Monday, January 18, 2010
#3: Fantasia (1940)
Now Disney never was one to stay in his own little conceptual box, as evidenced by his next incredibly ambitious picture 'Fantasia.' Partnered with renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski, this film is a series of animated segments put to classic musical compositions. Disney's original idea behind Fantasia was for it to be more of an regular event than a singular film; every year or so it would be released again with all new segments, as well as some old ones. Unfortunately due to the film not doing so hot financially, and also a little thing called World War II, this would never come to pass. Some of the cut or rejected sequences ended up in some of Disney's later compilation films, and ultimately in 1999 'Fantasia 2000' fulfilled Walt's dream of a follow-up. But more on that later. Much later.
There are eight segments, each introduced by the master of ceremonies, giving us a background on the musical piece and its interpretation by the artists. The first is a series of ambiguous colors and shapes set to Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Next, the Nutcracker Suite showing the changing of the seasons, and other natural floral and fauna, like mushrooms, lilies and... fairies. Then, undeniably the most infamous, the Sorcerer's Apprentice where Mickey Mouse misuses powers-that-be he can't control. Then the Rite of Spring shows the grandeur of pre-history, from single celled organisms to the fall of the dinosaurs. After an intermission (where all the musicians are shown leaving), we meet the "soundtrack," a visual depiction of the waveforms of the instruments. Rounding out the second act is centaurs and Greek gods set to the Pastoral Symphony, a ballet of alligators, elephants and hippos set to Dance of the Hours, and a horrific demon overlord reigning terror to the tune of Night on Bald Mountain, but all is okay when the sun rises to Ave Maria. This movie pushes two hours long, by the way.
In a movie with so many isolated segments, of course some will be better than others. I enjoyed the Nutcracker segment, the light music fit well with the delicate handling of the figures picture. Of course the Sorcerer's Apprentice was fantastic, good thing to as Walt intended it to be a grand revival for the character, who had since been gone from the limelight. It's probably the most successful segment for the film's purposes, as it has the strongest connection of music and pictures, where all the beats in the music are represented and pulled off wonderfully. I give runner-up prize to Dance of the Hours. How the animators managed to get a hippo to have its proper mass, yet still look absolutely graceful is beyond me. The stand-off ballet between the hippos and gators is a lot of fun to watch, and as the music gets more chaotic at the end, the animation responds in kind, getting more and more crazed as characters start chasing each other and it all ends in a big mess. Fantastic.
While quite a few segments maintained my interest the whole way, I'd say just as many... did not. The Rites of Spring is about 22 minutes, and not a lot really happens in it. There's just a lot of shots of the black abyss of the sea when life first began to form, and glory shots of pre-historic Earth. Even when the dinosaurs show up, it's not much use. The Pastoral Symphony is in two parts, and I began to lose interest in the centaur characters after the first, and not even the Greek gods perked it back up. The ambiguous pictorial style of the opening grew a bit tiresome, but at least it was brief. The other two segments combined make up almost half of the whole movie, and they're the least interesting to me. What a faux pas.
Oh yeah! The last segment... total nightmare. That demon thing looks amazing. Everything about the segment was amazing, and surprisingly dark and sinister to end on. Yeah, it ends with Ave Maria, but still, it's an odd, but incredibly effective closer. The music just builds and builds as the demonic forces have a grand old time over this poor village, but as the music settles, the sun rises, and leads into the final piece of hope and prosperity. Now idn't that nice...
Verdict? For a movie like this, you have to look at the sum of its parts. Also, thankfully, thanks to new media technology, we can fast-forward through the boring parts. This movie is a must-see in terms of its success conceptually and artistically, but feel free to skip to the next segment if things start getting dull. I wish I could, but I didn't. I stuck through the whole thing, because I'm on a sacred mission dammit.