Marvelling all over again at FANTASIA, which occupies a key role in my cinema-going life. It must have been an early example of a movie I went to all by myself, not out of any social urge. Truth be told, once I was old enough to not require parental supervision at the movies, there wasn’t anyone around I wanted to see them with or who wanted to go with me, until my best friend Robert joined in. FANTASIA was one I had known about for years but never seen, because I don’t think it had ever turned up on re-release and of course Disney kept their movies off TV for the most part. Oh, and I was a bit of a classical music fan in my early teens — it was another reason for the assholes at school to hate me — the looks on their faces when they asked what kind of music I liked were kind of priceless. That, having long hair in the eighties, and not liking football were enough to ensure pariah status with the right people.
I don’t think I was aesthetically developed enough to be properly repelled by the film’s most egregious artistic crimes, but I enjoyed the bits that work just as much as I do today. Who was it said, “Too much beauty is disgusting”? Attributing any sort of beauty to the film’s Olympian interlude may seem controversial, but consider: ladled over the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony are a lot of colours, variously bright and brash or even muted and sombre, but all individually pleasing to the eye. The shapes are all soft, sensuous and curving, with not a jagged or discordant angle in sight. And the movement is elegant, arcing, balletic. And the creatures are woodland animals and nymphs and flying babies and cute girls and jocks with equine underparts. And they’re all pastel pinks and purples and blues. The combination of this is enough to provoke a Technicolor yawn from anyone, turning the screen to a Jackson Pollock explosion, which would be an improvement.
In other words, unlike the Toccata and Fugue, which mingles extreme gaudiness and vulgarity with some sublime abstract imagery, or the Nutcracker Suite which features whole sections of gorgeous kitsch, this great conglomeration of beautiful components results in an eye-aching pastel inferno which would serve as an ideal hell for anyone with an iota of taste. It’s all the more shocking coming after the restraint of the Rite of Spring sequence, which has plenty of almost monochromatic shots, all sulphurous yellow or muddy brown.
The only hints of ugliness allowed in Disney’s Olympus are some spectacularly unpleasing character designs — Bacchus ought to be a relief from all the idealised body shapes and clean living on display, but he’s an unfunny bore and I was rooting for Zeus to immolate him with a thunderbolt — and the typical, yet heightened Disney sexual weirdness. The centaurettes, with their pert breasts and no nipples — (later, in Night on Bald Mountain, the harpies are allowed nipples, so evidently nipples are a sign of evil) — are posed about the place so seductively, we can be almost certain Disney was sexually attracted to horses (and fish). And there’s the usual ass-play, about which whole monographs have been written. Disney’s anal obsession. The best one is probably the centaurette spanking her hindquarters with a twig-as-riding-crop to make herself jump a fence, which brings up all kinds of curious thoughts. It seems she’s not only a conglomeration of two animals, her lower section has a will of its own. King Lear had something to say about that, as I recall.
Still, one aspect of the film’s vulgar heroism is its capacity to do everything beyond belief — when it succeeds, it astonishes (frame grabbing these images gave me a new respect for the artistry in every image), and when it fails it doesn’t settle for falling flat, it crashes towards the earth’s core like Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff and leaving a coyote-shaped crater in the desert floor.
If you’re revisiting it, and I recommend you do, I recommend the Blu-Ray.