Sunday, June 01, 2008

Movie review: Fantasia



Disney's experimental film pairing animators with classical music. In order to do it justice, I'm going to have to review each segment as I watch it.

We begin with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. As ars gratia artis, it has no set story or image associated with it, and the artists take free reign, beginning first with identifiable instruments that become visualizations of sound and sensation. A strong piece.

Next are movements from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. The first is Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy: spring pixies spread dew and light over the forest floor, filling dark space with bright color and sparkle. This is one of my favorite visuals in the film.

This is followed by the Chinese tea dance, performed by mushrooms. It's very cute and draws quite a bit on pathos.

Back to the Sugar Plum Fairy (I think), we're treated to the flash of spinning flowers on a lake. This takes a much more animated feel, as does its successor, the Turkish Coffee movement, performed with great use of light and color in an undersea dance by goldfish. Remember Cleo the Goldfish from Pinocchio? I see her inspiration here.

The Russian dancers movement starts out a little too monochromic, but quickly moves into a well drawn and exciting dance. The ending is beautiful.

Waltz of the Flowers has those little dragonfly faeries again, this time changing the seasons. A much less cartoonish feel than the previous movement with deeper, softer and more three-dimensional artwork. The frost faeries and snowflakes are phenomenal works of art.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Probably the best Mickey Mouse cartoon ever. I'd have preferred something other than the iconic mouse, but it is a Disney film, after all. Mickey is the title character who tries to shirk his job by using his master's magic hat and ends up biting off more than he can chew. The animation is as cute and lighthearted as the music.

Stravinsky's Right of Spring is illustrated as intended, as an ode to the origins of life. Pulsing red of the first volcanoes turns to cool blue of undersea protozoa and the electric colors of life emerging. Familial scenes of brontosaurs are interrupted by the attack of a tyrannosaurus rex. The battle begins, with stegosaurus putting up a good fight, but ultimately losing. Again the pastoral scene turns red and umber as the great drought slowly starves and overheats the great beasts. At last Pangaea is broken apart as continents form, burying the monsters and bringing the new age of mammals. It's cool, especially for 9 year olds.

After the intermission, we're introduced to the soundtrack. The geometrics of the sound visualization is incredible.

Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony is converted to a cutesy version of Greek mythology in what many consider the weakest segment. My Little Pony-esque unicorns tease and play with cherubic pans. Baby pegasi learn to fly. Pretty "centaurettes" laze in the sun. Eventually they pair off with centaurs in time to prepare for the god Bacchus and the revelry that ensues. At the height of the festivities, Zeus chimes in, tossing down lightning bolts and raising a storm that ends with Iris, the rainbow goddess spreading across the sky as Apollo rides his chariot into the evening. Night falls and the moon goddess Diana shoots stars across the sky.

Ponchielli's the Dance of the Hours, anthropomorphic animals costumed as the hours of the day move through successive ballets, beginning with a gangly but graceful Ostrich. As they leave the stage, like Venus from the surf, up rises a hippo from the fountain. Twilight sends the hippos to sleep and brings out the elephants for champagne dreams. Shades of Dumbo as they're blown away by the wind to make way for the sinister night hours: dark-cloaked crocodiles stalking the sleeping Prima Hippo. The forces of night and day dance it out, finally reaching something of an impasse in a crashing finale.

The juxtaposition of Night on Bald Mountain by Moussorgsky and Schubert's Ave Maria are well-melded. The visuals of Night on Bald Mountain used to frighten me as a child, but it's fascinatingly powerful animation. The evil and the wretched dance together in the flames that are themselves sensual, frantic and profane. Beautiful and horrible. Satan takes disturbing glee in treating his minions like toys, scooping them up and dropping them into the flames. But even the great master of evil stops in his tracks at the sound of the church bells tolling. His despair is palpable as he folds into himself and the dead abandon him to return to their graves. As the sun rises, the faithful walk to church, the trees seem to bud as the music swells and the sky blazes with the morning. Awesome.

Taking the best with the worst, this is a movie worth seeing at least twice. Once as a child and once with your child. It's got something to bring for every age.

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