Saturday, 20 November 2010

Happy Belated 70th Birthday, Fantasia!

I know, Fantasia already celebrated it's 70th anniversary last week - but I hope the celebration is still here, and I was due to write one last week and I'm definately overdue - but please forgive my absence! (Look at Brian Sibley's wonderful article on the film).

As you know: Fantasia has turn 70 years after it's original roadshow New York premiere - and it was Walt Disney's third ever animated-feature and Walt Disney manage to think of something different and I think Fantasia is very influencing, with a combined of an old famous musical-piece and it's used with animation - what a genius Walt was, and I'm glad Walt Disney made the film, and what would the world ever be like without Fantasia?
Originally, the film was considered a box-office flop and it took more than 30 years to find it's own audience and Walt Disney was long-gone when the film finally made a profit, and it's a shame he wasn't alive to see it!
The first time, I ever saw the movie Fantasia was in Christmas 2004, and at the time, I've seen most of the Disney films and never "Fantasia", and I was interested in seeing it. I got the VHS copy from my Christmas stocking, and I was happy and I thanked the person who got me the tape. I watched it from the very beginning and I saw Deems Taylor's narrative instructions - and they inspired me a lot, and the moment I saw the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor segment (composed by Johann Sebastian Bach), and I thought "WOW", it was just amazing, I loved the artwork, and I thought it was very clever of how the the music followed. So, I spent my Saturdays watching the film over and over, and I never got tired of it - I was still pretty amazed, and I was even interested enough to see the film's ending credits because I wanted to know who worked on the film!
Although the film lacks dialogue and there isn't really any specific plot, but it's just so perfect! I remember when we were giving any old tapes that we hardly watched anymore, and I never wanted to give away Fantasia because it's so brilliant and such a gem - and I thought it was completely not worth the give away. I still have the VHS copy on me and it was actually the 50th anniversary copy from 1991 (I think). I have the film on my iPod and I can watch it anywhere I go!
Toccata and Fugue in "D" Minor composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, and it was the first segment in the feature, and it was directed by Sam Armstrong. Although, the segment has no plot whatsoever, and it doesn't mean anything - but it's very artistic, and a lot of amazing effects animation in the segment. Such beautiful crafting and artwork that made the sequence possible - and it's like a painting, except it's animated and done a million times!

The Nutcracker Suite (composed by Tchaikovsky), and directed (again) by Sam Armstrong - it's probably the most famous piece of music composed on the film. Although, it isn't the same story as it was originally written, and there is no nutcracker in this animated version, but the way that Disney and his staff is just brilliant and and it's very arty; and it's combined with multiple sequences, and probably the most memorable sequence in this piece, is the mushroom dance, animated by Art Babbitt. Such brilliant staging and it's amazing of how at times, the mushrooms are getting bigger, and then they get smaller! Don Lusk's Arabian Fish Dance segment is just sparkling and glamorous, and the studio never achieved such an astonishing effect before! The Sugar-Plum Fairies are just so colorful and the animators who worked on this film, had been sweating their skin off creating such brilliant effects for the segment!

This is a very nice segment of the film, the music and piece is very memorable, even though not all the piece is in it!
Now we move onto The Soceror's Apprentice, directed by James Algar and composed by Paul Dukas, (probably the most memorable segment on the Fantasia program), and it features the most famous Disney star of all, Mickey Mouse. Now, at the time Mickey's popularity was declining, and as a comeback, Walt wanted to make a very special short about Mickey and that's what later became Fantasia. The story is pretty fun, and according to Deems Taylor, it was said that the story came first and then the composer wrote the music to go with it.
Although, the music later became very well known because of the Mickey short, and the broomsticks were pretty entertaining because Mickey couldn't control the spell, and eventually the strong water effects turned into a cyclone. It was also the first Mickey production where Mickey Mouse has a new design - new eyes, taller body and skin colour on his face, which was designed by Fred Moore. At the very end of the segment, we see Mickey in silhouette and shakes his hand to Leopold Stokowski (the film's conductor).
The Rite of Spring (one of my favourite productions on the film, and also one of my favourite pieces of music composed by one of my favourite composers, Igor Stravinsky). It's probably got the most effects animation than any segment of the entire feature. The effects are done rather differently than any other segment, and even the waves are so strong, it's like they animated it with oil pastels, that amazes me!
Although, Disney took the rights of The Rite of Spring and did it his own way, the original ballet was done differently (see my article) and it was a completely different story about a girl who has to dance furiously as she is sacrificed. Although, Disney and his storymen wanted to change the story rather differently, instead of showing tribal dances - he wanted to retell the story of what the Earth would have looked like, millions and millions of years ago. The dinosaurs were a hard task to animate, I mean - you know's how a dinosaur would have worked millions and millions years ago, or how pterodactyls flew that time. But, probably the most memorable sequence is the fight of the Tyrannosaurus-Rex and the stegosaurus, and it was powerfully animated by Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman. Such brilliant monumental weight was brought into this, and Woolie had made such a brilliant achievement, and it was a very powerful use of staging.

"The Rite of Spring" was set in three parts: one was the Creation of the Earth, or the "Genesis", and it showed on how God probably created the earth (although it doesn't follow the "7 day" pattern), and then the second part shows evolution taking its course, and how the dinosaurs lives. The name "dinosaur" actually comes in two Greek words meaning "terrible lizard" which was deinos and sauros. The final part of the segment was the extinction of the dinosaurs, when there were days of droughts and boiling temperatures, and that the dinosaurs were pushing to the point of collapsing - and as soon as the dinosaurs were dead and it's skin revolted and became skeletons (which would in a million of years time become discovered by archaeologists), and what amazes me the most in this segment is the final part, and that's when the land is erupted by a heavy earthquake, and I loved the astonishing effect, and the fact that the effects animator would sit in their desks, and working on those scenes for hours, or days!!
Afterwards, Fantasia has its 15-minute intermission, and then we continue the second half:
The Pastoral Symphony (composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, "Pastoral" is Beethoven's No. 6 Symphony), and the segment was directed by Ham Luske, Ford Beebe and Jim Handley. This is probably the most colourful segment, and it's art direction is unique and wonderful, and it was probably the first time that an animator or a background painter could use any colours they wanted.
It's one of the longest segments in the film, and there's multiple character featuring centaurs, centaurettes, unicorns, fawns, the Gods, etc. The centaurettes were hugely influenced and designed by Fred Moore, and they are very pretty and believable; they feel human.
The music is very sweet and it may be soppy at times, but just very beautiful stuff! Also, some funny of scenes of Bacchus (the God of wine) and his donkey, unfortunately named "Jacchus", and most of those scenes were animated by Ward Kimball, and it was pretty amusing, and all the centaurs and centaurettes are throwing a party and having a very brilliant time - until that is all interrupted by a storm, and raindrops are dropping on land, until Zeus shows up and attempts to throw thunder bolts at Bacchus and his donkey, and then strong winds show up, and it goes on until Zeus is tried and then it reaches morning.
A very charming sequence, although the only thing that's a pity was in it's original run; their was a racial stereotype on a black centaurettes who appears to be a maid named Sunflower, and is pretty much stereotyped, and at the time; black people didn't have the civil rights in America like they do today, and now it's cut from the film and never restored; and I'm glad it was removed, because there never seems to be a bad jump on the music.

Dance of the Hours (composed by Poncheili) and directed by Norm Ferguson and T. Hee, and this is probably the most humorous segment of Fantasia; the gags are hilarious and it's very interesting to see ballerinas and dancers which are animals, and the segment is unique and funny. The film opens with the morning, and there are a group of ostriches that are dancing for the morning, and they use fruit (probably breaking the fast), and then they fight over a group of grapes; and then it reaches afternoon and the hippos dance for the afternoon, and then as the leader Hippo is tired and sleeps. The evening reaches, and a group of elephants dance of the evenings, and then the last group enters; blowing away the elephants out of scene - and the alligators show up, and dance the somber hours of the night. Then there is a finale, with all the ostriches, hippos, elephants and alligators all dance at midnight! I guess, that's why it's called the Dance of the Hours.

Night on Bald Mountain which is the last segment on the film, and it was composed by Modeste Moussorgsky, and directed by Wilfred Jackson.
This is probably the most darkest segment in the picture, the devil Chernabog who wakes up at night and takes spirits from the dead, and plays around with them and then under his spell, the spirits dance furiously, he brings spirits and turns them into ghosts, skeletons, goblins, harpies, -- Until the sound of church bells, the devil turns back into a mountain, to hide his real face!
The devil was always very frightening to me, and I always thought it was a very scary character, and he was very powerful character, and probably the most evil-looking of all Disney villains, and he's like a giant gargoyle. The animator who made this possible was the one and only Bill Tytla, and he was a master at animating heavy characters and heavy emotions, and I thought he did a terrific job, at animating such a powerful character!
Ave Maria - it's the very last segment of the film, and it was directed by Wilfred Jackson and composed by one of the most famous composers, Franz Schubert (the Ave Maris is part of the Night on Bald Mountain segment), and it's so beautiful and it's nothing like a cartoon has ever done before. The very final scene of when we go through a dark, cathedral and then we see sun rising - and it's meant to show the hope of life, over the powers of despair and death!
That's my Fantasia article, and I hope Fantasia will still be a great legend for another 70 years and so on, and I'm hoping to get the new Fantasia DVD soon!


Eric Noble said...

Very nice article. I hope to get the new Fantasia DVD too. Unfortunately, I think it will be a redone version, where the commentary track by Deems Taylor is replaced by another one with Corey Burton. Deems Taylor is still in the movie, but his voice has been replaced. That's what makes me mad.

Steven Hartley said...

I agree with you, I don't understand why his voice needs to be re-dubbed.

BUT, in my VHS copy - it has Deems Taylor's original voice in his narrative introductions, but it only shows about one third of his narrative introductions when talking about the pieces of music.

Eric Noble said...

I have that copy too. I don't want to get rid of it. I hope some Disney archivist can find the lost Deems taylor footage and put it back in the film.

I've watched that film since I was a little kid. I used to watch it everyday, and I also used to conduct along with Leopold.

Steven Hartley said...

I don't recall that I conducted along with Stokowski - but I do remember the first conduction for "Toccata and Fudge" and the musicians are in silhouette and I used to pretend I played the harp and violins!

I wish I could play these instruments, although it requires a lot of practice and it's not as easy as you see it. I play a little bit of guitar and it's not as easy as I thought it would be!

Eric Noble said...

I know, I wish I had given more effort into playing the clarinet when I was in elementary school. But then again, I may not have gone on the path I have if I did.