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Containing everything from the Pierian well water of Johann Sebastian Bach to the violet-bordered stream of Schubert's Ave Maria, Fantasia is a long succession of very large orders. Some of these orders (the flower, fish and mushroom dances of the Nutcracker Suite, the hulking, saurian epic of Stravinsky's Rite, the eerie, fantastic Night on Bald Mountain) are so beautifully filled that they may leave callous critics whispering incredulously to themselves. Others (Mickey's Sorcerer's Apprentice, the hilarious ostrich and hippopotamus ballets) set a new high in Disney animal muggery. Others (the wave and cloud sequences of Bach's Fugue, and a queer series of explosive music visualizations performed by a worried and disembodied sound track, posing diffidently on the screen like a reluctant wire) recall the abstract cinemovies made about five years ago by New Zealand-born Len Lye, show how musical sensation may be transferred to visual images.
It would have taken a Gustave Doré to do justice to the big beauty of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. No Dore, Disney peoples his classical Olympus with smirking "centaurettes," smirkingly brassiered, with calf-eyed centaurs and kewpie-doll cupids, makes Bacchus' bacchanale look like a nursery lemonade party, leaves his audience wondering whether he is serious, or merely trying to be cute by putting diapers on Olympus.
But, though Disney's toddling cannot keep pace with the giant strides of Ludwig van Beethoven, Fantasia as a whole leaves its audience gasping. Critics may deplore Disney's lapses of taste, but he trips, Mickey-like, into an art form that immortals from Aeschylus to Richard Wagner have always dreamed of.
Mickey Began It. The idea for Fantasia had been germinating in Disney's mild-looking head for several years. Even before he did Snow White he had a vague notion of some day doing a serious opera in animovie style. As early as 1929 he raided the high-brow symphonic repertory to make Saint-Saëns' bone-rattling Danse Macabre into a Silly Symphony. But the idea did not really sprout until early in 1938, when Leopold Stokowski, on a visit to Hollywood, begged Disney to let him conduct the music for The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a Mickey Mouse short. Disney didn't know what he was letting himself in for.
By the time Stokowski's recordings were done, and the animation half finished, the Apprentice began to look too good for a short, too expensive for anything but a feature. Before it was finished, white-haired Maestro Stokowski had come out with so many other bright ideas for symphonic animovies that Disney's ambition near went past itself. Calling ace Musicommentator Deems Taylor from Manhattan to help with advice, Stoky and Disney decided to build around Mickey Mouse's sorcery act a whole program of cinesymphonies.
Keeping his 1,200 artists, animators, sound engineers and helpers mum, Walt Disney started work, soon got the machinery of his new $3,000,000 Burbank, Calif, studio rolling on Fantasia. Deciding to go the whole artistic hog, they picked the highest of high-brow classical music. To do right by this music, the old mouse opera comedy was not enough. The Disney studio went high-brow wholesale, and Disney technicians racked their brains for stuff that would startle and awe rather than tickle the audience.