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Mar 31

Movie March – Fantasia

Don’t (fan)tase me bro!

I have only one memory of Fantasia. Abject terror. I couldn’t tell you why, I watched it on VHS once when I was merely a toddler and so can’t remember anything about the film other than it has Mickey on the cover standing in a spotlight. I’ve not seen it since, partly because I’ve never had a reason to go back to it. But with more recent Disney films like Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen renewing my faith in Western animation, and seeing as this is the last Movie March review, it seemed as good a time as any to delve back into my childhood abyss and find out what I think of Fantasia 20 years later.

So for those wondering “what is Fantasia”, its one of Disney’s more unusual endeavours. The nearly 75 year old film would be better described as a collection of AMVs done by Disney to various pieces of notable classical music. Even if you don’t recognise the titles or composers, you’ll know most of the tunes, with iconic ditties that have survived the test of time chosen.

There’s no overarching narrative, each piece is very much its own beast, starting from very simple collections of shapes and lines for the first song but growing more complex as you see The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, mythological creatures and Satan’s hordes, and a nostalgic look back on evolution and what scientists thought happened during the era of the dinosaurs (science has advanced a lot in the past century).

Sadly any mystique or wonderment of what direction the music will take the animation in is regularly ruined by narrator Deems Taylor (or Corey Burton, but if that was overdubbed then Disney did a damn good job) as he explains the spectacles you’re about to witness, often causing your mind to wander during the longer segments as you know what’s going to happen.

A shame too, he’s a good narrator otherwise…

The animation holds up really well for its age, as you’d hope, not looking too out of place alongside modern Disney endeavours, an impressive feat in an era before computers, made all the more stark during the intermission where the “soundtrack”, a line which fluctuates with the music, something so common nowadays on PCs makes a guest appearance.

There are of course various Disney tropes, this is from an era where they were new and exciting after all. Near enough everyone leads very happy lives with the people they love, drunk god Bacchus is always shown to be jolly, and all the female characters have long eyelashes and do that demure flutter. The only real dark “undisney” moment in the film is Mickey taking an axe to his living broom in the shadows, which must’ve been my childhood moment of terror.

There’s little else to say though, as this is essentially animation for the sake of animation. Art, with little narrative focus, which the film openly admits straight from the get-go. My big problem is if this wants to be the spectacle of music realised through animation that it desires, why tell you what you will be seeing instead of aiding the viewer’s imagination, and why some of what you see doesn’t gel with what you hear. A stegosaurus is killed after a fight with a T-Rex (no blood, by the way), and a very upbeat jolly sound accompanies the moment.

The film also ends on an odd note. After having Satan control the night with his demonic forces, dancing puppets and nude devils (welcome to the 40s where nudity wasn’t such a big issue apparently, both those and female centaurs are topless during the film), you see him recoil as bells break in the new dawn, before watching an army of people walk with spheres of light through a forest, before fading to the light at the end of the tunnel welcoming in a new day. It’s a very long, slow and odd end to a long, slow and odd piece.

Certainly if you want an example of what animation was way back when, this is a brilliant look into the mind of Walt Disney, but if you’re after something a bit more engaging, best stick to the usual assortment of his works. Or just put some music on, close your eyes and let your imagination take you on your own journey

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And that’s a wrap on Movie March! Thanks for reading, and if you’re one of the myriad people who got linked to the Top Ten and decided to stick around, many many thanks and I hope you like what you see. A lot of April will be dedicated to the new season of anime, and if you’re interested in talking about the shows you’re watching on a weekly basis, or just want to put your own opinion piece up, we’d love you to get in touch and contribute! Be it me, Reaf or one of the committee, let us know. Or you could tweet us, or write on the Facebook, or post on the forums! And hey, if people liked Movie March, maybe we’ll do it again next year. I’m bound to have a backlog of stuff to watch once more by then…