In just over a year, Disney Plus has unsurprisingly joined the ranks of Netflix, Hulu, and others as one of the top tier streaming platforms. It helps when you have not only a vast well of nostalgia in both film and television, but also some original content as well (perhaps most notably The Mandalorian).
Of course, the service does have its fair share of flaws, yet there is one that I find personally irritating. They have catagorized Fantasia (as well as its rather underrated sequel, Fantasia/2000) as a musical. I can understand needing to organize films (anyone who has seen my DVD/Blu Ray collection would attest to that), but I refuse to think of Fantasia as a musical. It is far more than that.
The third full length feature for Walt Disney, the film features seven segments of classical musical pieces set to animation. I admit that, as a child, I was not a fan of the idea of a film that did not have a single plot (though a few of the segments did). Yet that is the first of many things that makes the film so darn glorious. The original dream for Walt was that, whenever you went to see Fantasia again, it would be something different (this did not happen until the sequel in 1999, with new segments along with “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, which we will get to).
At the time, much was made of the achievement of sound that occurred (called “Fantasound”), rivaled only by the work of the animators that still holds to this day (which I imagine today’s animators would look to for inspiration). In fact, if you have seen a good amount of later Disney films (such as myself), you will notice in the “Dance of the Hours” ballet segment how the elephants have an uncanny resemblance to the ones in Dumbo a year later, as well as the alligators in 1973’s animated Robin Hood.
Of all the segments, the most well known by far is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, in which Mickey Mouse uses the hat of the boss (who is named Yen Sid, or Disney backwards) to help with his daily chores, only to discover he is quite literally in over his head. While I was recently watching with a friend, he mentioned how he realized that was one of the inspirations for the video game “Kingdom Hearts (a game I have always meant to get into). The end result is pure magical bliss.
Parents, this is probably the most “hard G” rated film I can think of. That is not to say your kids shouldn’t see it at some point, but you should still be at the ready. There is actual mild nudity, such as in the segment “The Pastoral Symphony”, where mythical female centaurs are shown bathing. There is more detailed female frontal nudity in the final segment with harpies, but that is very brief.
What should be noted is the dark themes of two segments. The first is the “Rite of Spring” (the longest in the film) that occurs right before the intermission, in which we see the idea of evolution. In this segment, it is the presence of the T-Rex and an unlucky victim that may be a bit too much for the youngest of viewers.
(Editorial note: While I understand evolution is controversial, especially within the Church, I believe it in no way distracts from the quality of this film. I will point out that, Disney’s animated films have been known to cover a spectrum of ideologies, including some that Christians may disagree with and others that reveal Walt’s Christian upbringing. In fact, Fantasia/2000 did have a segment about Noah’s Ark that starred Donald Duck.)
Still, I think that pales in comparison to the last segment, “A Night on Bald Mountain”, where the fiendish Chernabog (another character in Kingdom Hearts) reeks havoc on a nearby town. It has been reported that, even eighty years after the film’s release, the Disney company still gets complaints about how the material is too much for children. You don’t need to be a parent to understand why. While Disney has had many moments of dark terror, this still may be the most cerebral and affective.
Yet it is essential to the film, as what follows is indeed the other side of the coin. Though a complete opposite in tone and theme, we hear church bells ring as dawn breaks at the beginning of “Ave Maria”. In this, we get the always needed reminder that, no matter how bad things seem, good will always triumph over evil, which I would wager is a vital reminder for us amidst the challenges of 2020.
Even in a field of animated masterpieces (Pinocchio, The Lion King, Bambi, the list is too long to type out), Fantasia stands on its own because it elevates its genre (in this case, animation) to a level where we see more than entertainment (just like 2001: A Space Odyssey did for science fiction). It causes us to pause and reflect on our lives. As a whole, it is the one Disney classic that will never get a live action remake (I do know of 2010’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Nicholas Cage, a film that I have no intention of seeking out in the near or far future).
In a life that changed entertainment forever, this is the one film that Walt Disney managed to out do even himself.