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Disney’s Fantasia is not, like his previous long films, a homogeneous whole. He has taken eight separate pieces of music conducted by Stokowski and matched them visually with his fancy. To Bach he has set abstract coloured shapes moving on the screen. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite is played by airy-fairy figures in a spangled Christmas-card setting. L’Apprenti Sorcier becomes a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours a ballet of comic animals.
It is no criticism to say, as some Americans have said, that Disney should not use good music, well played, as a starting-gun for his inventions. He has the same right to do so that a choreographer has. Bad ballet is no worse because it is set to good music; good ballet is all the better. Disney’s faults, like most of his virtues, are his own. Where he is playfully inventive he is as enchanting as ever. Even here, though, he can slip into commonplace and vulgarity. Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, for example, is the background music for Attic fun with delicious young fauns and flying horses, with centaurs and – heaven preserve us! – “centaurettes.” This last conception is as horrible as its name. Where Disney is self-consciously creative he is liable to more portentous errors of taste.
Fantasia is not underivative. Disney’s abstractions are no more imaginative than Fischinger’s or Len Lye’s, though he can be wittier than they. His Walpurgis piece for Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain is reminiscent of a foreign cartoon that used to be a film society favourite.
Perhaps the most delightful parts of Fantasia are the opening sequences of the orchestra taking its place, with the players silhouetted against a clear background upon which they throw giant shadows. Light catches not the players’ faces but the instruments. There is an exciting hint here of what Disney might do with human figures. Elsewhere he dallies too long with Stokowski’s back and with coloured lights.
Fantasia takes more than two hours to show and is split in two by a 15-minute interval. It will be shown at a Red Cross gala performance at the New Gallery on Wednesday and opens publicly the next day there and at the Marble Arch Pavilion.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Disney’s Fantasia reviewed – archive, 17 July 1941 | Film