Fantasia (1940)

I have very fond memories of Fantasia.  I can still clearly remember curling up on the couch as a child and sitting perfectly still for two hours as these wondrous stories set to music unfolded before me.  Although I watched it frequently when I was younger, I realized that, like so many other Disney movies, I had not seen this one is quite a few years.

I was certainly excited to sit down and revisit those memories.  I remembered just about everything from the movie, or at least I thought I did, and so I was filled with nothing but excited expectation.

This movie lives up to my memories, though watching it as an adult adds a whole new level to my perception of it as a film.

If you watched Fantasia as a child, you likely have a favorite story or scene.  Talking with Mistah J proved just how varied those favorites could be.  For me, I always loved the all-too-short dancing mushrooms portion of “The Nutcracker Suite”.

It was super adorable and the poor little baby mushroom can’t keep up with the grown-ups and it was so cute and yes I realize this is a run-on sentence but I don’t care.

The adorable dancing mushrooms appear on screen as part of a larger segment, and so there’s not a whole lot to talk about there, other than that I love them.

“The Pastoral Symphony” was perhaps my favorite full segment of the film.  Set on Mount Olympus, we see a handful of Grecian/Roman mythological characters and gods frolicking and enjoying life.  I love the centaurs and the winged-horse Pegasus creatures (do they even have an actual name, other than Pegasus?) and the weird little naked cherubs fluttering all over the place playing matchmaker.  Of course, all of their idyllic rest is ultimately interrupted by none other than Zeus, king of the gods:

After reading about him in countless Wonder Woman comics and just knowing enough of the mythology surrounding him, I’m not at all surprised that he acts like a complete dick and spoils everyone’s fun with his stupid lightning bolts.

I may not like Zeus very much.  Can you tell?

Also, here’s a not-fun fact about this portion of the movie:

In the original film release, there were extended scenes in the “Pastoral Symphony” segment, depicting a young black centaur girl acting as servant to the other centaurs:

For what I hope are obvious reasons to everyone, these scenes were cut out of subsequent releases of the film.  It’s important for record of these scenes to survive though; not for any artistic importance or to maintain the “integrity” of the film, but so that future generations can see that there was a time when racism and subjugation was accepted as such a social norm that it was depicted in a Disney movie as no big deal.  Such examples say more about cultural perceptions of the time than any history textbook ever could.

Wildly racist original format aside, these segments remained happy and amusing.  Their light, fanciful stories act as a sharp contrast to the darker, more sinister tones of some of the other pieces presented.

Looking back, I think this scared me more than Jurassic Park did as a kid.  It was so dark and hopeless and just not what you expected from an animated Disney film.  My childish mind associated Disney with fairytales and happy endings, and just didn’t want to see such brutality and darkness in a cartoon.

On the flip side, I’m pretty sure Fantasia is what taught me about the extinction of dinosaurs, so yay Disney for being educational.

While most of my perceptions of this film remain fairly unchanged from childhood to now, “Night on Bald Mountain” may be the one exception.  As a kid, I would watch this segment, but usually from behind a pillow, frightened by the demons and ghosts that flood the screen.  It was simply too dark for my Care Bear-loving heart to handle.

How can you look at that and tell me it’s not scary??

I can appreciate this scene much more as an adult, no longer feeling frightened when the Chernobog spreads its wings and summons forth any number of creatures of the night.

What did surprise me was something that happened so quickly I almost missed it:

Yeah, so the harpies in this scene are topless…

I had already been surprised when the female centaurs were depicted topless, but they were quickly covered up and for some reason, even when they weren’t, they weren’t drawn with nipples (seriously, not even the men).

Then came this scene with the harpies fluttering down towards the ground, zooming across the screen quickly but with this one very obvious stylistic choice.

Mistah J, watching the movie with me, was just as surprised as I was.  At first we thought we saw it wrong, but then another harpie when cascading down the screen and sure enough, she was topless.

Then Mistah J and I proceeded to have a five-minute conversation about animated nipples and why they would be shown on the harpies and not the centaurs.  He’s a keeper, that one.

I’m sure there’s a deeper explanation behind this artistic choice, likely that the harpies are godless creatures who have no sense of modesty or decorum and so they were shown in a much more sexual fashion.  Either way, Disney made a cartoon showing boobs.

Just let that sink in for a minute.

Although I found myself picking up on much more in this film than I did as I child, I can’t say that diminished my appreciation.  It really was a beautiful, unique movie experience.  While I may not classify it as a kid’s movie (at least not on the same level as what we’ve come to expect from Disney) it’s a wonderful, creative venture that still amazes me decades after it was made.

Fantasia will always be associated with a happy time in my childhood, and although there are one or two moments in the movie that I may view differently from now on, I’m still as big a fan as ever.

-Jess

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