You may have noticed that Fantasia appeared on Netflix recently (along with Fantasia 2000 but I pretend that doesn’t exist). As a person who grew up watching that movie nearly every time I went to my grandmother’s house as a child (she had the VHS, I did not), this was a joyous realization. I loved that movie to death! All the different animation styles, dancing plants, centaurs and Greek mythology, DINOSAURS, hippos dancing with ostriches and alligators… oh, and that really creepy one with demons that I forgot about until yesterday.
I’ve started watching Fantasia before going to bed, because the music is nice to listen to, and if the particular animation is boring I can read my book until it gets interesting again (the beginning with the musicians and the clouds, the sorcerer’s apprentice, the “Soundtrack”…).
As a child, there were many things I ignored because I didn’t know any better. As an adult, some of the animation choices are really strange, and sometimes offensive. This is a good time to point out that the original Fantasia was released in 1940. For whatever reason I always thought it had come out in the 60s or 70s, or even 80s (I was born in ’88). A couple days ago when I found Fantasia on Netflix, I discovered my mistake. Knowing this, the problems I see with it now are not so surprising, and some are obviously worse than others. I also still love the animations.
So I’m going to go through most of the animations and give my thoughts, over a decade after the last time I watched this movie as a child. If you’ve never seen Fantasia, I’m not sure I’d recommend trying to watch it for the first time as an adult. I’m not sure what this thing would look like without my childhood nostalgia. That said, I’m not even sure I’d recommend letting your children watch this. Especially the final animation. But I’ll get to that. The Wikipedia page has a good brief description of how each song is animated, for the ones I label as “boring.”
First, I must introduce our narrator. He’s not the conductor, or a musician. He might introduce himself. But between every song/animation, he tells us what we’re about to see. He also meets Mickey, and talks to the “Soundtrack” like it’s a person. Wikipedia tells me he’s a music critic.
1. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – Johanne Sebastian Bach
This is the first performance, and it features the orchestra with different lighting and shadow effects. Eventually it gets into some animation with clouds and stars and random representations of sound, but I always found this one rather boring – as a child and now.
2. The Nutcracker Suite – Tchaikovsky
I grew up going to The Nutcracker every year with my cousin and grandparents. My cousin and I wore matching dresses, we went out to a fancy dinner… it was a big deal. I have always enjoyed the music from that ballet, especially the bit with all the dances as they perform for the prince and princess on that random island they go to. For the most part, this animation involves performances by plants and fairies. They make everything sparkle with dew, and then as they pass through the seasons, they make the leaves fall off, and eventually they cover everything with frost.
I like the frost fairies the best, but then I’ve always been a fan of winter frost. If there’s enough of it, it always makes things pretty. But! I mustn’t forget the dancing mushrooms. Never have you seen such adorable dancing mushrooms as they have in Fantasia.
Except for the weirdness that makes them all look generically Asian. I am not sure why they did this. It was 1940 when this was made. Although most of the dances in this part of the ballet are supposed to be ethnic. There’s a Chinese Dance (which is probably this one), a Russian Dance, and an Arabian Dance. But I did warn you – this thing is weird. The tiniest mushroom is still adorable though.
I almost forgot, this final weirdness in this animation. The sexualized fish. It’s got all this makeup to make it look human, and it’s doing this sensual dance with its fancy see-through fins. It also happens to be my favorite part of the Nutcracker suite (the one with the peacock – at least in the old Seattle performance). I feel like they could have done without making the fish humanoid. But watching it now, it just seemed creepy.
3. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Paul Dukas
This is another one I found boring. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it goes on too long for me. Maybe I just really don’t like Mickey. Basically, this is based on a poem by Goethe. There’s a sorcerer, and he has an apprentice, who he asks to carry some water around. The apprentice, thinking he’s very clever, decides to enchant a broomstick to carry the water for him. He then conveniently forgets how to make the spell stop. So while he’s playing around with magic waves, the broomsticks multiply and carry EVEN MORE WATER all over the place. And Mickey – the apprentice – falls asleep. Disaster ensues, and finally the sorcerer has to come in all angry and put it right. Maybe as a child the sorcerer scared me. There’s something about his eyes that seems very cruel.
4. Rite of Spring – Igor Stravinsky
This one is my favorite. Mostly because there are dinosaurs. This song is set to an animation depicting the beginning of Earth. First we have volcanoes as the tectonic plates are created (though that’s not what they implied in the animation, because they didn’t know about that back then), then we watch as single-celled organisms evolve eventually into dinosaurs. The animation ends with the death of the dinosaurs (by extremely high temperatures across the planet rather than the asteroid, because again, they didn’t know any better back then) but not before we see a T-rex fight a stegosaurus. Honestly, I’m not sure that’s possible, because I think the stegos were Triassic and the T-rex was Cretaceous, and there’s the whole Jurassic between them, but whatever. It’s still cool to see. They also throw in an Archaeopteryx flying dinosaur, which is cool.
The funny part is at the end, though, when the dinosaurs are dying as they travel across the desert in search of water and food. Nearly all of them are dragging their tails. We now know that this isn’t true, because in all the dinosaur tracks we have, we’ve never seen the remnants of a dragging tail. They were used for balance, yes, but not as a third leg. But I forgive them, because it was 1940.
At this time we are presented with the intermission, which includes the narrator/host man coaxing the “Soundtrack” into showing what he does with a little sound animation. It’s odd and random, and not very interesting.
5. The Pastoral Symphony – Beethoven
This animation is set in a mythical world of Greco-Roman beings, like fauns, unicorns, cupids, Pegasus, Bacchus, centaurs, and… centaurettes. Yes, that is what they chose to call the female centaurs. The most demeaning form of that word they could come up with, in my opinion. But it gets weirder. When we first see the centaurettes, they are naked and bathing. I mean, this sort of scene seems totally normal given the ancient Greek world they exist in. Just seems like a weird thing for a children’s movie. But I was a child when I watched this, and never thought anything of it, so who knows?
The whole goal of these centaurettes, it seems, is to attract one of the centaurs. They spend all this time with the cupids doing their hair and walking around like models. And then, in the end, everyone pairs up perfectly. It’s rather boring, if you ask me, but when I was a kid I loved this part. Looking at it now… I find it a bit odd that, for the most part, the centaurs match up by color. The blue ones pair up with other blue centaurs. The pink goes with the pink. The yellow goes with the yellow, and so on. I am trying not to read too much into it – it’s an animated movie after all – but this was made in 1940.
6. Dance of the Hours – Amilcare Ponchielli
This is a dance in 4 parts: morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Morning is represented by ostriches, afternoon by hippos, evening by elephants, and night by alligators. Mostly they just do a lot of ballet and then dance around together until their palace collapses at the end. I always found this one a bit boring as a child. I fell asleep watching this one last night, even.
7. Night on Bald Mountain – Modest Mussorgsky & Ave Maria – Franz Schubert
This is the one I find the most disturbing. It begins with the devil on top of a mountain overlooking a sleeping town. The devil then calls forth all his spirits and demons, and forces them to dance for him. The imagery is super creepy. I’m fairly certain it gave me nightmares as a child, and I may have blocked it from my memory until my housemate reminded me of it a couple days ago.
I won’t post more photos than that here, but I will leave you with this part of Fantasia to peruse at your own peril. One of the earliest spirits to appear are those that have been hanged – they fly through the noose on their way to the devil. So many creepy, crawly, horned, winged, ghostly beasts and figures. I KNOW I had nightmares about this animation. Also, fun fact: if this were in 3D is would probably cause children to run screaming from the theater, as there is a significant portion that consists of skulls alternating with demon women (and their boobs) flying at the screen.
I hope you have enjoyed this random snippet from my childhood, revisited. If you intend to watch Fantasia, you have been thoroughly warned.