One of Walt’s big “Doing It For The Art” pictures, Fantasia was high concept even for the new art form of Animated Film (like, this is the THIRD Disney feature). Walt REALLY wanted to add some culture to the genre, and so did a series of shorts based around pieces of classical music- stuff so elaborate it needed entirely new sound systems placed into theaters. Many of the features are world-famous, especially The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (in which Mickey Mouse himself appears, screwing up a spell and setting hundreds of walking brooms about making a huge mess) and Night of Bald Mountain, which contains some of Disney’s darkest, most frightening work.
The whole thing is really just a masterwork of music and imagery combined, and the kind of thing you pretty much never see anymore. Walt had intended it to bring culture to the masses, and to gain additional segments over the years, so that viewers never saw the same version twice- the disappointing box office, and World War II, put an end to those plans. A few segments planned for the film were later re-scored and used elsewhere in anthology features like Melody Time.
It still stands as a remarkable animated achievement, and everyone should see it at least once. But it’s a little dry, and probably won’t hold the attention of children for long. You could almost certainly not release a similar film today- it’d be like running 1:25 of Pixar Animated Shorts.
Reception & Cultural Impact:
Due to World War II, the feature actually lost money, but it was hailed by critics then and now as a masterpiece. And time and re-releases have been kind to it- adjusted for inflation, it’s the #22 most-successful movie of all time in the US. Some of the only stuff that’s disliked is the REALLY obvious racism of the Centaurette portion (in which lovely, graceful, light-skinned centaurettes are attended by thick-lipped, gap-toothed black one with nappy hair and a DONKEY lower body).
But Mickey in the Sorcerer Hat is one of his iconic looks, featuring in the famous Fantasmic!character-based shows that end every night at the Disneyland resort, Hollywood Studios in Florida, and Tokyo DisneySea. It even led to an infamously bad piece of scenery and Hollywood Studios, as a large, multi-part “Sorcerer’s Hat” became the Park Landmark, shoved right in front of the beautiful recreation of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (which is SUPPOSED to be the HS landmark). This thing sat at an angle in front of the theatre for YEARS before Disney quietly and casually just took it down one month, never to return.
Chernabog himself is the other most famous sequence, and is one of the few Disney Villains rarely joked about (one short in the ’90s featured him cowering in fear of Michael Eisner, however). I think I’ll save him for his own special section below.
Fantasia‘s credibility and respectability led to it being one of the few films in the Animated Canon to get a theatrical sequel (of sorts), with Fantasia 2000 being a largely forgotten Post-Renaissance film.
Among the most legendary, dark Disney sequences features CHERNABOG, the creature who was basically the freakin’ DEVIL. Disney took a part of old European mythology and adding some Hellish attributes to it in one of the greatest animated shorts of all time in Fantasia,. This thing was ASTONISHING, animated mostly by Vladimir Tytla (a classic animator considered one of the greatest of all time, animating Chernabog, Yen Sid, Dumbo and others), and seemingly possessing everything that could have possibly frightened children about the Devil. The giant bat wings, the freakish grin, the fact that you can’t QUITE make out most of his form at any given time, plus the cruel abandon with which he transforms his own minions and casts them aside for his amusement.
The narrator in Fantasia explicitly refers to the creature as “The Devil”, never naming him “Chernabog” on screen, but that’s apparently what he is- an Eastern European folk villain of sorts.
But animation doesn’t get any better than Night on Bald Mountain playing while this mountain-sized demon creates and slaughters demons for the fun of it, before the morning church bells cause him to slink away.