Mickey Mousing at its Absolute Finest
Originally Released: 1940
It still surprises me that Fantasia was only the third full-length animated feature released by Disney, being released the same year as Pinocchio. I don’t know how they came up with the resources and technique to create this film only three or so years removed from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But not only did Disney and his team pull it off, they managed to make one of the most unique experiences in entertainment of the 20th century.
From the moment this film begins with the orchestra warming up and the narrator giving giving his explanation about stories and music, it is something special. Fantasia manages to take some of the best of the music realm and merge it with the best of the visual arts realm to create an entirely different and fantastic experience. The result is more than simply a story with music in the background, or music with a visual accompaniment. It is like that favorite song that you could just close your eyes and listen to over and over, but rather than just listening, you open your eyes and see your favorite piece of artwork laying in front of you as well. That is about where Fantasia belongs. It ends up being more than the sum of its parts and is a fine example of what the arts should be all about.
One thing that impressed me as I watched this time is just how well the animation flowed with and complemented the music. The technique of having something on the screen sync with or mimic the soundtrack is called mickey mousing, due to extensive use by Disney in early shorts and films. There are good examples and bad, cheesy examples of this technique in both live action and animated films, but nowhere have I ever seen better use of the technique than what is exhibited in Fantasia. Perhaps it helps that the music hails from greats such as Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Bach, but whether it is a completely abstract piece with no clear story to tell (Toccata and Fugue in D Minor) or music based on a clear story and using the actual character Mickey Mouse (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), the technique stays effective and greatly adds to the experience.
It is no wonder that Walt Disney wanted Fantasia to be a living, continually updated piece of work. His idea was to add pieces and subtract others to continually keep it fresh and play it across the country. However, this never really panned out because they couldn’t make enough money with the first movie. Imagine, though, having a live orchestra playing the music while the animation is shown on a giant movie screen. That is something I would definitely want to experience. Maybe someday there will be another chance. But until then, I will be content with Fantasia and its ballet-dancing hippos, fighting dinosaurs, frolicking fauns, and ghosts on Bald Mountain. Fantasia is a masterpiece.