As a kid, I will admit, I hated this movie with a passion. The film has no story line, barely any dialogue, no engaging characters. The music didn’t even have any lyrics! In short, my eight-year-old self found it completely boring. What I’ve come to realize now is Fantasia is no kid’s movie. It’s art in every sense of the word. And, after viewing the film for the first time as an adult, I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for Walt’s crown jewel. Indeed, The New York Times review in 1940 said, “Motion-picture history was made.” And that’s no exaggeration.
William, on the other hand, has loved this movie since his first viewing. He has tried many times over the years to get me to watch it with him, but my eight-year-old memories turned him down every time. He’s likely pretty excited now to know that I’ll be up for several more viewings over the course of our lives.
Fantasia, in many ways, is a collection of the first ever music videos, merging some of the most famous classical arrangements with the beautiful animation for which Disney is famous. Musical numbers include Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours and a selection of pieces from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.
Perhaps most interestingly, the film features the comeback of Mickey Mouse, who was apparently waning in popularity to characters like Donald Duck and Goofy at the time. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring Mickey as the impressionable young apprentice of Yen Sid (Disney spelled backwards) who tries to imitate his master’s power but eventually loses control, was originally intended for release as a short all on its own. But growing production costs forced Walt to reconsider, and instead he set the piece as the focal point of Fantasia and built the rest of the film around it.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has become one of the more famous reiterations of Mickey Mouse that even an entire theme park (complete with broomstick topiaries) at Walt Disney World in Florida has been built around that iconic hat. The images of the chopped broomsticks returning to life even became the subject of an Itchy and Scratchy spoof more than a half century later.
And to add to the fun facts about this film, it marks the first time an animated character had contact with a human on film, as seen in the final moments of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence when Mickey shakes conductor Leopold Stokowski’s hand. It is also Disney’s only animated feature to hit the two-hour mark in length.
The film is widely regarded as Walt’s greatest creative and technical work, continuing to resonate with audiences over 70 years later. Fitting, then, that the film also marks the last time Walt himself would lend his voice to his beloved mouse, which is poignantly captured when Mickey congratulates Mr. Stokowski on the masterpiece that is Fantasia.