Fantasia is an art film. There is no other way to describe it. It has no overall story, linear or non-linear, instead it is a series of vignettes with each one centered around a particular piece of music, each introduced by Deems Taylor with the music performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. They are, with summaries, in order:
—Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach:
—The Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky:
—The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas: A sorcerer
—Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
—Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig von Beethoven
—Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli
—Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky & Ave Maria by Franz Schubert
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the most famous, with Mickey Mouse as titular apprentice to the sorcerer, Yen Sid (Hint: spell “Yen Sid” backwards). You probably know the story, the sorcerer having told the apprentice to fetch pales of water goes to bed leaving his magic hat behind. The apprentice then uses the hat to make the brooms do it for him but soon finds he can’t control it.
Pastoral Symphony features various “pastoral” creatures of Greek mythology such as centaurs and faun dancing and frolicking with the Greek god Bacchus in the day until Zeus appears and scatters the partying flock with his thunderbolts. This one is mostly light-hearted after the dark Rite of Spring.
Dance of the Hours, famous for providing the music for Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” is even more light-hearted and comical with dancing ostriches, hippos, and an alligator chasing his hippo, not because he wants to eat her but because he has fallen madly in love with her.
What is Good About ItThe animation and the music. Each one is genius in its own way and will have you watching and re-watching again and again. From the stunning strings of Toccatta and Fugue in D Minor to the beautiful chorus at the end the music is fantastic and needs little praise. The presentation is fantastic whether its the dramatic death of the dinosaurs, the terrifying demon Chernabog on Bald Mountain, or the hopeful, heavenly chorus of Ave Maria that closes the movie out.
But splendid animation and music does not a great film make. The true genius of the movie is that it never tells you what to take from it. There is no dialogue and Deems Taylor’s narration only gives a basic outline of what you are going to see, so the interpretation of it is largely up to you. You are never told how to feel about the events of the movie. You are never explicitly told how to feel about the dinosaurs dying out. It is shown, it happens, and the emotional response is up to you.
This means you cannot watch it like a normal movie. You can’t listen to dialogue and say. You have to free your mind and let the movie, and its images, music, and emotions wash over you. You can’t watch it, you have to experience it.
If Snow White is prose, this is poetry.
I will acknowledge, however, that certain moments are rather dull, for example, the Nutcracker Suite can drag on too long. And the movie, as you might have guessed, may be too adult for young children. But its an “artistic masterpiece” and one that is definitely worth checking out.