Want to read an abstract I wrote? It's for a film series at UO next year, and since I'd love to see "Fantasia" on the bigscreen again, giving a talk on it seems as good a way as any to make it happen.
“High Culture with a Capital C:
Music, Mickey, and the Middlebrow in Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940)”
Released in the triumphant wake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Pinocchio (1940), the film originally titled “Untitled Concert Feature” sought to wed the animation of the Walt Disney Studios with revered works of classical music including Johan Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite, and Modest Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain. What came to be known as Fantasia had originated from a desire to feature Mickey Mouse in a short-subject adaptation of Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and encompassed eight animated segments, with the orchestration performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Leopold Stokowski. As a result of the film’s considerable length (140 minutes with an intermission in the original road show release) along with its lack of a traditional narrative (the segments were linked only by the commentary provided by music critic Deems Taylor, and were far removed from the more gag-centered fairy tale orientation of Disney’s previously released films) and foreign markets devastated by World War II, Fantasia suffered considerable financial losses upon its original theatrical release. An attempt to advance animation as a culturally legitimate art, Fantasia gained success only through a series of theatrical reissues, eventually catching on with the counterculture crowd of the late 1960s when the film became known for its psychedelic properties. I will discuss how Fantasia was produced to be sold as high culture to the “middlebrow” crowd, suggest how and why this gambit failed, and then briefly examine how Disney’s film came to be reclaimed by audiences and regarded as one of the most innovative animated films ever made.