“All the BEAUTY…All the DELIGHT…All the EXCITEMENT of the world’s greatest music!”
Director: Norman Ferguson, et al.
Cast: Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor, Corey Burton
Synopsis: A collection of animated interpretations of great works of Western classical music.
If Fantasia, Walt Disney’s unique 1940 fusion of animation and culture proves anything, it is that you really can have too much of a good thing. There’s no question that it is a remarkable achievement, and one can only admire the ambition and vision that drove Disney to persevere with a project which he must have known would have only limited commercial potential. The artistry is impeccable, but by endeavouring to replicate an audiences’ tendency to visually represent in their own minds the music that they hear, he effectively robs them of that very opportunity, and imposes upon them images that, quite frankly, struggle to retain our attention.
Ironically, the rich colours and minimalist style incorporated in the live-action sequences, during which Deems Taylor explains the intent of the film and introduces each new sequence of music, provides Fantasia with its most sumptuous images; it’s all shadows and silhouettes against a lush, richly coloured background, and the drums vibrate with a mesmerising vivid light each time they’re struck. The animated sequences are of varying interest, with the earlier entries proving to be the best. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the most famous, of course, probably because it most closely resembles Disney’s regular cartoons and features his talismanic Mickey Mouse impetuously conjuring up a living broomstick to carry out his chores without first checking where its brakes are. Rite of Spring, in which the evolution of the world is played out against Stravinsky’s piece, is also memorable, although – like the film itself – it ultimately goes on too long.
Unfortunately, with the sole exception of A Night on Bald Mountain, a dark, ferocious piece which probably still possesses the power to frighten very young children, the post-intermission sequences are mostly weak. The Pastoral Symphony, filled with childlike satyrs, luminous nymphs and a herd of what look like My Little Ponies, is woefully precious and dull, and it’s probably around this point that kids will start getting restless and adults grow bored. It’s a shame that – like Mickey – Uncle Walt just didn’t know when to apply the brakes. But it’s an interesting experiment, nevertheless.
(Reviewed 5th February 2015)