…It’s my very pleasant duty to welcome you here on behalf of Walt Disney, Leopold Stokowski, and all the other artists and musicians whose combined talents went into the creation of this new form of entertainment, Fantasia.
As Deems Taylor, the music critic who served as the Master of Ceremonies for the picture, described it, Fantasia was a film unlike any other at the time of its creation. Released in 1940, it was only the third animated feature released by Disney, so animated features themselves were a relative novelty. And unlike its predecessors, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio, Fantasia didn’t tell a single story. It had several small stories within it, but they were unrelated to each other, connected only by the theme of classical music. There was something of a connection to the Silly Symphonies short films that Disney had produced, but it was also something more. It was longer by far — just over two hours — and where the Silly Symphonies were mostly based on the popular music styles at the time (the first, “The Skeleton Dance” was to a foxtrot), Fantasia featured classical music directed by Leopold Stokowski and played by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The artwork was even more elaborate than the shorts, and the stories — derived from the music itself — were mostly aimed more at adults than children, and had a strong sense to them of having been done for the sake of the artistry. Some were even abstract pieces.
The initial title Disney and Stokowski came up for the film was “The Concert Feature”, and that’s exactly what it was. It wasn’t meant to be run as a lead-in to a feature, it was a feature itself — and a unique one, with theatres revamped to support the new “Fantasound” stereophonic surround sound system (most theatres were mono prior to this time), and it was exhibited as a “roadshow”, in the same manner as ballets and classical theatre productions. Only a few shows were run per day, tickets had to be purchased in advance, and it was a treated like going to a play or an opera. Walt Disney’s expectation was that people would dress up for the production; Fantasia was viewed as not merely a movie, but an event.
Fantasia was obvious from the beginning as a huge labor of love for Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski both. With its innovative blend of music and animation, providing something people had never seen before in an experience that was unique to films, Fantasia had a reception that was beyond anything Walt Disney had expected: it bombed. Continue reading