So Ben didn’t like Pinocchio, eh. Never would’ve guessed from the eight A4 pages of notes he took during and his constant groaning throughout. If he thought that film was “trippy”, Alice In Wonderland is gonna blow his mind! On the upside, we agreed on our disdain. Still, onwards and upwards!
Fantasia. The third offering from the Walt Disney Animation Studios graced our screens for the first time on 13th November 1940 (I mean, didn’t grace my screen. I wasn’t born for another 43 years!). It was an interesting direction for Disney, it only being the third film released and possibly a bit risky, following the box offices smashes of Snow White and Pinocchio being so straight-forward and story-led (like your average film). The ‘film’ consists of 8 different animated segments, set to pieces of well-known classical music. The idea came about after Disney had created the Sorcerers Apprentice for their ‘Silly Symphonies’ (little short films they make of silly… little tunes and stuff) and it ended up costing them a lot more than planned. So, they decided to make an entire feature film around it, adding in another 7 short films to it, resulting in ‘Fantasia’.
The film is presented and narrated by the composer Deems Taylor and the musical pieces are performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, who are composed by Leopold Stokowski. The 8 films are as follows.
- Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach
- Nutcracker Suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas
- Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky
- Intermission/Meet the Soundtrack
- The Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven
- Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli
- Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky and Ave Maria by Franz Schubert
My overall opinion on Fantasia is that it is good for what it is, but just isn’t close to the entertainment value of many other Disney films. I can see what they were trying to do but with Disney generally being aimed at children (although obviously enjoyed by all ages), I can’t see how it would be enjoyed by the target audience.
This could be interesting. I knew the first two films were long cartoons with a conventional (if donkey trafficking can be described as conventional) story to work from. This is classical music with some cartoons added? Ok, let’s see what happens.
The film starts with orchestra. Except it’s the orchestra sound checking. The film goes on for more than two hours so surely they could have trimmed this off. We are now introduced to the “Master of Ceremonies” for the film, none other than the one and only Deems Taylor. Who the fuck is Deems Taylor? He is exquisitely dressed. Seriously overdressed considering this is a children’s film. I mean look at him:
Is this the sort of character that enthralled kids circa 1940? If that’s the case, then this film really hasn’t aged well. You would NEVER have anything like this today. What you probably would have for today’s sensory-bombarded-five-second-attention-span-bastard-children is this:
I expect when Deems starts to lose the children’s attention he wins them over with his party trick of long division? Maybe when he wants to show his reckless side, he will remove his bow-tie? He looks like a Bond villain’s accountant. Considering the film is the edge-of-your-seats-rollercoaster that is classical music, at least this isn’t false advertising I suppose.
The first track is ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor’ by Johann Sebastian Bach. Read that again bearing in mind this is a film designed for youngsters to enjoy. Clearly, this is an age where kids weren’t complete morons. Today he would be introducing Baby Shark performed by some patronising performing arts students. Evolution my arse. The song starts and there are shadows moving in time to the music. How can I review this?! I like the music but there is not much going on. It’s fairly hypnotic though. As the song progresses, I realize this is really artsy and pretentious, which I wasn’t expecting. I really like it though. It works. And it is extremely clever. The thing though, is that we are now in the age of digital visualizers that can instantaneously create generated effects very similar to this, and as convenient as that is for stoners the world over, it takes away the novelty factor for a feature film such as this. To emphasize this point, my daughter has just left the room in under fifteen minutes complaining it’s quite trippy and not very interesting. Definitely not for todays teenagers and she is a pretty damn intelligent one too.
For those of us that enjoy some classical music (and I very much do, although personally I am particularly fond of the modern, often referred to as neo-classical, music that would often be found on a soundtrack to a 21st Century film), this is a pleasure to listen to. However, in my mind at least, we have images of Penises in clouds accompanying it. When I was young, I used to look for the outlines of animals and faces in clouds, but never penises (Peni? Penii? A flock of Penis?). But that is what I’m doing here. While listening to Bach. Mind blown.
It finishes and Deems reappears to tell a joke. Ok he doesn’t tell a joke but his bow-tie is as straight as if it has been checked with a spirit level. That should keep the kids happy.
Next, we have ‘The Nutcracker Suite’ by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The song sounds familiar this time and we are treated to a fairy pissing around with flowers. The fairy then proceeds to wake up another naked fairy in a flower. They both then piss around for a while before we cut to a family of Chinese toadstools having a bit of a jig. Following this we have flowers dancing to the music from the Cadbury’s Fruit ‘n’ Nut adverts, that were common in the UK twenty years ago. The animation is all very good here and it shows a vivid imagination at work, but would I choose to watch it in my own time? Good God no!
As the song continues, we see various oddities in an underwater cave. The usual. Shy fish. What look like sperm dancing in a testicle. Black sperm making a vagina. A flirtatious female sperm fish with a resting bitch face. I am really interested to see when other people watch this if their minds go down this same “everything-is-sperm” rabbit-hole, or if I’m just interpreting the drawings this way due to some form of latent damage.
The piece finishes with a naked fairy turning loads of things gold. Great. Only just realized the piece has been taking us through the seasons. I think I got too distracted with sperm and naked fairies.
Ah, Deems is back to entertain us. Actually, he’s just here to introduce the next piece, Paul Dukas’s ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’. Actually, he doesn’t introduce it, he waffles on and gives a detailed description and complete spoilers to the entire upcoming piece. Thanks Deems. Anyway, Mickey Mouse is playing the apprentice here and the sorcerer is being played by… some old dude. Mickey Mouse has got a job carrying water but is too lazy to carry the water himself, so he bewitches a broom to carry the water for him. The broom keeps spilling water, which begs the question why he couldn’t bewitch something with better dexterity. Mickey falls asleep and has a strange dream where he plays with the sky, not sure how else to explain this. He pisses around with the stars anyway (probably until the middle-aged fairy from Pinocchio transforms into her mythical spirit form and tells him to cut that shit out). When he wakes up, he realizes the broom has got all kinds of carried-away bringing water and caused a bloody great flood.
Mickey decides the only solution is to brutally murder the broom with an axe. Ok I know the broom went somewhat overboard but it was only following instructions and only had good intentions. Karma intervenes however and the shards of broom all spring to life and become brooms themselves, to continue to bring more water to the now truly flooded room. Fortunately, the sorcerer appears to sort shit out. Mickey is then sent back to work and receives a clout with the broom from the somewhat angry Sorcerer as punishment for being a complete dick. Mickey suddenly appears in 1940 to suck up to the conductor who gives him some love in return. End.
Happily, Deems Taylor has been prised away from the coke and groupies long enough to deliver his spoiler-laden introduction to Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”. This piece will take us on a journey from Earths beginnings through millions of years to the extinction of the dinosaurs. I better get comfortable then. Also, we are guaranteed the happy ending of the mass death of an entire species.
We start at the edge of the universe and we zoom in until we reach earth which is molten red. I’m not really liking the music in this one so far. In fairness, most of the music has all sounded quite similar hence my lack of talking about it. Also, and maybe this is just me, there is a limit to how much interest can be extracted from blabbering on about the interplay with the trumpets and violins etc. (If you want a meticulous account of the interplay between trumpets and violins, then you should look elsewhere as this blog won’t be aimed at you).
Time speeds up and we start to see the first signs of life appear on our planet. It is a very educational piece as prior to this I was completely unaware that the first life forms on our humble planet were green translucent robot sperm (if you want a review in which many of the animations are deciphered as man-spume then look no further as this blog is aimed at you!). We fast forward through evolution in the way we were all taught at school. You know, green translucent robot sperm > ugly fish > really ugly fish > dinosaurs. As the years continue to pass (and the music in this piece is boring me enough that it feels like it could be in real-time), the sky becomes full of Pterodactyl’s, which I believe is Latin for ‘Evil-sky-reptile-thingy’. They proceed to eat some green gunk to some horrible music.
We have some cute baby triceratops happily grazing (do dinosaurs graze?) with a load of other dinosaurs before what appears to be a giant robot dinosaur turns up to scare the shit out of all of them (I’m sure your local museum will provide further details). Eventually it gets really hot, the dinosaurs die. The end.
I NEED A BREAK!!! Fortunately, it’s now an intermission. We all need it. Pause button has been pressed.
So, what would be a good way to keep the kids who have already sat through 70 minutes of pure unadulterated classical music interested and stop them fidgeting? I know what you’re thinking. and I whole-heartedly agree, I’m thinking it too. And fortunately, so do the orchestra. Good, so we all agree then. ‘Free-form jazz’ it is!!!! Seriously. The orchestra are playing ‘free form jazz’.
Now the orchestra has got its wild craziness out of its system we can be reacquainted with the ‘wild-crazy’ King himself, Deems Taylor. He wants to introduce us to someone, but who could it be? I know what my guess is. He is introducing us to… the soundtrack. What? Ok, that’s weird. It’s a line that responds to noise from different instruments. It’s quite good fun, the kids would find it funny and takes us back to a time when a moving drawn line was a technological marvel. Right now, I can’t believe I’m reviewing a line on a screen. In case you were wondering, my guess was that he was going to introduce us to his own personal Gimp. You win some, you lose some.
The next piece is “The Pastoral Symphony” by Beethoven. It’s a story about a day in the country. Beethoven set it in Germany but as a day in the country in Germany may be somewhat uneventful Disney have moved it to Mount Olympus. Naturally. So we are going to see many Unicorns and Centaurs etc. I know all this because Deems has explained exactly what will happen in explicit detail. He really must love the sound of his own voice or think that any element of surprise may overexcite the children a little too much.
We have baby unicorns. Really cute actually. Little fawn things playing woodwinds next. Less cute. And finally, we have Pegasus’s (or is it Pegasii?) They all have a good frolic. In the clouds. Deems promised us that this piece had a clear story but thus far I’m just staring at frolicking Pegasii so not convinced yet.
In the water we have some… yup… topless girls. Somewhat unexpected, but ok. As one of them walks out of the lake it becomes apparent that she has a body of a horse. It’s a bit like looking down and discovering a naked girl is in fact a ladyboy but even more disconcerting. From nude Centaurette’s to nude Cherubs next. They’re making a hat out of flowers and stick it on a girl Centaurette’s head. It looks stupid. They stick some flowers into it. Yeah that will help.
Here comes a Centaur. Looks like He-Man mixed with a gameshow host. Mixed with a horse. Other centaurs join him. One by one they pair up with Centaurette’s like some weird swinger’s party. The Cherub’s cheer up a miserable Centaurette with some music. It appears to have worked with the added side-effect of insatiable horniness. A Centaur exploits this aural Viagra and takes her behind a curtain for a damn good seeing to.
A fat old drunken dude arrives on a weird donkey (presumably procured from Pleasure Island in Pinocchio), I think it might be a unicorn runt, but its hard to tell, and all the Centaurs and their Ho’s, Cherubs and Pegasii etc proceed to get drunk with him.
God of course appears, and he is very angry. I think its Zeus, but mythology was never my strong suit. Perhaps because I hate it. God is going to punish the heathens for having fun now. Those debaucherous bastards. For shame! The music has got really angry too. Makes you wonder what the hell went on in Beethoven’s afternoon in the German Countryside to warrant such aggressive music. Perhaps he tripped and rolled down a hill into animal faeces? Or maybe he was eating a beetroot sandwich whilst wearing a brand-new expensive white shirt when much to his dismay, as he takes his first bite, his wife gets trampled by cows? After wrecking shit, Zeus has a nap. Everything is nice again. Eventually the sun sets and everyone sleeps.
Our favourite Master of Ceremonies is back (or as the kids say, MC Deemz) to spoil the plot twists of another story. The next piece is “Dance of the Hours” by Ponchielli. And it’s a ballet. So, the first scene starts wi…. Wait, fucking ballet? I’ve sat through nearly one hundred minutes of this and I’m supposed to watch fucking ballet? If you have an aversion to bad language skip forward to the next piece as ballet deeply angers me.
So, the scene starts with a girl Ostrich. Doing ballet. I really fucking hate ballet so much, this is torture. What makes it worse is that it is not just fucking ballet but fucking cartoon fucking ostriches doing fucking ballet. Ok look, this isn’t working out, I tell you what, I’ll talk about something else while this is going on and I’ll only go back to it if something interesting happens.
So, I’m currently drinking an ale that has been made with banana of all things. It tastes a lot like liquid banana bread, and the flavour generally is surpri… Oh my god A hippo is about to be gangbanged by a herd of elephants. Ah, alas and alack they just do ballet together. So, the flavour generally is surprisingly nice, but I’m unlikely to buy it again. God I’m feeling peckish now, time for crisps. Ok I give up, there’s lots of stuff happening involving hippo’s, elephants and crocodiles but I just can’t focus on it. If anyone else out there is disappointed with my efforts on this piece, feel free to write your own review for it, email it to the wife at Kerry@disneyguideforthemisguided.com and I’ll post it at a later date. But for now, I’m only going to add anything else for this particular section if something interests me…
The last piece is “Night on a Bald Mountain” (wait, is it quoting nits that travel from my kids heads to mine?) by Modest Mussorgsky (who the hell is that? I’ve heard of all the other composers but ‘Modest Mussorgsky’?! Maybe he didn’t achieve as great a fame as he could have because he was too… what’s the word… humble), mashed up with “Ave Maria” by Schubert. I hate “Ave Maria” even more than I hate ballet. And if you hadn’t noticed, I really don’t like ballet.
So, we’re in what looks like a German town. As we already established in Pinocchio, that means nothing, and it could just as well be Italy, Turkey or Fiji. Wherever it is, Satan’s bored (I’ve just been corrected that it is in fact ‘Chernabog’, which is a demon) and tickling rooftops. Oh, and raising an army of the dead. I really don’t like this song either, and we haven’t even got to ‘Ave Maria’ yet. I’m losing the will to live, so I’m going to write my conclusion, and let you know if anything important happens.
I really want to like this film. I think it’s a great concept but as I’ve already discussed, I think the kids of today will not respond to this film in the same way as the kids of yesteryear. Pixar and Marvel, amongst others, provide too many thrills and spills for Stravinsky and co to compete with. By the way the Chernabog looking quite scary here and would probably scare the crap out of some smaller children. Also, with modern technology, a lot of the animations look too retro and some of the ingenious drawing tricks of the age, now lose their novelty somewhat. Back to Mussorgsky and there are some weird creatures with their tits out on the screen.
I suspect most film critics would give this movie great reviews. Music critics tend to like to show they’re on the pulse and down with the kids, and as a result compliment trendiness and criticize pretention. Film critics on the other hand, love to show how they understand and revere art, and the more pretentious it is the better. And let’s face it, Fantasia is pretty pretentious. Fucking ‘Ave Maria’ is playing, I need to wrap this up. The fact is, it’s a difficult one to review as there is no overarching story and essentially its just been TWO HOURS of classical music, save for a free-form jazz interlude with some drawing’s underneath. The last two pieces in particular didn’t hold my attention, but I think you have probably already figured that bit out. The film is over, and I feel exhausted and mentally drained. And I really hate ballet.