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Fantasia Disneys Experimental Masterpiece

Fantasia is the third feature Walt Disney created and is perhaps the most experimental. The film has no dialogue, relying instead on a sumptuous soundtrack performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Though the film is predominantly animated, it does have some live-action sequences featuring Stokowski and the Orchestra.

Fantasia was also notable for being the first major film to be screened in stereophonic sound. Disney originally exhibited the film as a two-hour special engagement across the country. It was met with a lukewarm reception, forcing RKO Radio Pictures, which bought the rights to distribute the film in 1942, to cut the running time down to roughly 81 minutes. Between 1946 and 1977 the film was reedited, resulting in a version 9 minutes shorter than the 1941 original release.

The complete version would not be released until the 2000 DVD reissue. By the late 1930s, Mickey Mouse had begun to lose popularity. In fact, Donald Duck was proving to be a more profitable character for Disney at the time. In an effort to reestablish Mickey's dominance, Disney placed his protg in an animated short entitled The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Based on the Goethe's story of the same name, the story artists had intended to feature Dopey from Snow White in the title role, but Disney would have none of that.

To that end, Mickey was reworked and given a host of new mannerisms, not to mention pupils. All of the reworking cost approximately $125,000, whereas a typical Disney animated short had cost the studio about $40,000. It was Stokowski who suggested The Sorcerer's Apprentice be incorporated into a full symphony of shorts. Disney was inspired to combine the shorts using the live-action orchestral sequences.

In fact, it was Stokowski who suggested the title. A fantasia is a "medley of familiar themes, with variations and interludes." When the short was made into a feature in 1939, Disney's production team shifted into high gear, pouring the same amount of detail and attention into every sequence. The initial success of Snow White inspired Disney to produce a series of animated features. Whereas the gamble gained a tremendous amount of revenue for Snow White, Fantasia suffered from its length and lack of dialogue.

It was produced for $2,280,000 with $400,000 of that amount reserved for Stokowski and his orchestra. The dreary returns derailed the emerging studio, forcing Disney to scramble for an audience friendly feature. That feature would be Dumbo.

Steve Collins is an Author based in Encino, CA. A huge Disney fan, he uses Disney Movie Club to complete the gaps in his collection. Read his reviews of the movies he purchases on Disney Movie Club


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