Welcome back to Disney Odyssey! So The Fella and I had an opportunity on Monday to siddown and watch the whopping two-hours-long third installment in the Disney animated feature film legacy. When you really think about it, it’s definitely kind of a weird concept and assuredly it is groundbreaking for when it was made, back in the 1930s. We discussed how cinematic history provides a fantastic timeline of our own culture, how film visually encapsulates the feel and mannerisms of an era better than still photographs, paintings, or other art mediums. This Disney film is no exception. From the very beginning, where you watch the orchestra musicians filing in to take their seats and tune their instruments, this sets the tone of the age in which this piece was made, before it takes you away on a ride of imagination. Some folks would say that this is one of the more boring Disney movies. We disagree. Though, to be fair, my father is a band director and so I was raised with the concept of imagining stories while his bands played concerts… It came naturally to me. I hadn’t watched this one in a long, long time, though I remember watching it pretty frequently as a child, so there were plenty of surprises for me during this viewing.
The Movie: Fantasia (1940)
- The film premiered in November 1940, just eight months after Pinocchio. 5000 people attended the star-studded premiere. It had no official theatrical run, but rather it ran for several years off and on in a ‘roadshow’ style cinema tour. It was basically a full evening event like seeing a play or an opera: there was an intermission and a playbill with information about the music and the artists involved, and so on. Most people loved it, but it did have some severe reviews from music critics, who felt that adding visuals to these classic musical compositions ruined the integrity of the music as art on its own.
- A “modernized” design for Mickey Mouse was created for this film, since Walt felt that his favorite rodent was waning in popularity. The modern design debuted in several animated shorts prior to Fantasia’s release, but the design was made specifically for “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” section of the movie.
- The name of the Sorcerer in that segment is Yen Sid (which is Disney backwards). The design of the Sorcerer was after a popular actor of that time, but the mannerisms (specifically his arched eyebrows at the end) were made after Walt Disney himself.
- The female centaurs in The Pastoral Symphony segment were initially drawn completely bare breasted but they were covered with strategically placed flower garlands (allegedly because of the Hays Code). However, the nipples on the harpies in the Night on Bald Mountain segment are definitely present and visible.
- At least one centaur was cut from the Pastoral Symphony segment… an African centaur female with wild hair, big hoop earrings, oversized red lips, and a donkey body who shined the white centaurs’ hooves and brushed their hair for them. Her name was apparently Sunflower. She was cut from the film in 1968 and cannot be found on any subsequent releases for obvious reasons.
- Over 1,000 musicians and artists were involved in the making of this film, including world-famous conductor Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
- Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – Bach
- This is the ‘abstract’ appetizer to the feast that is yet to come, but even the ‘abstract’ is representative of the instruments that you hear: a row of dots for the flute (like the line of keys on a flute), parallel lines for a bass or other stringed instruments, a glimmer of light catching on the tip of a violin bow as it moves back and forth.
- We also get some nice cloudscapes that ultimately lead to ecclesiastical arches and vertical pillars of light – obvious symbolism there.
- Wait what is that wobbly thing? Where did that even come from?
- Nutcracker Suite – Tchaikovsky
- Our host casually remarks “Nobody performs [the Nutcracker] nowadays, but I’m sure you’ll recognize some of these musical themes…” I’m sorry, wait, what? Was that a joke? Because your somber, clipped 1940’s dialect has no room for innuendo or sarcasm. Did people really not perform The Nutcracker ballet for a while??? TO WIKIPEDIA!
- According to Wikipedia, the initial Russian debut of The Nutcracker ballet was NOT a success and received a great deal of criticism. The first unabridged performance outside of Russia was in 1934 in England, and the ballet did not really become popular widespread until the 1960s. So something we take for granted every year at Christmas was actually not an overnight success. Huh!
- The tiny skinny fairies who appear to be made of different colored lights are totally a precursor to Tinkerbell in Peter Pan. I’m making that headcanon. Also, the idea of fairies putting dewdrops on grass, leaves, flowers, cobwebs, etc. is totally from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, am I wrong?
"Over hill, over dale, Thorough bush, thorough brier, Over park, over pale, Thorough flood, thorough fire, I do wander everywhere, Swifter than the moon's sphere; And I serve the fairy queen, To dew her orbs upon the green. The cowslips tall her pensioners be: In their gold coats spots you see; Those be rubies, fairy favours, In those freckles live their savours: I must go seek some dewdrops here And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear. Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I'll be gone: Our queen and all our elves come here anon." -A Midsummer Night's Dream
- The mushrooms dance is obviously a little bit Asian, because in the Nutcracker this dance is “China” or “Tea”. That little mushroom is serving commedia zanni realness.
- The flowers are pretty standard, really…but then suddenly they all decide to go for a waltz in the river, and…commit suicide together? “Okay ladies, nice dance moves, now everyone say goodbye and head for that waterfall!”
- The fish dance at first is weird because in the ballet this is the Arabian dance – in my favorite version by the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Arabian dance is a solo ballerina costumed as an albino peacock (seriously the costume is stunning). So really, if you think about it, even thought these fish ladies have half-lidded eyes with long sultry lashes, fish are pretty much the least sexy animal they could have assigned to this music. They pretty much neutralized the arousal effect by giving these characters fins and bubbles to swim around in.
- Thistles? For the Russian dance? Aren’t thistles a Scottish thing? “But they LOOK like Cossacks,” says the Fella. “The furry hats and stuff. These thistles definitely look Russian.”
- Interesting that instead of just doing “Waltz of the Snowflakes” they chose to do changing-of-the-seasons fairies instead. Falling leaves are, I suppose, comparable to falling snow. “Oh my gosh,” the Fella exclaims, “The frost fairies are totally Elsa.” I am reminded of how proud I am of not having seen Frozen yet. I am likewise immediately thereafter reminded of how not excited I am to finally have to watch it when we get to that point in the Disney Odyssey timeline. SIGH.
- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Dukas
- YAY SORCERER’S APPRENTICE YAY. I used to love this sequence as a kid. I had a plush broom with a bucket of water from the Disney store that I loved wildly. My dad had his band perform it in a concert once when I was still little. Ob-sessed.
- I love how Mickey is upbeat, creative, hopeful, and generally not driven by ego or want. He doesn’t make the brooms magic because he’s lazy — he does it because (I think) he genuinely thinks it will be better and more efficient and he also really would like a nap, okay.
- Rite of Spring – Stravinsky
- Me: “Okay okay okay do you know about Rite of Spring?” The Fella: “….it’s got dinosaurs?” Me: “NO OMG THERE IS MORE!” I then proceeded to explain how when Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring debuted as a ballet in Paris in 1913 it literally caused riots because it was so surreal, so unusual, so unprecedentedly strange and dissonant. RIOTS, okay. Riots. So it’s really pretty appropriate they put dinosaurs in this segment.
- Speaking of which, this raised the question: when did ‘dinosaur’ become a household word? This segment is preceded by a whole lecture from the master of ceremonies about dinosaurs and “what science thinks happened” in the first couple billion years of the Earth. You mean…..EVOLUTION?! Turns out, the word ‘dinosaur’ was officially first used in 1842. It’s interesting though the way they phrase all this because they clearly didn’t want to piss off any fundamentalist groups.
- This segment clearly posits that there is Only One T-Rex on the whole planet and he’s a total douche and everyone hates him. “Oh, God, NO, not Rick. Rick’s here, everybody run! Who told Rick we were having a cookout? For heaven’s sake, you guys, RUN!”
- This whole segment is about food. Big things eat little things, normal sized things eat leaves and pond scum and fight other same-sized things for said pond scum. Tiny thing tries to steal bigger thing’s mud hole. It’s weird. But that’s some Circle of Life shit right there. It’s all about food. And death. Food and death.
- Wait……..there’s no meteor crash? The Fella: “No, it’s about climate change. ooOOOOoooo CLIIIIIIMATE CHAAAANGE!” Me: But….I thought I remembered a meteor. The Fella: “Me too. Weird. There isn’t one.”
***INTERMISSION!*** and that weird bit with the “Soundtrack” (the emcee invites The Soundtrack out for an interview, but it’s really a line that changes shape and color depending on what instrument is playing)
- The Pastoral Symphony – Beethoven
- AW YES THE GREEK MYTHOLOGY SECTION! Unicorns, pegasi, fauns, cherubs, centaurs, centaur-ettes….wait. CentaurETTES? I am NOT calling them that.
- The scenery is beautiful – they clearly used this as the foundation for the later Hercules movie. Also, the colorful glowing skin of the gods is totally a Hercules thing later too. Zeus here is similar to Zeus later, but differently colored, and even Dionysus has a similar look.
- The Fella: “Are those My Little Ponies?” The unicorns and baby pegasi definitely look like MLP.
- I was obsessed with the pegasi when I was little. Ob-sessed. The little baby black one is THE ACTUAL BEST. He’s super commedia.
- So this sequence is about the Annual Meet-and-Greet of the Young Single Adult Centaurs, right? It’s a mixer. Dionysus is coming to throw a party later but FIRST! You must find your true love from among these choices. “Aw look, the cherubs are their wingmen!” The Fella: “LITERAL WINGMEN.”
- The centaur-lady (I refuse to say centaurette — that’s horrible) on the swing is totally a nod to Fragonard’s The Swing. It’s pastoral! It’s Rococo! Ooh la la!
- “Hey, look, Steve looks really lonely….so does Suzette! They probably just didn’t look hard enough for their One True Love.” “We should totally help them get together by playing these Dollar Store trumpet-flutes we got.” “Whew! Good thing they’re both blue and they like each other. That was a close one, guys.”
- DisneyWiki tells me that Steve and Suzette are actually called Brudus and Melinda. >:| What is the point of me making up stupid names for characters if they ALREADY HAVE stupid names? Ugh.
- Dance of the Hours – Ponchielli
- Ohhhhhhhhhh so THIS IS WHERE ALL THE COMMEDIA IS. I literally don’t even know what to say about this corps de ballet comprised of ostriches, hippos, elephants, and alligators. First of all… Those birds just swallowed fruit WHOLE like cartoon snakes. Second of all, there’s no way that pond is deep enough for all them hippos to come outta there.
- The physics in this segment are simply mind-boggling. I just….what.
- Night on Bald Mountain – Mussorgsky
- Okay but WHO IS DUMB ENOUGH to build and inhabit a village at the foot of Bald Mountain, which is legendary for being the meeting place of evil demons? Who is that dumb???
- The skeletons and ghosts feel very Haunted Mansion. “oooOOOooo foreshadowingggg!”
- Ave Maria – Schubert
- I have absolutely nothing to say about this part.
- You know how everyone is like “Fantasia is boring?”
- This is the part where they were right.
- “The last shot is really pretty.” – The Fella
Commedia Bonus: 16! A new record! Includes comic chasing, inability to perform basic tasks effectively, slipping/falling/tripping/hurrying to catch up to the rest of the group, swallowing whole fruit, furniture bending under the weight of a hippopotamus, falling asleep on the job, oversized clothing as an obstacle, getting stuck on things (i.e. bubbles), and so on.