July 15, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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AFI Countdown Challenge #58: Fantasia

Animation meets classical music in 1940's Fantasia.

Up to this point, I’ve been able to watch most of these films either from a DVD from my collection or some streaming service I belong to.  For the ones that didn’t fit those two criteria, I went to Amazon and checked to see what the prices were to either A) get a pay-per-view rental, B) buy a digital copy, or C) buy a DVD.  It all depended on the prices.  But then came the Disney cartoons.  There are two on the AFI list, and, well, I can’t stream them, so the only option was to actually buy the DVD.

Point is, I have some Disney cartoons in my collection now that will probably go to one of my nieces or nephews at some point in the future.  Let’s look at Fantasia.

Normally, I’d start off with some anecdote about a prior viewing or something about the film in question.  As it is, I have seen Fantasia twice.  Once was as a kid.  There was an old-fashioned movie theater near my grandparents’ house, the kind with one giant screen.  I saw something there that I can recall only once, and it was Fantasia.  I don’t recall much about it, personally.  I obviously remember Mickey Mouse as The Sorceror’s Apprentice, the hippo ballerina, and how Night on Bald Mountain scared the hell out of me.  I saw it again as an adult, and…well, my reaction was much the same.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I really appreciate what Disney was doing with this film.  It’s a synthesis of classical music and beautiful animation.  This was 1940.  Back then, obviously, there was no such thing as CGI, so all the animation had to be hand-drawn, and there’s some impressive work here, particularly the first segment that is really just abstract shapes set to music.  We get the Nutcracker Suite with a lot of dancing fairies and flowers.  Mickey messes with a broomstick that doesn’t know when to stop helping.  Dinosaurs rise and fall after the host essentially endorses evolution.  There are some Greek gods, some ballet-dancing animals, and then Satan shows up on Bald Mountain.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to say about this one.  It’s a great film, a bold experiment from Disney that deserves to be enshrined.  But I don’t know much about music.  I have tinnitus in one ear, and as a result of constant ringing since I was about eight years old, I never have developed much in the way of music appreciation aside from liking some tunes and not liking others.  I couldn’t go on about what makes, say, Night on Bald Mountain a spectacular piece of music aside from saying, well, it’s awesome.  I could go on about, say, the animation, but what can I say about what makes it awesome aside from, well, it’s beautiful and a sure sign of hand-drawn work at its highest?

But then, I can add this:  the earliest animation was largely there to sell music.  I’ve always been more of a Warner Brothers animation fan than a Disney one, but look at what they called their cartoons:  Merry Melodies and Loony Toons.  Heck, Disney did the same thing with its Silly Symphonies.  As such, matching animation to music had been a long time practice by the time Fantasia showed up.  Heck, matching animation to music was, as mentioned, the point, and I probably learned what a lot of classical music sounded like from my longtime Loony Toons interest.  Plus, well, Warner’s wasn’t above using its own characters to do parodies of both Fantasia‘s conductor Leopold Stokowski…

…and Deems Taylor, music critic and host who often explains the plots of the various cartoons before they air.

So, really, Fantasia is really just the pinnacle of mixing animation and music.  I’d say more, but I’m not sure I could even if I had to.  Fantasia is beautiful.  People should see it, people should listen to it, and people should just bask in it.

Though if I were to add anything….Taylor’s discussion on dinosaurs was a weird thing.  It works off the assumption that predator animals are, to use his word, “bullies”.  Because really, meat eating animals consciously choose to kill other animals to live.  Cripes.

NEXT UP:  We’re jumping forward to 1949 for the story of corruption to the human soul that is The Third Man.