Fantasia- from the Latin ‘phantasia’ meaning “imagination or appearance” - has been the name of a plethora of movies, poems, and fantasy lands (such as in the movie The Neverending Story). Yet the most enduring namesake of the word is Disney’s 1940 Fantasia, an ambitious synthesis of music and art. Today Fantasia remains as a cultural emblem, aesthetic masterpiece, and source of controversy. It has remained my favorite movie for a number of reasons, and this article will discuss the creation, production, and meaning of Disney’s 1940 Fantasia.
“In a profession that has been an unending voyage of discovery in the realms of color, sound and motion, Fantasia represents our most exciting adventure.” Said Disney upon the creation of Fantasia. The film came about following the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937, and the audience for Disney’s “Silly Symphonies”. The animated shorts were accompanied by music, and Disney wanted to use Dukas’ The Sorcerer's Apprentice for a film starring Mickey Mouse. Soon Fantasia grew in length and magnitude, with eight musical selections being chosen for the movie while others were shelved for later releases.
The film, accompanied by the masterful arrangement of Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski, was intended by Disney to “change the history of motion pictures”. The title was suggested by Stokowski, as in classical tradition a fantasia is a piece of music resembling the improvisation that Disney aimed to invoke. Indeed, the film shuns Disney’s traditional story-driven film and features eight short films that range from abstract light shows to a feature on Disney’s most iconic character, Mickey Mouse.
However, the film was a box-office failure upon its release. The company was nearly driven to bankruptcy. Critics scorned the film’s length, pretentiousness, and abstractness. It wasn’t until the 60’s that the movie gained popularity in a generation enamored by psychedelics and experimental films.
Dali’s Dalliance with Fantasia
Salvador Dali was once a part of the creation of Fantasia. In 1945, after encouragement by Disney, he began working on a short surrealistic piece called “Destino”. However, due to divergent ideas on the short piece, Disney scrapped the piece. The link to Dali’s work is attached if you are interested in watching it: https://youtu.be/rMLVqQDeY58
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
During research into the film, I learned that the famous “Sorcerer's Apprentice” segment, which features Mickey, is based on a poem by Goethe. The Fantasia film includes much of the original plot of Goethe’s poem, with a few tweaks to make it more Disney-friendly. The poem is about a young apprentice who disobeys his master while he is out and causes a disaster. The Disney segment contains the same story, and there are many parallels between the poem and the film.
That old sorcerer has vanished.
-Goethe, Der Zauberlehrling
And for once has gone away!
Disney’s Fantasia is a musical and aesthetic masterpiece that has endured as a cultural emblem for decades. Despite the challenges it has faced, it redefined what cinema could be and represent. With its stunning, intricate animation and timeless music, Fantasia truly changed the experience of movie watching for the entire world.
Breanna Crossman is a 17-year-old writer from Orange County, California who currently resides on Long Island. She writes for Neutral Citizen Journalism and runs Spiritus Mundi Review, an interdisciplinary arts magazine. When she is not reading or writing, you can find her drinking coffee, watching Hayao Miyazaki films, and hanging out with her cat. Instagram: @breannacrossman