Fantasia (1940) Review — The Music Video Experience To End All Music Videos

Actually, has anything surpassed Fantasia in terms of animated musical storytelling?

  • Do you remember when I said I wasn’t impressed by Shelter because I’ve seen it before and didn’t really like the song either? Well Fantasia wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I said that, but it’s definitely one of the big reasons. I mean who hasn’t seen this film by the time they’re an adult? It’s a pretty famous movie that’s still considered by many to be the reigning king of western animated storytelling.
  • And of course I use that term loosely, because Fantasia is purposefully designed to not really have a narrative. It’s just eight animated shorts combined together into a feature-length film, with some of them having stories and some of them just being animated representations of the music being played in order to create an emotional experience for the eyes and the ears. I think it started off with Disney just making The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and creating several more Silly Symphonies shorts in a similar vein to it as the budget increased.
  • There’s no real connecting them to each short aside from being the animated form of classical music. In fact, it was originally planned for this movie to get re-released over the years with one or two new shorts replacing an old one. But the movie (and its sequel for that matter) was a financial disappointment, so that never panned out. And honestly, I think it would have made things really complicated if it had, but you can never truly predict the future.
  • For this review, I’m going to talk about each segment separately. Nothing fancy or deep since I don’t have the art major qualifications, but enough that I need Wikipedia to clarify a few things. Like the titles of the segments.

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach

You’ll be amazed at how perfectly these shapes and their movement match the music

This short is pretty just much pure emotional storytelling, with Bach’s famous piece being played whilst abstract imagery is used to represent the music. Nothing fancy to talk about, but a pure delight to watch for those who want to see the combination. I can’t think of a single moment where the art wasn’t in sync with the music.

Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Everyone and everything dances with the fairies here

Also emotional storytelling, but a more concentrated kind in which various objects and animals dance to several pieces from the original suite, starting with a bunch of fairies waking up in Spring and ending with them skating across a frozen pond in the Winter. I heard they got professional ballerinas for this one and it really shows. If you want to see animated dancing to sound that we all heard and fell in love with growing up, the Nutcracker segment should have you covered.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas

Earth. Wind. Fire. Come to me! Huh hah!

I think most of us know this one, mostly because Mickey Mouse is in it. In fact, it’s pretty much the only part of Fantasia that appeals to the kiddy audience, as the film’s storytelling is pretty much for adults for the most part to the point that when I first saw it as a kid, I was pretty bored whenever Sorcerer’s Apprentice wasn’t on-screen. And I was disappointed that Mickey never talked in this segment. But let’s ignore that past and focus on my current opinion of it. It’s still a classic with Mickey trying to use his master Yen Sid’s magic despite not being properly trained in it in order to make work easier, only for it to backfire on him badly. Good morals, good animation, good music, and all that stuff that’ll keep the kids’ attention span whilst sending them subliminal messages to not get too big of a brain less they want to end up in Georgia. What more could you ask for?

Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky

I’ve seen so many parodies of what dinosaurs were like back then that I honestly prefer them to the real truth

This one has been said to instill a sense of confusing emotions into people, but honestly I don’t get that. I mean it’s just a segment that shows the creation of the galaxy along with the life and death of the dinosaurs. Cool-looking dinosaurs, and their inevitable death is effective, but every kid learns this stuff by the time they reach elementary school. So when I see it portrayed as a big thing as an adult, I just go “eh”. As I’ve said many times in the past, I’m not impressed by stories where the moral is something that a kid would know (finding work is hard, racism is bad, war accomplishes nothing, etc. etc.), and while Rite of Springs isn’t really trying to say anything with its portrayal of the creation of the universe, it’s not letting me draw any conclusions from it either beyond “okay?”

Intermission/Meet the Soundtrack

Something tells me this is Rorschach from Watchmen’s favorite part of the film

This is just an intermission at the halfway point of the film where the conductor playfully chats with a white line, and said wave makes movement that coincides with a sound being played and its vibrations whilst changing color in the process. It’s cute. Nothing really much to say about it.

The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven

It’s funny how we later see female centaurs wearing “clothing” to cover up their breasts given how there’s obviously nothing to cover

This is probably the closest I’ve seen to Disney portraying Greek Mythology correctly: having Zeus be a dick. And a party-crasher. A bunch of centaurs, cupids, pegasi, and other mythological Roman figures are just having a party, falling in love, and all that good stuff to Beethoven’s tune, but Zeus decides he needs some exercise before going to bed, so he wrecks shit up. After that mess is over, everyone just resumes their normal lives, ending with their own nappy-times. The length of the piece is about as long as a standard cartoon episodes, and it makes use of that time pretty well. Story is kinda basic, but not as basic as the dinosaur one, and the way they sync the actions with the music elevate it a bit.

Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli

Okay ladies, we’ve got to make sure to lose five pounds today. So look alive.

Another ballet piece, except it’s all animals that represent the changing of the days rather than objects that represent the changing of the seasons. The ostriches dance in the morning, the hippos in the afternoon, the elephants in the evening, and the alligators in the night. Also, the animals mix and match near the finale. I prefer the Nutcracker Suite segment personally, but I think this one will appeal to kids more just to see hippos not doing Swan Lake.

Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert

The Bald Mountain theme is awesome and I dare you to say otherwise

I think this is the other segment besides Sorcerer’s Apprentice that defines Fantasia, mostly because of Chernabog, who’s basically Disney’s version of Satan. He’s basically as evil as you’d expect, reviving people just so that he can kill them again for the hell of it, and basically throwing a demon party all around Bald Mountain for his followers to dance to. He even introduced kids to their first on-screen nipple. That’s how fucked-up the dude really is.

Of course, even the devil himself loses out to the light when a bunch of robed monks show up with their Ave Maria chorus. It’s pretty much a tale of how no matter how much darkness is in the world, there’s always light to fight it off. A very hopeful, if kinda cheesy story – especially given how Kingdom Hearts would later utilize it as groundwork for its own overcomplicated mess of a plot – but it’s mature enough for its target audience, and worth seeing just for Chernabog himself.

****

  • Quite an impressive line-up of shorts, now is it? Amongst the Disney animated canon, Fantasia is quite the risk. Hell, amongst animated stuff itself, it’s still kind of risky even to this day. I mean it never drew in the big bucks, and it probably never will if they ever decide to make another one. It’s just pure art, and I really respect that.
  • But while it’s true that there’s still no other animated thing quite like Fantasia after so many decades, I can’t say it’s as impressive to my current self as it was when I saw its entirety in college. The quality between each segment is inconsistent and I’m just no longer as impressed with emotional-driven storytelling as I was in my younger days.
  • Still like it of course, but I demand higher quality from it, what with my exposure to films like 5/cms, Mind Game, and Tekkonkinkreet. Sure none of them have classical music to carry their animated segments – although the first two do have “musical” finales – but they definitely explore emotions in a more complex way with more appealing animation to boot.
  • Hell, I’d recommend Genius Party over Fantasia if you just want a film composed of animated shorts going for visual appeal. Well, if you ignore Limit Cycle I mean. Limit Cycle sucks.
  • But regardless, Fantasia is definitely required viewing for any fan of animation. I own the blu-rays for it and Fantasia 2000 and I have no plans to sell them anytime soon for a good reason. Because the one thing it does have that no other animated piece can claim ownership of is the animation interpreting music. If you’re really fascinated by that, then you’ll love the movie.
  • Obviously, I’m not one of those people. But then again, I’m also one of those people who thought Whiplash was just okay.

Minor Quips

  • Yes I’ll review something Kingdom Hearts-related later. I’ve referenced it so much recently, I figured I might as well.
  • I could do personal rankings of each short, but what I can’t do is summon up the motivation to care.

2 responses to “Fantasia (1940) Review — The Music Video Experience To End All Music Videos

  1. I loved Fantasia when I was young but now it’s just kind of that curiosity that I remember watching. I think individual segments work really well but the whole thing is kind of tedious to get through (though maybe that’s a by-product of my shortened attention span as I’m getting older).

    • Didn’t have much trouble getting through it myself. I’m pretty used to the whole “combine a bunch of shorts into a movie” format. by now. That and sitting through the four-hour long version of Hamlet.

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