For this installation of the Disney Odyssey we turned to a couple of real experts: Maureen Smith and Daniel Johanson of Chicago’s own Scapi Mag! Two trained opera lovers and performers, Daniel and Maureen have made it their mission to seek out and promote independent artists, companies, collectives, and projects of all kinds in the city of Chicago, whether it’s theatre, poetry, music, opera, or beyond. As I have never seen this movie and don’t know a whole lot about which classical hits are included, I thought it would be neat to get an inside perspective from these two phenomenal music nerds on what pieces are included, why they’re unusual, and how well the animations play along (or don’t).
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.