Clague, Mark. “Playing in ‘Toon: Walt Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ (1940) and the Imagineering of Classical Music.” American Music 22.1 (2004): 91-109. University of Illinois. JSTOR. Van Pelt Library Philadelphia, PA. 26 Nov 2008.
Clague opens with “Fantasia’s” style. A “new kind of art,” “Fantasia” creates meaning out of music and images through audiovisual alignment. Such meaning should expose the public, presumably having no musical knowledge, to a wider understanding of classical music. Disney achieved this goal with “Fantasia” by creating a series of shorts, each of which was associated with a particular piece of classical music (such as Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor of the opening vignette). With the help of Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Disney attempts to teach viewers how to listen to such music. The animation acts as a visual aid to suggest information about listening to the music. More specifically, “Fantasia” is an early example of Disney’s “Imagineering,” exemplifying the combination of science and creativity, engineering and imagination. Certain critics suggest that such a composition may have damaged the music; inevitably, image always dominates sound. However, the Disney Studio used that implication to its advantage in “Fantasia” by introducing a number of associations, ideas, and references to the music. Appealing to middlebrow culture and an uneducated middle-class, “Fantasia” provided easy access to the high-end classical music. Abstractions of sound were connected with imagery of commonplace experiences to allow the public to better relate to the pieces. Themes expressed by the film are faith in scientific research and progress; Darwin’s theory on evolution in The Rite of Spring segment; racism (though more obvious passages were self-censored in the 60’s and do not appear on the modern editions of the film), mainly in depictions of black picaninnies; sexism; homophobia and gluttony (Bacchus, who is over weight, and the donkey kissing); as well as family, parenting, love, youth, etc. Though many of these ideologies are rejected by today’s society, Americans in the 1940’s more readily embraced them. In effect, “Fantasia” reflects the ideological viewpoints of its time, serving today as an important reminder of where America has been and what is aspired to be.
Clague exemplifies, in this article, Disney’s goal to make “Fantasia” an educative production. The film therefore has a clear message in mind and does not leave much room for personalized interpretation. More harmful still are the commonplace associations with the music. Such banalities associate the corresponding music to lack of musical innovation and of individuality. This visual imposition therefore truly taints the musical pieces of great composers whose work has been subject to Disney’s distortions. The Disney Studio effectively changes the nature of the music by limiting the listener’s creativity. As such, “Fantasia” is the opposite of art because it introduces only one correct idea and expresses as true, perhaps resembling propaganda. Though there is the unresolved debate of propaganda’s artistic nature, “Fantasia” is not even propagandistic art because it was not created as such. “Fantasia,” an entertaining animated film and not a political advertisement, confines the viewer to one clear interpretation, rather than implying a message through abstraction. This film is therefore fundamentally not a work of art. It is simply the middleclass entertainment that it depicts.
English, Horace B. “’Fantasia’ and the Psychology of Music.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 2.7 (Winter, 1942-1943): 27-31. Blackwell. JSTOR. Van Pelt Library Philadelphia, PA. 30 Nov 2008.
English reminds the reader that the combining music and dramatic production is an old technique. Therefore, there has always been music that was written to accompany drama. Such music is composed around the story in order to enhance it. Some of the pieces in “Fantasia” were written as such, and therefore Disney’s visual accompaniment does not destroy the music. On the other hand, most of the sequences in “Fantasia” use the music as the base and write the story around the music, ignoring the inherent differences between visual forms and musical forms. He explains this by describing man’s relationship to sound. Sounds have become abstractions and carry an infinite variety of plastic meanings. There is no fixed meaning of a musical sound. On the other hand, the eye is an organ of reality meaning that what is seen—painted, written, pictured, etc.—holds far more acceptability than what is heard. “Seeing, not hearing, is believing,” he asserts. He says that when we are really responding to music, we are creating something unique and individual; and at the moment of such creation, anyone else’s response, be it ever so beautiful, is only a distraction and an annoyance.
This article exemplifies one of the biggest critiques of “Fantasia:” mixing two forms of art inappropriately. According to English’s view on music, Disney ends up annoying the viewer with this combination rather than impressing him. In the context of “Fantasia’s” purpose, English seems to take the repercussions of the sound-image relationship too far. Disney wanted to expose lower-class audiences to the mysteries of classical music while demonstrating his talent in animation. However, with an intellectual mindset, the viewer sees the images as “a distraction and an annoyance.” Disney thus succeeded in entertaining his uneducated viewer, but he could not gain approval of intellectuals. English describes music, which is not written around a story, is an art form of its own. As such, artistic music provokes individual emotions that should not be normalized as they are in “Fantasia.” Unfortunately, Disney’s attempt failed to consider the musical characteristics that were the cause of much critique. As an entertainer, Disney seems to be doing the job with this film. On the other hand, as an artist, Disney overlooks fundamental aspects of art. Disney’s lack of basic artistic comprehension contributes to “Fantasia’s” failure as a work of art.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1997.F3317 C8 1999
This segment addresses the aesthetics in the last number of “Fantasia” which combines Modest Moussorgsky’s bone chilling tone poem “Night on Bald Mountain” with Franz Schubert’s pacifying Ave Maria. Disney’s goal here was to visually shock the audience with the audio bridging of these two drastically different pieces. This would ultimately address the conflict between good and evil. Vladimir Tytla successfully conveyed the demonic aspect of Moussorgsky’s music with impressive animation amplified by special effects and camerawork. Furthermore, Moussorsky’s music was used to its full potential because the Disney Studio was able to increase the tone of a descending passage—low notes however loud they may be played decrease tone in a classical live stage setting. The transition to “Ave Maria” occurs with the sounding of a bell forcing the demons to retreat as dawn approaches and a series of pilgrims are depicted. “Ave Maria” serves an emotional relief to the audience, undoubtedly tense from the shock of Moussorsgky’s malignant music and its grim visualization. Though Disney was unsatisfied with his animator’s production of this scene, he finally realized his vision only days before the premiere; in Disney’s eyes it was finally perfect. The use of Fantasound in the scene was one of the most important technical components that aided the scenes effects. Fantasound made it seem as though “the spirits of the pilgrim choristers were in procession up the side aisles of the theater.” Disney, Stokowski, and their coworkers had created an entire animated concert while taking full advantage of the animation medium.
Moussorgsky’s piece was written to accompany a story so its style is unusual. Disney's images of demons from the underworld are uncommon as well, since Walt did not want to portray traditional horror motifs. Combining the two creates a harsh sensation while it increases the tension and discomfort of the viewer. However, the following “Ave Maria” sequence erases any fear created by "A Night on Bald Mountain" primarily through its music but also through its animation. Disney and his staff used the sound-image relationship here but they extended that concept by creating a relationship between two sound and image combinations. It is interesting to note that the music alone, the animation without sound or the separation of the two parts would have created something ordinarily unimpressive. The genius behind this last scene is the perfect synchronization of sound and image and the astute bridging of the two pieces. Musical senses are amplified by animation, and furthermore the coupling of two extremes heightens reactionary emotions. This well-constructed scene is perhaps the best example of “Fantasia” working as a form of art. Though the interpretation of the music is depicted directly, and not implicitly, the meaning of the combination of pieces is only suggested. Disney finally required interaction from the viewer perhaps hinting at "Fantasia's" artistic value or, at least, its artistic potential.