Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (ss), Samuel Armstrong
Nutcracker Suite (ss), Samuel Armstrong
The Sorcerer`s Apprentice (ss), James Algar
Rite of Spring (ss), Bill Roberts and Paul Satterfield
"Pastoral" Symphony (ss), Hamilton Luske, Jim Handley and Ford Beebe
Dance of the Hours (ss), T. Hee and Norm Ferguson
Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria (ss), Wilfred Jackson
A simple idea, but at the time it was revolutionary: mixing classical music and animation, interpreting the works of great composers in the visual world. Walt Disney’s bold experiment Fantasia paid off in a rich, vibrant and often hilarious feature film.
Fantasia opens with narration from Deems Taylor (then the voice of Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts), who outlines the idea behind Fantasia. The Philadelphia Orchestra, with conductor Leopold Stokowski, is shown in silhouette as Taylor explains that some music tells a story, other music paints pictures, and some music, “absolute music,” exists for its own sake.
This leads to the film’s first featured piece, Bach’s "Toccata and Fugue in D minor," illustrated through a series of abstract images of lines, shadows, waves and the like. Tchaikovsky’s "Nutcracker Suite" follows, a ballet of anthropomorphic mushrooms, fish and flowers.
The third segment is probably the most famous, a version of Paul Dukas’ "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" starring Mickey Mouse as the title character. Dabbling in his master’s arts, Mickey animates a broomstick to fetch water for him. While Mickey dreams of glory, things get out of control, leading to a raging flood only the master can stop.
The mood turns serious again with Stravinsky’s "The Rite of Spring," charting the growth of the earth from lifeless orb through the age of dinosaurs. Following the Stravinsky ballet is Beethoven’s "Pastoral Symphony," interpreted through the goings-on of Zeus and the other Mount Olympians.
Things get zany with a lively ballet spoof set to "Dance of the Hours," enacted by elephants, ostriches, alligators and pirouetting hippos. The film’s conclusion is a two-parter, beginning with a diabolical dance to Moussorgsky’s "Night on Bald Mountain" and ending with the triumph of good over evil to the strains of Schubert’s "Ave Maria."
Adding to the spectacle of Disney’s endeavor was the creation of a new stereophonic sound system. The new system was costly, and as a result, the film’s initial release was limited to those few theaters able to afford the conversion. Remixed and re-edited over the ensuing years, Fantasia received a proper release for its fiftieth anniversary in 1990, featuring restored visuals and sound.
Ten years later, on New Years Day 2000, Walt Disney's nephew Roy presented Fantasia 2000, the long-awaited follow-up to his uncle's masterpiece. Originally shown only in the extra-large IMAX format, Fantasia 2000 illustrated seven more classic pieces, from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and retained the old favorite "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."
A success in IMAX form, Fantasia 2000 rekindled the flame of Walt's original vision, that the Fantasia experience would be updated with new pieces as the years went on, bringing high culture to the masses in a form that everyone could enjoy.