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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fantasia is a very early animated film (1940) contains numerous sequences in which the combination of ominous, dark music and violent, scary visuals could be frightening to very young or very sensitive kids. While there are enchanting dancing flowers, hippos, unicorns, and striking visuals that show the relationship of sight and sound, there are at least as many very threatening images intensified by the shadowy dark music. Out-of-control broomsticks launch a massive flood; ferocious dinosaurs with teeth bared and giant clamping jaws fight a death battle; lightning and thunder introduce death and despair in the guise of skeletons, graves, bats, evil armies, and ghosts. There are several scenes which depict the romance of many mythological beings (centaurs, cherubim) and in which many of the characters are modestly unclothed. Some additional selections, including one which follows the evolution of the species over millions of years from an amoeba to the end of the giant dinosaur era, are very long, slow and may not fully engage today’s kids. The film is most valuable as an historical experience.
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What's the story?
When Donald Duck began to eclipse Mickey Mouse in popularity in the late 1930s, Disney conceived of a lavish comeback vehicle for his first cartoon star: FANTASIA. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," set to the music of Paul Dukas, was the end result, and no expense was spared to make this a crowning jewel in the mouse's career. When Disney realized that the company couldn't possibly recoup its investment releasing the piece as a short subject, he conceived an entire animated feature set to pieces of classical music, of which "Sorcerer's Apprentice" would now be a part. Walt Disney's groundbreaking feature combining classical music with extravagant animation retains its status as a landmark in animation history. Both "The Rite of Spring," with its realistic recreation of the age of the dinosaurs, and "Night on Bald Mountain," with its vividly spectacular depiction of evil personified, took animation into realms that were unimaginable just 10 years earlier.
Is it any good?
Disney's most experimental movie may bore kids used to more straightforward storytelling, and preschoolers may need to skip the scary parts. However, these are minor quibbles when confronted with the breathtaking artistry that dominates the movie.At the time the movie was made, the Disney factory was at the absolute peak of its powers. Fantasia exhibits a stunning attention to detail that would never again be duplicated (a result of the movie's initial box office failure). "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" remains a tour de force of music, character animation, and photographic effects.
Nevertheless, there are some dry spots. "Dance of the Hours," with its dancing hippos and alligators, is funny, but drags on longer than necessary. The "Pastoral" is the blandest sequence; its scenes of teenage centaurs courting one another are more reminiscent of prom night than ancient mythical worlds. Seen decades later, much of the film's imagery continues to astonish, even when compared with modern, computer-enhanced extravaganzas.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about fantasy vs. reality in Fantasia and in general. How can you tell when something is made up? Can you be sure something is real if you haven't ever seen it? Can something be scary even if you know it's not real?
How does the Magician's Apprentice (Mickey Mouse) demonstrate curiosity, courage, and perseverance in Fantasia? Do any other characters show those qualities? Why are those important character strengths?
- In theaters: November 13, 1940
- On DVD or streaming: November 14, 2000
- Cast: Deems Taylor, Julietta Novis, Leopold Stokowski
- Directors: James Algar, Samuel Armstrong
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Music and Sing-Along
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Perseverance
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: December 17, 2019
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