. . . .AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: “FANTASIA” (1940)

Fantasia is a 2-D animation film released on November 13, 1940, produced by Walt Disney and released by Walt Disney Productions. It debuted at the Broadway Theater in New York City. The third feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, the film consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski, with seven of the pieces performed by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. The reasoning behind the creation of Fantasia was to introduce viewers to classical music through the images of animation.  Characters who bring to life some of the world’s best known classical music — the comedy of Mickey Mouse as a troublemaking apprentice to the sorcerer, Yen Sid (Disney spelled backwards), the beauty of winged fairies and cascading snowflakes, thunder from mountaintops, and nimble hippos performing ballet in tutus. Music critic and composer Deems Taylor, as narrator, introduces each segment in live-action scenes at the beginning of each symphonic scene. Fantasia was the first American film to use stereophonic sound as well as the first and only film

fantasia_fantasound_poster-r

recorded in Fantasound  Originally meant to be a film with sequels of animated classics added over the next few years, the film received mixed reactions and lost revenue it would have received due to the film’s inaccessibility to European audiences during World War II. The scenes of the film are as follows: The program as presented in the 1940 roadshow version.

  • Introduction: Live-action photography of members of the orchestra gathering and tuning their instruments. Deems Taylor joins the orchestra to introduce the film’s program.
  • Toccata and Fugue in D Minor: Live-action shots of the orchestra illuminated in blue and gold, backed by superimposed shadows. The number segues into abstract animated patterns, lines, shapes and cloud formations.[2]
  • Nutcracker Suite: A selection of pieces from the ballet depicts the changing of the seasons from summer to autumn to winter. A variety of dances are presented with fairies, fish, flowers, mushrooms, and leaves, including “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, “Chinese Dance”, “Dance of the Flutes”, “Arabian Dance”, “Russian Dance” and “Waltz of the Flowers”.[3]
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Based on Goethe‘s 1797 poem Der Zauberlehrling. Mickey Mouse, an apprentice of sorcerer Yen Sid, attempts some of his master’s magic tricks before knowing how to control them.[4]
  • The Rite of Spring: A visual history of the Earth’s beginnings is depicted to selected sections of the ballet, from the planet’s formation to the first living creatures, followed by the reign and extinction of the dinosaurs.[5]
  • Intermission/Meet the Soundtrack: The musicians depart and the Fantasia title card is revealed. After the intermission there is a brief jam session of jazz music led by the clarinettist as the orchestra members return. Then a humorously stylized demonstration of how sound is rendered on film is shown, where the sound track “character”, initially a straight white line, changes into different shapes and colors based on the sounds played.[6]
  • The Pastoral Symphony: A mythical ancient Greek world of centaurs, cupids, fauns and other figures from classical mythology. A gathering for a festival to honor Bacchus, the god of wine, is interrupted by Zeus who creates a storm and throws lightning bolts at the attendees.[7]
  • Dance of the Hours: A comic ballet featuring Madame Upanova and her ostriches (Morning); Hyacinth Hippo and her servants (Afternoon); Elephanchine and her bubble-blowing elephant troupe (Evening); and Ben Ali Gator and his troop of alligators (Night). The finale sees all the characters dancing together until the palace collapses.[8]
  • Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria: At midnight the devil Chernabog summons evil spirits and restless souls from their graves. The spirits dance and fly through the air until driven back by the sound of an Angelus bell as night fades into dawn. A chorus is heard singing Ave Maria as a line of robed monks is depicted walking with lighted torches through a forest and into the ruins of a cathedral.[9]

SOURCE But, it is the racist images in the Pastoral Symphony scene that elicit the most controversy. Here is the original Pastoral scene, uncut: Sunflower, is drawn with a donkey body, unlike the White centaurettes who have horse-like bodies. She is of short stature with exaggerated stereotypical blackface features. The little Black  “pickaninny” centaurette, Sunflower is shown slavishly polishing the hooves of Melinda, a blonde-haired White centaurette. Sunflower is also seen applying pink bows to the tail of Melinda. During this procedure, Melinda casually flicks her tail in Sunflower’s face as if Sunflower is some annoying insect. Sunflower is also seen holding the train of a pink-haired centaurette, as the centaurette prances for the newly arrived male centaurs. Later in the Pastoral scene, another Black centaurette, Otika, is seen rolling a red carpet up a flight of steps for Bacchus, the God of Wine. These scenes, in the original release, were edited out with the 1969 re-release of the film. The scenes were not cut, but, were edited with camera angles that zoomed in on the White centaurettes. Also in the Pastoral are Zebra Centaurettes who are followers of Bacchus, who rides his little unicorn black donkey, Jacchus ( a play on the word jackass). The Zebra Centaurettes are half zebra and half African Amazon. There are some who say this editing out the racist images is good. I consider it censorship of the worst kind. To release the movie uncut on video to collectors of the film in its original content would be appropriate. Not for theatrical re-release, but to preserve the movie as it was originally viewed when released. Yes, the film used racist images. Yes, the film is a product of its time. Fantasia has undergone numerous versions since it s 1940 release. But, the film is what it is. “Flashdance” digital editing and digital zooming does not change what the film was in its original release. With films like Fantasia there can be no going back ala time machine mode to change the past. That Black Americans faced racist stereotypes is a fact. Editing the racist scenes of Sunflower will not change the past. Providing an eye onto the past is what all films have done no matter what studio produced and released said films. Better to leave the film in its entirety to show the type pf racist images that Black citizens faced, than to sweep under the rug and attempt revisionist cinematography on a very unique and one of a kind film.

1 Comment

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One response to “. . . .AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: “FANTASIA” (1940)

  1. Unique

    Wow. Just shows that all of Hollywood was racist in their cartoons.

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