Walt Disney (Weekender)

Walt Disney seated with a drawing board on his lap and representations of his creations Mickey and Minnie Mouse behind.

In a few days, the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra will be tuning their instruments in preparation for the Orpheum Theatre’s presentation of “Disney Fantasia Live in Concert.”

At 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 18), audiences will get a chance to step into the magical world full of animated vignettes paired with classical music performed by the musicians in the symphony. To help get you into that Disney mood, we’ve compiled a small list of facts about “Fantasia.”

1. “Fantasia” was Walt Disney’s third animated feature film.

We find this bit of information rather perplexing given that Walt Disney Animation Studios’ previous films were “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Pinocchio,” both of which are now considered classics. After two films with distinct story arcs and structure, Disney decides to give the audience something completely different – a film of “short stories” with little to no dialogue and carried mostly by a score of classical music. We'd expect a project this ambitious to take place much later.

2. A chance meeting spurred collaboration.

Walt Disney recounted a meeting he had with conductor Leopold Stokowski, a prominent music figure in the early and mid-20th Century, in which Disney spoke of his projects and plans to combine classical music with animation. Disney was reportedly stunned when Stokowski said, “I would like to conduct that for you.” The conductor went on to conduct the eight animated segments used in “Fantasia.”

3. Disney still gets complaints from parents.

The segment “Night on Bald Mountain” can be considered Fantasia’s epic climax (along with the beautiful juxtaposition of “Ave Maria” immediately after). The wonderfully gothic scene depicts the devil Chernabog summoning evil spirits from their graves and sending them to Bald Mountain. But the chaos is soon put to an end by an echo of church bells. The striking animated imagery is often the source of complaints by parents to this day who claim the scene was too scary for their children.

4. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was supposed to be a stand-alone project.

Before the sequence was loosely adapted into a moderately received live action film starring Nicholas Cage, Walt Disney had planned for the Mickey Mouse segment to be a short cartoon for the Silly Symphonies series. Before “Fantasia’s” release in 1940, Mickey’s popularity was declining; as such, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was seen as a comeback role for the mascot. Disney ultimately included the famous segment in the final film as production costs continued to grow.

5. Re-releasing the film in 1969 was a smart move.

When “Fantasia” was first released in 1940, it was considered a box office failure. About 29 years later, Disney reissued the film at probably the most perfect time: 1969, the middle of the counter-culture movement. The film received considerably more praise, especially for its psychedelic animation – something hippies likely took interest in during that time. Funny enough, by this time “Fantasia” began to see some sort of a profit. What a trip.

6. Bela Lugosi was almost credited as Chernabog.

Back in the day, Disney animators would often have actors and actresses perform segments for certain scenes in the film. The actions would be viewed as a template for the final animation. So who did Disney hire to act as Chernabog for the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence? Count Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi. However, Chernabog’s animator wasn’t satisfied with Lugosi’s performance and chose to use sequence director Wilfred Jackson’s performance instead.

7. Disney is Yen Sid.

The looming, wizard-y figure in the sorcerer’s apprentice was never given a name in the film itself, but he was given a name by the animators of “Fantasia.” Yen Sid – “Disney” spelled backwards – was the moniker chosen. In addition to naming the sorcerer after Walt Disney himself, the animators thought to give him more of their boss’ features. Remember that nasty look he gives? Well that subtle eyebrow raise was a nod to Disney, who was reported to give that look to his animators when he was not pleased with their work. Now that’s how you get back at your boss.


Weekender reporter

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