Movie Review: Fantasia

by David Sokol
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fantasia

  • MPAA Rating: G
  • Running Time: 79 minutes

A Disney classic for the classical enthusiast.

This is a wonderful way of families to listen to classical music together, and for parents to whet their kids' appetites for some of the world's most enduring music. From Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor to The Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky to Dukas's The Sorcerer's Apprentice (starring Mickey as the apprentice) to Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, this is a treasure trove of beautiful animation and timeless music (or should we say timeless animation and beautiful music?) that will engage and inspire. I know, because my grandma first took me to see it on one of its re-releases when I was in grade school, and I'll never forget that afternoon. I later showed it to my kids when they were about 8 years old and they, like me, were transfixed. The movie concludes with two pieces, the first invoking evil and darkness, and the finale, hope and beauty. It's an uplifting conclusion to a powerful viewing experience.

Kids Will Like:

Think of these animations as some of the first music videos ever, and kids will be drawn in by the splashy and colorful -- sometimes upbeat, sometimes dramatic -- visuals that accompany the music. From the vibrant and abstract bursts of sparkling shapes in the Bach piece to the magical dancing mushrooms and flowers and ice-skating pixies in The Nutcracker Suite to Mickey Mouse himself as the clever and daring Sorcerer's Apprentice, there are many alluring visual details that will keep kids glued to the screen. Not to mention the playful elephants, hippos, and 'gators in Dance of the Hours. Right after the "intermission," there's a fun bit called "Meet the Soundtrack," which introduces a number of instrumental sounds while showing corresponding vibrant visuals that bring them to life.

Parents Will Like:

The timelessness of the music, for starters, and how the animation has stood up so well, nearly seven decades after the film was first released. It's hard not to be floored by the seamless and versatile blending of sight and sound and how ahead of its time this movie was. Folks with long musical memories will get a kick out of hearing Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours which, back in the day, was the musical basis for "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! (A Letter from Camp)," a big hit for comedian Allan Sherman in the early 1960s.

Heads Up:

The movie starts a bit slowly, and there are several minutes of introduction and shots of the orchestra playing before the animation kicks in. Younger kids might get a little fidgety at the beginning. Also clocking in at a bit over two hours, it might be asking a lot to expect kids to take it all in at once. But Fantasia is nicely segmented and there's no overall plot so they can watch as little or as much at one time as they want, and you can help your very young kids skip scary parts. The Rite of Spring segment moves rather slowly. Taking us back billions of years, it depicts erupting volcanoes, early life forms, and dinosaurs fighting (a blood-thirsty T. rex and a more peaceful, plant-eating Stegosaurus), with the T. rex prevailing. This could be scary to younger kids not particularly fond of the huge blood-thirsty killers. The death of the Stegosaurus was certainly the most frightening part of the movie for my daughter, then 8, who is now a vegetarian. There is also some brief animation of unclad (topless) centaurettes -- creatures who look human above the waist, horses below. This occurs in a vaguely romantic scene during the Pastoral Symphony's myth-inspired segment, which also shows a bit of wine drinking (courtesy of Bacchus, the wine god) and some intimidating lightning bolts being flung down to earth from the skies. And in Night on Bald Mountain, Chernabog presides over an intense gathering of ghostly evil spirits (with music by Moussorgsky), and there is a short scene with naked women dancing with fire before morphing into beastly figures.

Own It?

If you and your family are into classical music and timeless Disney animation, the answer is a resounding "absolutely!" Although quite sophisticated, Fantasia is a film that kids will want to watch again and again as they grow older. It's like a course in music appreciation -- that you can take at your own pace -- and it's both fun and inspiring. And for older kids and adults, the bonus features are like a cheery on top.

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