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For Mussorgsky's halloweenish Night on Bald Mountain, Disney went outside his own studio for talent, got famed Fairy-Tale Illustrator Kay Nielson (East of the Sun and West of the Moon) to design graveyards and ghosts, ended with a Walpurgis nightmare calculated to turn little children's hair white. But Illustrator Nielsen's jagged scenes, plus a new high in animation technique, made it by far Fantasia's best act. As Fantasia took shape, a whole new troupe of Disney comic characters appeared: Hop Low, the self-thwarting little mushroom, who tries to do the Chinese Dance from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, but can't keep up with the big mushrooms; Ben Ali Gator, premier danseur of an ostrich ballet set to Ponchielli's corny Dance of the Hours; Susan, the hippopotamus ballerina whose blimplike cavortings in a pas de deux with Ben Ali Gator literally bring down the house in a wreck of flying plaster; Bacchus and his donkey Jacchus, who trip and roll through the Grant Woodland scape of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony.
Long before Fantasia was finished, expenses began to mount, and fellow Hollywoodians began to whisper again about "Disney's Folly." With $200,000 spent on Stokowski's fancy recordings, and a technical bill that overtops Snow White's, the total figure for the production amounted to $2.250.000. Because Engineer Garity's new sound mechanism is so complicated and expensive, only twelve theatres at a time will be equipped to show Fantasia, and RCA sound-equipment manufacturers figure that it will take several years before small-town cinema houses can get the gadgets to perform it. For the present. Fantasia will not be distributed like ordinary films, but will tour the U. S. like twelve road-show companies. But Walt Disney expects Fantasia to run for years, "perhaps even after I am gone."
An imposing list of top-flight contemporary composers (Paul Hindemith, Serge Prokofieff, William Grant Still, Deems Taylor, et al.) have vowed that they would spend their lives working for Disney if he would give them the chance. Composer Igor Stravinsky himself has signed a contract to do more music with Disney, has blandly averred that Disney's paleontological cataclysm was what he had had in mind all along in his Rite of Spring. Musicians and sound engineers who came to hear Soundman Garity's gadgets perform found that such recording had never before been even approached. Music lovers crowed that more ears would be saved for Beethoven by Fantasia than by all the symphonic lecture-recitalists in the U. S. The New York Academy of Sciences asked for a private showing of the Rite of Spring because they thought its dinosaurs better science than whole museum-loads of fossils and taxidermy.
Meanwhile sharp-faced Cinemartist Disney just crossed his fingers. Said he: "Art is never conscious. Things that have lived were seldom planned that way. If you follow that line, you're on the wrong track. We don't even let the word 'art' be used around the studio. If anyone begins to get arty, we knock them down. What we strive for is entertainment."