(out of 5)
One of the pinnacle achievements of the Walt Disney studio is this milestone in animation and its relationship with classical music. After producing a series of ‘Silly Symphonies’ that involved short pieces of pre-existing music set to a fun, animated story, Disney finally realized his dream to create a feature-length film that incorporated famous classical pieces set to varying styles of abstract or narrative animation. The result was a financial and critical failure, but years later stands as a masterpiece of artistic success that is unparalleled in the animation world (even including its sequel Fantasia 2000). The pieces involved here include Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ set in the Elysian Fields of mythological ancient Greece, Dukas’ ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ with Mickey Mouse as protagonist (and whose images are the most famous), and a stunning animated recounting of the theory of evolution set to Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ (the only composer who was still alive at the time that the film was made), among others. Leopold Stokowski conducts the orchestra and appears as himself in the short live-action scenes in the film (the very first live-action shots to be filmed at Walt Disney studios), and the film is narrated by Deems Taylor, whose full narration sequences have recently been restored. The film was re-released by the studio many times over the last sixty years, including a version in the early eighties that was produced with a brand new score conducted by Irwin Kostal, but the original soundtrack has since been replaced on more recent issues.
Screen direction by Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, story development by Lee Blair, Elmer Plummer, Phil Dike, Sylvia Moberly-Holland, Norman Wright, Albert Heath, Bianca Majolie, Graham Heid, Perce Pearce, Carl Fallberg, Otto Englander, Webb Smith, Erdman Penner, Joseph Sabo, Bill Peet, Vernon Stallings, Campbell Grant, Arthur Heinemann, story development & research by William Martin, Lee Thiele, Robert Sterner, John McLeigh
Cinematography by James Wong Howe
Produced by Walt Disney, Ben Sharpsteen
Production Design by Ken Anderson, Bruce Bushman, Arthur Byram, Tom Codrick, Robert Cormack, Harold Doughty, Yale Gracey, Hugh Hennesy, John Hubley, Dick Kelsey, Gordon Legg, Kay Nielsen, Lance Nolley, Ernie Nordli, Kendall O’Connor, Charles Payzant, Curt Perkins, Charles Philippi, Thor Putnam, Herbert Ryman, Zack Schwartz, Terrell Stapp, McLaren Stewart, Al Zinnen
Academy Awards: 1941