January 6th, 1942: Disney’s Fantasia opens in theaters (not to be confused with its official New York premiere in 1940)
Seventy-four years ago, a strange movie opened in American cinemas. Fantasia was far from the typical feature film, beacause rather than telling a unified story, it was separated into a series of musical segments, some told stories, others consisted of abstract images. Disney originally intended for Fantasia to be the first in a recurring series of films that would continuously update itself by including old segments and adding in new portions as time went on. Although Fantasia 2000 attempted to follow this model, the plan ultimately fell through. Nonetheless, Fantasia is nowadays considered a masterpiece of animation and of musical talent.
The film is divided into eight musical segments and they are as follows:
Despite it’s name (and the host informs the audience as well), the titular Nutcracker does not appear in this segment. What does appear are a number of dances from the ballet, namely: “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”; “Chinese Dance”; “Dance of the Flutes”; “Arabian Dance”; “Russian Dance”; and “Waltz of the Flowers.”
This is the only segment to be brought back in Fantasia 2000 and one of the most famous, mostly because of its famous star: Mickey Mouse is the titular apprentice, who works tirelessly for the wizard Yen Sid (Disney spelled backwards). Once the wizard departs for bed, Mickey decides to create some “help” to get his chores done quicker, but things quickly get out of hand…
- The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
This segment is usually the one kids remember because this is “the dinosaur segment” (at least that’s how I always remembered it when I was growing up). Disney took Stravinsky’s ballet about a group of primitives performing ritual sacrifice (not kidding about this) and transformed it into a story about evolution, starting with the primitive Earth boiling in lava, through the creation of microbes up until the mighty dinosaurs themselves. The climax of the segment (before the extinction anyway), is a terrifying segment where a T-Rex attacks a group of peaceful dinosaurs and the T-Rex squares off against the Stegosaurus (keep in mind that T-Rex was viewed primarily as a hunter in those days, and not believed to be the scavenger we now suspect he might have been).
- Intermission/Meet the Soundtrack
Now comes an interlude where first, we see the musicians having an impromptu jam session and then our host introduces us to the soundtrack, personified as an animated string standing in the center of the stage. This animated string is used to demonstrate the different sounds the orchestra makes. Below is just one example (it’s really funny to watch):
- The Pastoral Symphony (Symphony No. 6) by Ludwig van Beethoven
Now into the second half of the program, we see Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (also called the Pastoral Symphony). Beethoven wrote this symphony as his deafness was progressively getting worse and so he deliberately evoked the landscape of the country in his musical writing and the Disney animators took these sounds and created a fantastical Greek world where all the creatures of mythology live. For instance you have (in no particular order):
- Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli
Next comes the ever hilarious Dance of the Hours, an allegory of the progression from Day to Night. The segment starts with Madame Upanova waking up her ostrich dancers (they represent the Morning)
- Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria by Modest Mussorgsky and Franz Schubert respectively