Rating -

Animated (US); 1940; Not Rated; 120 Minutes

Featuring Deems Taylor, Leopold Stokowski, Mickey Mouse, and the Philadelphia Orchestra

Produced by Walt Disney; Directed by James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe, Norman Ferguson, Jim Handley, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts and Ben Sharpsteen; Screenwritten by Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, Lee Blair, Elmer Plummer, Phil Dike, Sylvia Moberly-Holland, Norman Wright, Albert Heath, Bianca Majolie, Graham Heid, Perce Pearce, Carl Fallberg, William Martin, Leo Thiele, Robert Sterner, John McLeish, Otto Englander, Webb Smith, Erdman Penner, Joseph Sabo, Bill Peet, Campbell Grant, Arthur Heinemann and Phil Dike

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Disney may have been aware that "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs" would succeed long before the project was released, but he had probably had no idea of what to expect from the audience when they saw "Fantasia," a film of which his studio calls 'the grand experiment.' Released in 1940, the film was hardly a financial success, but was instantly acclaimed a movie masterpiece, with it's brave tendencies of weaving animation and music together until the spirited grandeur of art and classic music was the ultimate combined result.

Though the movie did not succeed, it has since returned to theaters numerous times, not to mention finding release on home video, and experiencing a quick and healthy recovery financially-speaking. In the years to come, Walt's great experiment will become his nephew's, since as we speak, Mr. Roy Disney is under supervision of the studio's next large-scale production titled "Fantasia 2000," which will continue on the legacy and beauty that Walt's original vision endured.

But "Fantasia" is not simply a cinematic masterpiece. It is, more or less, a journey through portals and dimensions that can only exist within the parallel universes of our minds. And yet, there it is, on screen and alive. The film embodies Walt's creativity, and deepest enriched imaginations. As we sit and listen to classic music and envision places and stories that take place in them, we often get bright and beautiful pictures, and that is what "Fantasia" brings us; remarkable reflections of our sub-concious visions within the music itself.

The movie, which was probably a gamble for Disney and his studios during it's making, is split up into numerous scenes, combining the talented musical score of our planet's greatest composers and the imaginative and limitless animation of Disney's animators. The film opens with Johan Sebastian Bach's "Tocatta And Fugue In D Minor," assembling the music into what Disney himself believes what we would see if we were listening to this music in a concert hall. Strange shapes appear, objects and colors mix into each other, and several other numerous things become present while this music plays. As it ends, we feel we have not seen a film sequence at all, but actually created it within our minds.

The next sequence is even more hard to believe. Tchaikovky's "The Nutcracker Suite" is filmed with magical and nostalgic pageantry, as each segment of the suite is portrayed with actual moving characters rather than just masses of color like Bach's segment was. "The Sugarplum Fairies," for example, is envisioned with (you guessed it) sugar plum fairies, who light up the dark night with their magic, which they spread on leaves, flowers, and spider webs, silhouetting the elegance of the setting.

Then afterwards, the film gets more serious when it presents the segments of "Rite Of Spring" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." "Rite Of Spring" is a burlesque reflection of what occurred on Earth long before man came into the picture. It shows us the creation of our planet, the rapid evolution, and eventually, the poverty which killed the gigantic dinosaurs. In "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," we see Mickey Mouse in his most memorable guise, assisting a magician in the beginning, but turning his back on him and then attempting to use his magic as his own. The attempt backfires, of course, and this ballet of music and animation marks itself the most memorable of the picture.

The next few sequences also demonstrate the artistic beauty of some composers enduring pieces of music, as well as some of Walt Disney's most hard-core animation techniques. The last half of the film contains music by Schubert and Beethoven, of course, but the best of all these last segments is "A Night On Bald Mountain," which would suggest the possibility of evil sneaking around the obstacles of good to people who probably do not believe in it. The character in this creepy and surreal sequence, Chernobog, sits atop a mountain at night and plays with the souls of the dead, who are tortured in front of his diabolical smile with fire, torment, and many other deathly obstacles. Even Disney himself might consider this scene to be one of the scariest things ever captured in film animation.

The sequence ends with good triumphing, set to the tune of Schubert's lyrical masterpiece "Ave Maria," which is so beautiful to listen to that watching it in "Fantasia" almost brings tears of joy to your eyes.

And what a joy the movie is. It works on every level, from combining music and art to displaying energy and ambition. Disney himself might not consider "Fantasia" to be one of his favorite pieces of film making, but to me, and to most of the other audiences, it is an episodic masterpiece. Calling it one of his greatest achievements is an understatement.

1998, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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