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Fantasia (1940) is an animated film which was a Walt Disney experiment in color and music. The soundtrack of the film consists of a concert of classical music, played by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. The screen images, almost all animated, illustrate or accompany the concert in various ways.

Table of contents
1 Production and first release
2 Music
3 Release history
4 Critical reception
5 Updates
6 External Links

Production and first release

Having originally designed the film as a single cartoon episode of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Disney realized that the full work would be too expensive to do. Taking Stokowski's advice, he decided to expand it into a single film with several musical pieces.

To provide continuity and explanation, the composer and music critic Deems Taylor was recruited to provide narrative introductions.

Bela Lugosi served as a live action model for Chernabog, the demon in Night on Bald Mountain. Lugosi spent several days at the Disney studios, where he was filmed doing evil, demon-like poses for the animators to use as a reference.

The film was released on November 13, 1940.

Fantasia was the first film released in a multichannel (stereo) sound format (see Fantasound). The film also marked the first use of the click track while recording the soundtrack, overdubbing of orchestral parts, simultaneous multitrack recording and led to the development of a multichannel surround system.


The composers and their works used in order are:

Most of the works played in the film are program music; that is, instrumental music that depicts actual events in sound. However, the Disney program is generally not the same as the original. Stravinsky's ballet was about the dances and rituals of the pagan ancestors of the Russians, not about dinosaurs. Beethoven meant to depict a joyous and inspiring visit to the Austrian countryside, not classical mythology. Schubert's music was composed as a song (1825) for single voice and piano ("Ellens dritter Gesang"; "Ellen's third song"), with German words translated by Adam Storck from Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake. In the song, the character Ellen prays to the Virgin Mary while in hiding. The song was subsequently reset to the Latin prayer Ave Maria.

Only the Dukas work is a straight setting of the composer's original intention. The story told musically by Dukas is taken from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poem "Der Zauberlehrling." The Dukas is often considered the best sketch in the film, and was the only sequence carried over into Fantasia 2000 (see below).

Release history

Fantasia was not a box-office hit upon its initial release, and critics of the time felt that Disney was attempting to reach a "high-brow" audience. The movie did not turn a profit until its re-release in the late 1960s. Its failure left Disney in financial straits, which is why he followed Fantasia with a relatively low-budget feature, Dumbo.

The 1960 theatrical re-release was edited, and at least one character--Sunflower, a centaur--was eliminated from the edited version. According to the Memory Hole, "Performing menial duties for the blonde, white female centaurs, Sunflower is a racial stereotype along the lines of Amos and Andy, Buckwheat, and Aunt Jemima."

In the 1970s, Fantasia was a favorite movie of those who liked to take illicit drugs and watch the film's colorful sequences. This association eventually faded as the psychedelic era passed.

Then, for its 1982 re-issue, as motion picture sound technology was advancing, Disney decided to completely re-record the film's soundtrack with a new digital recording arranged and conducted by Irwin Kostal, marking the first ever release of a motion picture with digital stereo sound. However, judicial edits were made, including replacing Deems Taylor's original narration with a sound-alike. This would be the version released numerous times throughout the 1980s.

For its 50th Anniversary in 1990, Disney decided to go back to the original FantaSound tracks, and using whatever film elements were still available, restored the film to more or less its original format to closely resemble the 1947 General Release Version. Both the picture and the FantaSound tracks were digitally remastered, and thus a new generation was able to experience the film with Leopold Stokowski's original Philadelphia Orchestra recordings.

Finally, for its 60th Anniversary DVD release, Disney recovered the remaining lost footage from the Deems Taylor segments that had been cut away decades earlier for general release, and was able to reconstruct the original 125-minute 1940 Roadshow version, complete with intermission. However, most of Taylor's narration was thrown away, which made it possible for a voice actor to completely re-record Taylor's lines, and some portions from the "Beethoven 6th Symphony" were "zoomed in" (to avoid showing the black centaur). Beyond that, this is the most complete version of the film that currently exists.

Critical reception

The movie won two Honorary Academy Awards:

Critics to this day differ in their evaluation of the film. There are certainly many critics who admire the film greatly, particularly the animation work, and the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Others have taken a more negative view, often invoking the rather loaded word kitsch. For instance, the famed movie critic Pauline Kael wrote "'The Sorcerer's Apprentice,' featuring Mickey Mouse, and parts of other sequences are first-rate Disney, but the total effect is grotesquely kitschy." The Beethoven sequence is frequently singled out for criticism.

Classical music lovers who know the pieces are sometimes offended by the cuts that were taken, which were particularly heavy in the Beethoven. The cuts in The Rite of Spring angered Igor Stravinsky, the only living composer whose work was represented in the film.

Young children often enjoy the movie, particularly the dinosaur sequence. Parents who own a copy and let their children watch repeatedly are sometimes startled to hear their toddler singing passages of Stravinsky.


Disney had wanted to Fantasia to be an ongoing project, ideally with a new release each year, but this proved too costly. The plan was to repeat some of the scenes while replacing others with different music and animation, so that each version of the film would include both familiar material and new segments. Ironically, one segment intended for the original Fantasia was completed, then left out of the first release. This segment was Clair De Lune, which was later completely re-worked and re-scored as the Blue Bayou segment of Make Mine Music (1946). The original version of Clair was ultimately restored as a separate movie short and can be found on the Fantasia Legacy supplemental DVD. Other segments such as Ride Of The Valkyries, Swan of Tuonela, and Flight of the Bumblebee were storyboarded but never fully animated, and thus were never put into production for inclusion in a future Fantasia release. It was both World War II and overseas costs that would prevent Disney from revising Fantasia during his lifetime.

Disney's dream was belatedly and finally realized with the 1999 release of Fantasia 2000 in IMAX theaters. Fantasia 2000 reused The Sorcerer's Apprentice with Mickey Mouse, but otherwise consisted entirely of new material.

In 1943, Warner Bros did a Fantasia spoof, A Corny Concerto, with many WB charaters acting out the musical segments (even Elmer Fudd did an impression of Deems Taylor). Then, in 1976, Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto released his own Fantasia parody called Allegro non troppo.

External Links

Also, in the movie version of The Neverending Story, Fantasia is the name of a fictional world containing all of human fantasy; in the book it is called Fantastica.