So my fellow book minions, I don't know about any of you but I have a serious obsession with animated films (whether they're Disney or not). But the most recognizable in my culture as an American citizen are the main 50 animated films produced by Walt Disney's film studio, in chronological order. I might do some side posts with critiques of live-action Disney films, animated sequels, Disney-Pixar films, or even ones like The Nightmare Before Christmas who have oddball status, with no specific categorization. But this is something that I have been considering for quite awhile and I finally decided to take the plunge. The criteria will be: plot, characters, music/songs/score, design/animation, and cultural/historical context and/or overall effect of the other elements. So take a seat, grab some popcorn and some soda and be prepared to find out the verdict.
This film is revered in part because it has no plot whatsoever! I tried to be objective, but this was a huge sticking point for me. Yes, I understand that it's very experimental nature was genius at the time and still is. It opened up the animate medium for people who have more creativity than just straight-as-a-line plots in there heads, ready for transcription. So instead of a plot, here is the program, which will also double as the music section in part:
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas
The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
Intermission/Meet the Soundtrack by Philadelphia Orchestra
The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven
Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli
Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
Ave Maria by Franz Schubert
*Critique: It is an interesting interpretation of traditional classical music pieces. It definitely wasn't the normal plot format that had been instituted for animated films already (by Disney himself and some others). Fun to watch if you want someone else's ideas about what music would look like floating around in your head. All it managed to do for me was put me to sleep.
The only real 'characters' that we even meet throughout this piece are the Sorcerer and his apprentice (a.k.a. Mickey Mouse). Neither is very sympathetic. Mickey just wants to take the easy way out, using magic to animate the broom and have it doe his work. The Sorcerer ends up having to fix his mistakes, because Mickey can't control the magic that he's unleashed. But the Sorcerer doesn't even really seem to bother telling Mickey WHY what he did was wrong, just scolding him slightly and genericly instead. Also, another character that bothered me was Zeus in The Pastoral Symphony sequence. He just appears and starts throwing around lightning bolts maniacally, for what appears to be no reason at all! Yes Zeus is a volatile being, but I never thought that was synonymous with insanity and stupidity. Maybe I was wrong.
*Critique: Overall the lack of plot also means that there is a lack of fleshed out characters. This is something that makes an enormous difference to me as a viewer. I literally fell asleep while watching this Wednesday night. I picked up where I left off last night - but I fell asleep again. If my brain isn't actively engaged in some sort of way I am BORED. This is something that became abundantly clear while trying to watch this film.
The music in this film was all classical work, written by a variety of composers over the centuries. Most of it was also very famous and easily recognizable. It was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Disney collaborated with RCA to get the illusion that the orchestra was in the theater with the audience. They developed Fantasound, which used the first stereophonic surround sound system and innovated overdubbing, noise reduction and simultaneous mutli-track recording. Fantasia has the longest running soundtrack of a Disney film, going for nearly two hours straight.
*Critique: It is very well played classical music and you can tell that musicians are having fun, especially during the intermission jam session. If I sat up, with my eyes closed and didn't even watch the movie it would've been a singularly enjoyable experience for me. But I had to judge this on all aspects, not just the music.
Animation - While making Fantasia, over 1,000 artists and technicians were utilized. The movie has over 500 characters that make an appearance. The segments were color-keyed scene by scene, so they would mesh together well. There was an overall color scheme for each piece of music, that was patterned specifically for the individual subject matter that they developed. 3-D clay models were sculpted so the animators could see the characters from every angle while drawing. It was a very intense process.
*Critique: As a total Disneyphile, I can completely appreciate and respect how much time, effort and overall blood, sweat and tears went into the animation and design of this film. It was not an easy process, using over a 1,000 people to get finished. But the animation as a whole didn't do it for me personally. It was very good, but still felt rudimentary in comparison to the earlier brilliance of Snow White.
CULTURAL/HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND OVERALL EFFECT
Fantasia, like Disney's previous film Pinochio, marked a loss for the studio financially due to the cutoff from European markets, due to the onset of WWII. Also, the initial costs of Fantasound also added to the debt of the Disney studios. Like other Disney classics, Fantasia enjoyed numerous theatrical releases to generate more income. It was re-released in 1942, 1946, 1956, 1963, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1985, 1990. It has since been released in VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray formats for home viewing. It's release was critically acclaimed as making film history by The New York Times, TIME, Art Digest, Variety, Dance Magazine, The Chicago Tribune and many other publications. The film won two Honorary Acadmey Awards in 1942. There has been a sequel called Fantasia 2000, the film has been featured in South Park and The Simpsons in parody sequences. The Sorcerer's Hat is the icon of Disney's Hollywood Studios, and on the 20th anniversary of Disneyland Paris Mickey and his friends were wearing special versions of his Sorcerer's Apprentice outfit. There have also been video games featuring Fantasia characters/sequences for the Sega Genesis, Playstation 2, Wii and Nintendo 3DS.
OVERALL VERDICT: 3/5 Mickeys