Nightwatcher's Patrol #6

Fantasia - Disney's Materpiece Revisited
July 25, 2011
Hey everyone, welcome back. Here's a question that I would like to ask several people I know: what is your favorite Disney movie? Well usually that would be a tough question for me since they have made so many great blockbusters at this point, but only one of them has earned the honor of being called "Disney's Masterpiece".

(Note: I am not covering Fantasia 2000 because I don't like it as much. In three words: not - even - close) Sorry if this offends anyone but I'm just being honest.

Released for the first time in 1940, Fantasia was originally conceived as a "road show" in which certain pieces would be removed from the movie and replaced with new ones complete with all new animations. Unfortunately the first release didn't do well enough for Disney to proceed with his plan (which may surprise some people today but let's not forget that this was during World War II). I have fond memories of Fantasia from my childhood because I got my first taste of "Disney's Masterpiece" at a friend's house the year it came out on VHS (it was 1991 so I turned eleven) and I liked it so much that I asked for it for Christmas that year. Lo and behold, there it was under the tree on Christmas morning, yay! Magic is real after all. That tape however now resides at the local library*. I can only hope that someone will enjoy it like I did. I now have a copy on DVD which I will talk about later, right now it's time to start the show. By the way, I would like to point out that the music was beautifully conducted by the late/great Leopold Stokowski and performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Meet Your Host/Piece #1: "Toccata And Fugue In D Minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach

Your host, Mr. Deems Taylor

This is Deems Taylor, the host of our movie who gives us intros to each piece (what a classical number is called as opposed to a song). Taylor's intros can be important as they give us information into what we are watching which really comes in handy, especially for the first piece.

Is it just me or does one get a sense of power when matching Stokowski's arm movements for this scene?

For the first number we are thrust into what looks like a Picasso painting while listening to a piece by Bach. So far this is Disney's first and only abstract animation and it is interesting to see there take on this art form. The piece starts out with shadowy silhouettes of the orchestra and eventually fades into the animation seen above. I should also point out that the musical piece here is sometimes associated with Halloween, as are two more pieces that come later in the movie. Taylor explains that the animation is supposed to represent what is going through your mind while listening to the music and refers to it as "geometric objects floating in space". And rightly so.

Piece #2: "The Nutcracker Suite" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

FAIRIES!! They do exist! I knew it!

Garden Party!

The second piece is taken from The Nutcracker Suite and should sound instantly familiar. We start with Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Spring and Summer Fairies, seen above) and move on through most of the other dances from this famous piece. The other dances are: The Chinese Dance (mushrooms), Dance of the Flutes (flowers on a creek), The Arabian Dance (goldfish), The Russian Dance (Thissles and Lillies) and finally Waltz of the Flowers (Autumn and Winter Fairies). Taylor tells us that this was one of Tchaikovsky's least favorite pieces but has become one of his most popular. Looks like Taylor was right, it's amazing how wrong an artist can be about their work. Most of us know this piece best as being associated with Christmas.

Piece #3: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by Paul Dukas

Here it is, everyone's favorite piece. Taylor may have told us that this was based on an old medieval story but what he didn't tell us was that, believe it or not, Dopey the Dwarf was originally going to be the star of the cartoon. Imagine how different it would have been if that had happened. Thankfully, most of the Disney staff figured that Mickey was the natural choice for the role. Mickey in his sorcerer's outfit has since become a symbol of the Disney company and most of it's parks. In fact, Disney Hollywood Studios in Florida bares a giant Mickey sorcerer hat as it's logo. How's that for legendary? Also, the sorcerer was based on Walt Disney himself hence his name Yen Sid (spell it backwards). Even Yen Sid's face was modeled after Disney's with his thick eye brows and large honker. He also gives Mickey the same disapproving look that Disney used to give his employees when he became agitated with them. It's when he looks at Mickey with a frown and one eyebrow raised. Now there's a look I wouldn't want to get from my boss!

Foolish mortals! Tremble before the almighty disapproving eyebrow glare!

Piece #4: The Right of Spring by Igor Stravinsky

Clash of the prehistoric titans...Disney style!

To accompany The Right of Spring, Disney chose to use an animation that takes us back to prehistoric times. It starts with the birth of our planet billions of years ago and fast forwards through the evolution of our flora and fauna, from single celled organisms to a fish's first steps on land (Charles Darwin anyone?) until we reach the time of the dinosaurs, roughly 65 to 70 million years ago. The truly sad part is the end of the piece when we witness the fall of these mighty beasts. As an age old dinosaur lover (so to speak), I always enjoyed this piece but I never really liked the ending. Of course the best part is the battle between T-Rex and Stegosaurus (above), and it's not to surprising that the T-Rex won despite the "Stego" being more than a match for him. This segment once had it's own ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom called Clash of Extinction. It was later changed to tie in with the full length movie Dinosaur (2000). They then traded T-Rex for Carnotaurus, go figure.

We will now take a brief fifteen minute intermission
You don't always get one of these in an article do ya?

The above shot is of the actual intermission screen. If you have a copy of this movie on DVD I recommend that you pause it on this screen for fifteen minutes so it's just like the real thing. Now go make a sandwich or something, I'll wait here.

Everybody back now? Good, then let's finish this up.

Meet The Soundtrack

In Fantasia the Soundtrack is portrayed as an actual character who seems to be a little timid. Once Taylor gets him out on the stage he shows us what music might look like if we could see it. The images above are the Soundtrack's renditions of the harp and trumpet respectively.

Piece #5: The Pastrol Symphony by Ludwig Van Beethoven

This piece acts as the background for Disney's take on Greek mythology (such as our friends Bacchus and his horned mule Jacchus above) which would be revisited in the 1997 movie Hercules. This was originally the longest piece in the entire movie but was cut down severely to make for a proper running time. I consider this to be one of the prettiest pieces in the movie but I feel bad for poor Beethoven. Did you know he went deaf by the end of his career? How was he supposed to do what he loved, conduct his beautiful music, if he was deaf? Oh well, at least his music is fondly recognized, I guess that's what he would want.

Piece #6: Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli

This piece stands as the comic relief of the bunch portraying the hours of the day as being represented by toon animals. It starts with morning being represented by Madame Upanova and her ostriches, then continues with Hyacinth Hippo and her servants for mid day, Elephancine and her elephant troup for afternoon and finally Ben Ali Gator and his troupe for night time. The cartoon is presented as a ballet with the characters making a big finale at the end. Who would have thought that an alligator and a hippo could fall in love? Pretty funny stuff.

And finally:

Pieces 7 and 8: A Night On Bald Mountain by Modeste Moussorsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert

Behold the dark lord Chernabog. Disney's coolest creation.

And the dead shall rise from the grave...

A scene from the Ave Maria. Hmm, nice view.

For the final two pieces of the show we first take a trip into the realm of the supernatural, backed by A Night On Bald Mountain. It's Walpurgis Night, a European version of a certain Autumn festival here in the U.S. which they celebrate in Spring, usually in April. The mighty demon Chernabog (Disney's alternate version of Satan) awakens from his year long slumber and summons forth a virtual horde of darkness. They include demons from the underworld as well as the spirits of criminals and ner-do-wells from a nearby village. We even see some of them pass through the noose a second time as they rise from their graves. They have a chaotic celebration through the night until the angelic bell rings in a new day. As the sun rises, Chernabog and his minions return to the dark recesses where they came from. We then end the number (and the show) with the Ave Maria, a more light hearted piece, as a line of noble villagers make their way through the nearby forest to await the new morning and ultimately overcome the darkness. This segment is sometimes played on the Disney Channel during our spookiest of seasons. Happy Halloween.

Now as for the DVD I mentioned above. It's the Special 60th Anniversary Edition which was released in 2000 and looks like this:

This DVD contains only the first movie in it's complete, uncut entirety (125 minutes) and has some sweet bonus features including rare archival interviews with Walt Disney, a making of featurette and more. I found my copy on for a pretty decent price, though I can't promise that they are still going cheap since it's become sort of rare. Just trust me on this, they may have re-released this along with Fantasia 2000 in a double feature set, (it was last year, 2010, for the movie's 70th anniversary), but this DVD release is much better.

Well I hope everyone enjoys this article since it was the trickiest one for me to write so far, mostly do to the pictures being sort of hard to find. Some of them, however, were extreme close ups of my TV and computer screens with, of all things, my brand new Nintendo DSi XL. I bet you can't tell which ones they are. I know this movie has a pretty big fan base, and that there are some Disney fans on this site so I hope I've made everyone happy. Until next time, keep the magic with you.

This article is dedicated to the loving memories of:

Deems Taylor
December 22 1885 - July 3 1966

Leopold Stokowski
April 18 1882 - September 13 1977

And of course

Walt Disney
December 5 1901 - December 15 1966

Thank you gentlemen, for giving us such a beautiful work of art. It has enchanted several generations for the past seventy years. May it continue to enchant for the next seventy years and many generations after.

(* It shares the same fate as my Ninja Turtles DVDs. See Nightwatcher's Patrol #5)
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