Triumph or Travesty? Fabulous or Folly? Heavenly or Horrific?

4 Jun 2015

 

 

It’s been 75 years since Disney’s Fantasia was released, and 15 years since Fantasia 2000 so I thought it time to re-visit them.

 

Fantasia (1940)

Prd. Walt Disney,  Dir. Samuel Armstrong, James Algar, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Luske, Jim Handley, Ford Beebe, Walt Disney, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson

Composer Johann Sebastian Bach, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky, Ludwig van Beethoven, Modest Mussorgsky, Franz Schubert, Amilcare Ponchielli, Paul Dukas

St. Deems Taylor (Himself), Mickey Mouse (Sorcerer's Apprentice), Leopold Stokowski (Himself)          

 

Triumph or Travesty? Fabulous or Folly?  Heavenly or Horrific?

 

Disney’s films have always courted controversy, none more so than Walt Disney’s deeply personal 1940 film, Fantasia. Eight pieces of classical music set to animation, or should that be animation set to music.  Whatever Disney’s intentions were for making the film, it is amazing, and one that certainly plays with and develops the conventions of animation.  The synchronisation of the visuals to music is outstanding and one can only marvel at the precise technical feats and sheer determination required to pull this film off before the days of computerised synchronisation.

 

 

The particularly outstanding sequences include: Dukas’ The

Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a narrative based sequence with Mickey Mouse placed in a fantastical setting rather than is usual reality based backdrop, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with its depiction of the evolution of life on earth, Ponchielli’s The Dance of the Hours with the gorgeous tu-tued hippos, ostriches and alligators dancing around, Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain paired with Schubert’s Ave Maria to present Disney’s ever-present messages of good and evil.

 

 

These stunning sequences quite make up for the more twee sections including Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor set against a series random images; Tchaikovsy’s Nutcracker Suite, a nature ballet with fairies, flowers and fish and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony with pink and blue haired nymphs and centaurs cavorting in a mythical land.

 

 Fantasia is an ambitious project which entertains and enlightens, regardless of its somewhat patchy presentation. What dates Fantasia more than the film’s contents in Deem Taylor’s opening lecture to camera explaining what audiences were about to see, and his links between each sequence.  It is an entertaining two hour concert set to inventive animated sequences.  Classical music lovers will probably be deeply offended by some of the images and the liberties taken with the scores, and animation fans may be frustrated by the lack of narrative.  However, it is always a delight to watch this dated and somewhat kitsch film.

 

Although brilliant and a classic one somehow feels that despite its sheer talent of animation technique, inventive and original conception it misses the mark somewhat.

 

 

Fantasia 2000

 

Sixty years after the financial failure of the original Disney were back to their old tricks of setting classical music to animation. This time under the auspices of Disney’s nephew Roy and conductor James Levine.

 

During the intervening years Fantasia overcame its original critical mauling and with its 1990 50th Anniversary Re-issue turned in a profit, which was used to fund Fantasia 2000.   Not only had animation techniques changed over the half century but also technical innovations, and the original release of Fantasia 2000 was at IMAX cinemas across the land, thus making it a big film in all senses of the word - big sound, picture and intentions.

 

Like the first, the film features eight pieces of classical music linked with short introductions.  Unlike the staid and stuffy opera critic, Deems Taylor from the original, this time the film is hosted by comedians Steve Martin and Bette Midler and violinist Itzhak Perlman which makes for a far livelier if somewhat advertorial links.

 

 

But did they learn nothing from the criticism of the first?  Again the far more successful sequences are those with a strong narrative drive including: George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue set in 1920s New York, Dimitri Shostakovich’s second piano concerto to which Hans Christian’s Andersen’s fairytale Steadfast Soldier was set and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance with Donald Duck as Noah rounding up the animals for his ark.

 

The weaker sequences include: Beethoven’s Fifth set against a backdrop of rather naff butterflies and clouds; Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite with gambling stags in a forest; Respighi’s Pines of Rome, a computer animated tale of flying whales

 

 

Strangely just when you’ve begun to stop comparing the difference in the animation style and skill from the original, up pops, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice - with its bright colour and vitality it is far superior to any of the new sequences.

 

A more eclectic selection of music than the first, which lends itself to an impressive variety of animated styles and images, yet it is as patchy as the original, to which it will inevitably be compared.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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