Oscar Movies: Fantasia (1941)

Disney, RKO

Fantasia, Disney’s animated masterpiece of the 1940s, began as a short-subject cartoon of Paul Dukas’ musical piece, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Mickey Mouse was starred in this 8-minute film, with the orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski.

Disney and Stokowski then decided that mixing classical music with animation was too good for just a short, and they expanded into a feature, with seven musical numbers and narration by music critic Deems Taylor.

The first piece, Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, was used to underscore a series of abstract images.  Tschiakovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” is performed by dancing wood-sprites, mushrooms, flowers, goldfish, and frost fairies.

Mickey Mouse’s version of “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is followed by Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” which serves as leitmotif for the tale of the world creation, with dinosaurs and volcanoes.

After a brief the live-action, the film plays Beethoven’s “Pastorale Symphony,” against a Greek-mythology tapestry by centaurs, unicorns, cupids. Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” is performed by a Corps de Ballet consisting of hippos, ostriches and alligators. The program concludes with a fearsome visualization of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” dominated by the black god Tchernobog; this study of the “sacred and profane” segues into a rendition of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”

Originally, Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” was part of the film, but was cut from the final print; also cut was Disney’s intent of issuing an annual “update” of Fantasia with new musical highlights and animated sequences.

A commercial flop upon initial release, Fantasia recouped its cost in its many reissues.  In 1963, the reissue transformed the film into Cinemascope. Other rereleases pruned the picture from 120 to 88 minutes.

In 1983, Disney redistributed the film with newly orchestrated music, and Tim Matheson as narrator.

A sequel, Fantasia 2000, was released in theaters in 1999.


Running time: 116 minutes.

Directed by James Algar and Ford Beebe

Written by Elmer Plummer, Otto Englander, Webb Smith, Erdman Penner, Joseph Sabo.

DVD: November 1, 1991


Oscar Awards:

Two Special Awards:

One for Stokowski, for creating a new visualized form, and one for Disney, for advancing the use of sound in film.