Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Fantasia (1940)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Intermission with the Soundtrack:

Before getting into the second half of the program, Deems Taylor wishes to introduce

somebody who's very important to Fantasia. He's very shy and very retiring. I just happened to run across him one day at the Disney Studios. But when I did, I realized that here was not only an indispensable member of the organization, but a screen personality. And so I'm very happy to have this opportunity to introduce to you the sound track.

The soundtrack, a vertical shaft or band of light, like a line on an oscilloscope, is brought center stage. (The soundtrack is literally a narrow band on the left side of a strip of film.) The vibrating line becomes an anthropomorphic character, at first timid and shy, then proud, carries recorded patterns. Every sound - whether dialogue, narration, music, or sound effects - has a pattern all its own. After producing a razzberry ("Bronx cheer") sound, the soundtrack demonstrates the sound of a harp, a violin (one of the strings), a flute (one of the woodwinds), a trumpet (one of the brass instruments), a bassoon (a low instrument), a bass drum, cymbals, a snare drum, and a triangle (percussion instruments).

5. Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral Symphony takes place on the slopes of Mount Olympus. It is a comical and romantic romp of characters, taken from Greek mythology, who frolic on the countryside.

The symphony that Beethoven called the Pastoral, his Sixth, is one of the few pieces of music he ever wrote that tells something like a definite story. He was a great nature-lover, and in this symphony, he paints a musical picture of a day in the country. Now, of course the country that Beethoven described was the countryside with which he was familiar. But his music covers a much wider field than that, and so Walt Disney has given the Pastoral Symphony a mythological setting.

There are five distinct sections or movements in the animated mythological allegory:

(1) Arriving in the Countryside of Elysian Fields at Mount Olympus: Creatures of mythology include colorful baby unicorns and baby fauns which romp over the beautiful countryside. A black winged stallion, Pegasus, flies with its family of four colorful baby horses. Joined by its white mate, they glide over a lake and settle on its water surface.

(2) Scene by the Brook with Centaurs and Centaurettes: Girl centaurettes (first unclothed while swimming, then garlanded with flower bras) are adorned and made up (with hats from flowers and bark) by baby cupids, in anticipation of meeting their male friends. They flirt and are courted by husky centaurs under Cupid's spell during an idyllic afternoon. Winged cupids assist the courting of one lonely centaur with his dream centaurette. The cupid's bottom turns into a heart shape before a fade to black.

(3) Merrymaking in the Bacchanal Feast: All the mythological characters, including mischievous fauns and nymphs set the next scene for a feast. Wine is pressed for the occasion. A drunken Bacchus, god of wine, with his equally-drunken unicorn-mule, rides tipsily out of the forest.

(4) The Storm: When their wine dance and party ends, a bearded Zeus stages a dark thunderstorm, hurling bolts of lightning forged by Vulcan. The bolts are hurled at Bacchus. The wine vat is shattered by a lightning strike, flooding everything with torrents of wine.

(5) Peace and Sunset: After the storm, tranquility returns, and Iris streaks across the sky, trailing a rainbow of colors. The mythological creatures play in the rainbow's colors. As the sun shines brightly, symbolized by Apollo riding a fiery chariot driven by three horses in the sky, the creatures wave and admire its reddish glow, thankful for the lovely day. Sunset approaches and Morpheus covers the land with a cloak of darkness. Night falls, and Diana, goddess of the moon, appears in the sky to shoot a fiery arrow-comet from the bow of light formed by the crescent of the new moon. The comet creates sparkling stars that scatter and fall into their proper places in the night sky. All is at peace under the moon and stars in the Elysian Fields setting.

6. Amilcare Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours from his opera La Gioconda, is a hilarious animal ballet. It is a burlesque, satirical parody of classical ballet divided into four parts. It is an enjoyable tribute to poetry in motion through ballet, performed in a Great Hall by a group of atypical, anthropomorphic dancers, including ostriches, hippos, elephants, and alligators:

Now we're going to do one of the most famous and popular ballets ever written...It's a pageant of the hours of the day. All this takes place in the Great Hall with its garden beyond of the palace of Duke Alvisa, a Venetian nobleman.

(1) Ostrich Ballet (Morning): The camera moves from the Great Hall's iron gates through the processional columns to white curtains. They open on a giant, sleeping ostrich. After wakening and stretching, the ostrich rises and gracefully pirouettes like a ballerina over to a chorus of other sleeping ostriches. They are awakened, and then the prima ballerina ostrich throws fruit to them - they swallow oranges, bananas, and pineapples whole, creating interesting shapes down their slim necks. She flees to an outdoor pool when they attempt to take a bunch of grapes away.

(2) Hippo Ballet (Afternoon): Bubbles signal the imminent awakening and emergence of a prima ballerina hippopotamus from a lily pool in the garden of the Great Hall. After she awakes, she applies powder to herself in front of a mirror. Two chorus hippos help her out of the pool. She pirouettes daintily in a tutu during a solo dance. Soon tired, she falls into the arms of the chorus hippos, who take her back to her couch.

(3) Elephant Ballet (Evening): As the lead hippo sleeps, a group of elephants appear in evening wear to surround her. At the pool, they blow large pink bubbles with their trunks in a bubble dance. The sleeping hippo is borne upward on a stack of bubbles, soon joined by other hippos and elephants. Everything comes back to earth, and the lead hippo is left sleeping, as night falls.

(4) Alligator Ballet (Night): Leering, yellow-eyed, black-caped alligators swoop down on the entire company, hiding behind pillars before surrounding the lead hippo. Their tails twist, their jaws snap. The finale is a mad chase with alligators leaping after the hippos and involving all the animals. Alligators and hippos play hide-and-seek behind marble columns; alligators ride ostrichs; an elephant rides an alligator; alligators spin elephants overhead; hippos whirl alligators around by their tails. The lead alligator throws the lead hippo down, triumphant over her. On the final note, the camera pulls back through the columns of the Great Hall to the iron doors at its entrance. The gates slam shut and they crumble off their hinges.

The final piece is introduced:

The last number in our Fantasia program is a combination of two pieces of music so utterly different in construction and mood that they set each other off perfectly....Musically and dramatically, we have here a picture of the struggle between the profane and the sacred.

7. Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, is a dramatically-terrifying celebration of evil during the night of the Witches' Sabbath. As night falls at the foot of Bald Mountain, the lord of evil and death, the Black God Chernobog appears on the top of the jagged peak. [The God of Evil in Slavic mythology, originally thought to be modeled after action model Bela Lugosi of Dracula (1931) fame, but actually modeled by sequence director Wilfred Jackson.] A flurry of devil bats fly through the darkened air. As a salute to the evil God and to celebrate evil, tormented, cursed night spirits (including skeletal ghosts, witches, vampires) rise from their graves, some riding demonic steeds, to make obeisance. In flames, smoke, and fiery flashes, they swirl around him in a surrealistic pattern. He revels in their passionate worship. In his hand, the spirits dance furiously, while he takes perverse pleasure in transforming them into animals, then lizards, then miniature black gods. By giant handfuls, he drops the flaming figures into the fiery pit when done with them. They quickly turn from sensual female forms to skulls, descending into fiery whirlpools. When morning approaches, church bells ring, lighting up the Black God with each chime, forcing him to cringe and recoil further and further into the mountain in his bat-like cloak. The god of evil realizes the power of good is too strong. The spirits draw back and return to their resting places in their graves. The sky lightens as peace returns. Light triumphs over darkness, goodness over evil.

8. Schubert's Ave Maria is actually the second part of the seventh segment. The end of the first part blends seamlessly into the second part without a pause. In this awe-inspiring segment, the bells of the first part seem to be calling the faithful to worship. In the drifting morning mist at the base of the mountain, white-hooded figures with glowing candles move in a procession. They cross a meadow and go over a bridge, their lights reflected in the water below. They climb a hill and enter into a forest, where trees form cathedral-like arches. The candle-bearing pilgrims pass through the darkness of the forest and enter into a beautiful pasture just before dawn. Dawn comes as the first light of daylight brightens the sky and the land. The blue sky and clouds present a peaceful vision of heaven on earth. The rays of the reddish sunrise are brilliant as the choir sings the last chords of the Ave Maria. The powers of light are triumphant over the powers of death.

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