After mentioning this film plenty of times in posts on various entries on the 1001 Classical Works list, it’s finally time to talk about Fantasia. I find it hard to imagine how much pressure was on this film to be successful after Pinocchio (that had been released just 9 months earlier in February 1940) had failed to break even. Then to have the worst happen… not only does Fantasia pretty much bomb in the box office despite some critical acclaim, but it takes over two decades to break even.
I know that this failure was partly due to the Second World War cutting off international markets, but it feels like the ticket-buying public just weren’t ready for an animated film that does interpretive short pieces on classical music. Then again, can you imagine Dreamworks or Illumination turning a big profit on such a risk if it was their big summer release? Exactly.
These might be words that I might be forced to eat at during a later film, but Fantasia really is the Disney Animated Studios at their most creative. In these two hours and seven segments we see all shades of Disney. Night on Bald Mountain and the dinosaur fight in The Rite of Spring are incredibly dark, Dance of the Hours shows Disney’s puckish side and then there’s the very experimental opener put to Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.
I wish I could say that watching Fantasia at a young age (and re-watching the VHS plenty of times) gave me an interest in classical music that lasted. It didn’t. What it did, however, was act as a door-wedge to ensure that I would be open to, and stay open to, it in the future. Just weird that the catalyst to burst that door off it’s hinges and keep me permanently interested would be drawings from Japan.
Fantasia was such a statement of intent from Disney to be experimental that it would have been so cool to see them pull off all of their ideas. If they’d worked out this could have been a roadshow with interchangeable segments and contain experiments in 3D and the use of smell in the cinema. Who knows, if this film hadn’t bombed the way it did (reviews comparing this to Nazism wouldn’t have helped) just imagine how much further Disney could have taken this concept.
As it stands, Fantasia is a major highlight in the Disney canon and falls within my Top 10 Disney movies – however, we aren’t done with the classics yet. Next film chronologically is Dumbo, so I need to get ready to write through my tears.