Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fantasia



Fantasia & Fantasia 2000 Special Edition

#58 on the 1998 AFI Best 100 Movies List

Fantasia is a 1940 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released by Walt Disney Productions. With story direction by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer, and production supervision by Ben Sharpsteen, it is the third feature in the Disney animated features canon. The film consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski; seven of which are performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Music critic and composer Deems Taylor acts as the film's Master of Ceremonies, who introduces each segment in live action interstitial scenes.

Disney settled on the film's concept as work neared completion on The Sorcerer's Apprentice, an elaborate Silly Symphonies short designed as a comeback role for Mickey Mouse who had declined in popularity. As production costs grew higher than what it could earn, he decided to include the short in a feature-length film with other segments set to classical pieces. The soundtrack was recorded using multiple audio channels and reproduced with Fantasound, a pioneering sound reproduction system that made Fantasia the first commercial film shown in stereophonic sound.

Fantasia was first released in theatrical roadshow engagements held in thirteen U.S. cities from November 13, 1940. It received mixed critical reaction, and was unable to make a profit. In part this was due to World War II cutting off the profitable European market, but due as well to the film's high production costs and the expense of leasing theatres and installing the Fantasound equipment for the roadshow presentations. Also, audiences who felt that Disney had suddenly gone "highbrow" stayed away, preferring the standard Disney cartoons. The film was subsequently reissued multiple times with its original footage and audio being deleted, modified, or restored in each version. As of 2012, Fantasia has grossed $76.4 million in domestic revenue and is the 22nd highest-grossing film of all time in the U.S. when adjusted for inflation. Walt's nephew Roy E. Disney co-produced a sequel released in 1999 titled Fantasia 2000.

Fantasia opens with live action scenes of members of an orchestra gathering and tuning their instruments. Master of ceremonies Deems Taylor enters the stage and introduces the program.

* Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach. Live-action shots of the orchestra illuminated in blue and gold, backed by superimposed shadows, fade into abstract patterns. Animated lines, shapes and cloud formations reflect the sound and rhythms of the music.
* Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Selections from Tchaikovsky's ballet suite underscore scenes depicting the changing of the seasons from summer to autumn to winter. A variety of dances are presented with fairies, fish, flowers, mushrooms, and leaves, including "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy", "Chinese Dance", "Dance of the Flutes", "Arabian Dance", "Russian Dance" and "Waltz of the Flowers".
* The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas. Based on Goethe's 1797 poem Der Zauberlehrling. Mickey Mouse, an apprentice of the sorcerer Yen Sid, attempts some of his master's magic tricks but doesn't know how to control them.
* Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky. A visual history of the Earth's beginnings is depicted to selected sections of the ballet score. The sequence progresses from the planet's formation to the first living creatures, followed by the reign and extinction of the dinosaurs.
* Intermission/Meet the Soundtrack: The orchestra musicians depart and the Fantasia title card is revealed. After the intermission there is a brief jam session of jazz music led by a clarinettist as the orchestra members return. Then a humorously stylized demonstration of how sound is rendered on film is shown. An animated sound track "character", initially a straight white line, changes into different shapes and colors based on the sounds played.
* The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. A mythical ancient Greek world of centaurs, cupids, fauns and other figures from classical mythology is portrayed to Beethoven's music. A gathering for a festival to honor Bacchus, the god of wine, is interrupted by Zeus who creates a storm and throws lightning bolts at the attendees.
* Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli. A comic ballet in four sections: Madame Upanova and her ostriches (Morning); Hyacinth Hippo and her servants (Afternoon); Elephanchine and her bubble-blowing elephant troupe (Evening); and Ben Ali Gator and his troop of alligators (Night). The finale finds all of the characters dancing together until their palace collapses.
* Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert. At midnight the devil Chernabog summons evil spirits and restless souls from their graves. The spirits dance and fly through the air until driven back by the sound of an Angelus bell as night fades into dawn. A chorus is heard singing Ave Maria as a line of robed monks is depicted walking with lighted torches through a forest and into the ruins of a cathedral.

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