Fantasia (1940)

"Fantasia" is the experimental movie in Disney's canon. This is after "Snow White and the Severn Dwarfs" but before Disney's name became synonymous with magic, princesses, or childhood. Instead, consider "Fantasia" to be Walt's attempt at high society or catering to the adult, cultured crowd. I'm not sure it worked quite as well as he would have hoped; but "Fantasia" does prove its worth simply in the history of cinema because without this piece we wouldn't have "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "The Tree of Life".
The movie is comprised of eight vignettes, each one tailored to a specific piece of classical music. We have music that tells a story, music that evokes images, and music for music's sake. The first piece we hear is a Bach piece and it takes a little bit to get going since the animators seem to want to ease us into the style that will be taking us for the rest of the movie.
But when it comes to Tchaikovsky and "The Nutcracker Suite", nothing is more enjoyable than seeing it brought to life.
For that's what the movie is about, bringing interpretations of music to life. When you hear a song and it evokes a mental image, why not draw that? Of course, certain liberties are made and I found myself disagreeing with certain choices, particularly concerning the film's most famous moment: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice".
Mickey makes his appearance here and I can't help but wonder if the film lost some of its experimental power with this move because no longer does it seem like an adult's movie about soundtrack design mixing perfectly with visual cues; but instead, it's a kid's movie.
I don't know who decided that animation was a child's genre; but they did and now it's impossible to reappropriate that idea, so we're stuck with it. "Fantasia" goes in a split second from being this avant-garde and abstract movie, to being a kid's flick and that speaks volumes.
Still, it's an enjoyable little sections, but it's sandwiched between two other moments of bizarre trial.
The animation here is some of Disney's finest and "Fantasia" is one of the studio's most adult and scary movies, which makes Mickey's appearance all the more curious. This is a movie that has centaur love, naked breasts, and the devil himself. It seems kind of naive to label it only as a kid's movie; but oh well, I digress.
The film can drag at times, because for relying so heavily on visual image, sometimes the soundtrack can be forgotten and when it is, we keep it locked away so that when the moments come when we're really supposed to pay attention to the music, it just feels like a snooze-fest. The most obvious of these moments is the last song, "Ave Maria" in which there's just a bunch of silhouettes walking down a road, across a bridge, into a church-looking building, etc.
Still, the movie has its fun moments like a ballet that involves ostriches, hippos, elephants, and crocodiles—yet you can't mistake the whole movie for one of its moments because this is also a film that features the death of dinosaurs, the beginning of time itself, and the day of gods and their playthings.
It's almost like if Andy Warhol had made "The Wizard of Oz"; but that's probably not a helpful likening.
"Fantasia" is so important because it stresses music so much and without it, we wouldn't have the powerful films of today that feature classic music. Think of "The Tree of Life" and then the similarities between the animated 1940s movie and Terrence Malick's meditation on grief doesn't seem all too dissimilar anymore.

Score: ★★★

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