels like the longest Disney movie ever.  Its highs are really high and its lows are pretty low, from The Sorcerer's Apprentice (my personal favorite Mickey Mouse cartoon of all time) down to the slow-moving Toccata and Fugue that shows little more than superimposed images of the orchestra in Technicolor.  The entire film is incredibly creative with a vast number of characters, memorable moments that will forever come to mind when their respective song plays, and the transformation of some pieces of absolute music into program music.  The lowest point of the film is the evolutionary interpretation of The Rite of Spring.  Dinosaurs are cool but this sequence is terribly boring.  There is also way too much time spent giving this an authentic concert feel with lengthy introductions for each piece, an in depth explanation of the soundtrack, and even an intermission.  This is evidenced by the fact that subsequent releases of the film edited out the majority of the introductions in favor of a more compact musical presentation.  I prefer the more family-friendly "Fantasia 2000" that focuses on the music, cuts each piece to an appropriate length, and animates its sequences with memorable stories.  The film does successfully bring its musical selections to life as the colors in each scene reflect the mood of the music and the pieces are given some sort of story.  The various nationalities represented in The Nutcracker Suite are cleverly given their ethnic characteristics, though the racial representations went a bit too far in Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (and have since been edited out).  The Beethoven is great when the cartoony unicorns are flying around but the centaur love sequences and drunk god of wine detract from the whimsy.  Seriously, so much nudity with those centaurs.  The Dance of the Hours provides the iconic ballet-dancing hippos and elephants that bring some much needed comedy to the latter half of the film and the Night on Bald Mountain sequence continues to be one of the darkest moments in all of Disney animation.  As I mentioned, the highlight is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  This marks the first appearance of the redesigned Mickey who now had pupils to allow for a greater range of expression.  The colors are vivid, the story is fascinating, and it is perfectly in sync with every musical cue.  It is no surprise that this sequence has influenced rides and shows at Disney parks as well as being reused in “Fantasia 2000.”  You will be hard-pressed to find a better Mickey cartoon than this one.  I know that I should claim this as my favorite Disney film because of the attention that it brings to classical music but I do find it to be long-winded and that it might actually cause younger kids to dislike classical music.  Parts of the film are entertaining but the feature as a whole is cumbersome, even for some with two degrees in music.  “Fantasia” is a film best suited for classical music experts and die-hard fans of Disney cinema.  Everybody else should defer to the pared-down-but-equally-significant sequel that captures the essence of Walt’s concept without the length, borderline inappropriate imagery, and questionable message of evolution.

[Pictured: One of the most significant accomplishments of Fantasia is the redesign of Mickey that allowed for a greater range of expression]

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