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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Disney's Fantasia Turns 70

In 1940 Fantasia was released in theaters on this day on November 13. The film is a collection of Disney animated interpretations of great works of classical music as conducted by the famed Leopold Stokowski of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The third Disney animated feature film, Fantasia consists of eight animated segments. The most famous, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" features Mickey Mouse as an aspiring magician who oversteps his limits. "The Rite of Spring" tells the story of evolution, from single-celled animals to the death of the dinosaurs. "Dance of the Hours" is a comic ballet performed by ostriches, hippos, elephants, and alligators. "Night on Bald Mountain" and "Ave Maria" set the forces of darkness and light against each other as a devilish revel is interrupted by the coming of a new day. Music critic and composer Deems Taylor acts as the film's Master of Ceremonies, providing a live-action introduction to each segment.

The original idea for the film came about as a type of financial compromise. An elaborate Silly Symphonies short, The Sorcerer's Apprentice was designed as a comeback role for Mickey Mouse, who had declined in popularity. As production costs grew higher than what it could possibly earn as a mere cartoon short, Disney wisely decided to include the work in a feature-length film with other segments set to classical pieces. Unfortunately, while acclaimed by critics, the film was initially unable to make a profit due to World War II cutting off distribution to the European market.

The film was subsequently reissued multiple times with original footage and audio being deleted, or modified, or restored in each version. Due to its second life, Fantasia has grossed more than fifty million dollars in domestic revenue and ranks as the 22nd highest-grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation. The film has grown in reputation over the years and is now widely acclaimed by critics everywhere. In 1998 the American Film Institute ranked it as the 58th greatest American film among all productions, and the 5th greatest among animated films.

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