As MWF and I sat down to watch this the other day my heart sunk. I remembered it opening with the orchestra arriving, but not that there was so much talking. The dry intro from Deems Taylor is a bit dull and I was worried I’d mentally edited the film as I remembered loving the film as a kid.
Thankfully after the first long intro it got better and the animation makes up for it. The film shows the imagination and artistry that Disney boasted when they began this ambitious and risky venture.
This was only the third animated feature the studio made and it’s cool to see that Walt wasn’t afraid to take some risks. Instead of continuing down the fairytale path he went in a totally different direction. Why he did so is the big question?
Was it out of some need to be taken more seriously? (See Gibson doing Hamlet and Rowling trying to write outside the Harry Potter universe)
Personally I prefer he wanted to show off the talent he’s assembled and if that was the goal, it’s mission accomplished here.
Instead of one narrative this is seven separate sections, each inspired by a different piece of classical music. The sections are done in different styles, ranging from abstract to cartoony, some serious while others are comical. There’s one that tracks evolution and the death of the dinosaurs, and it all ends with a gothic piece.
This finale, set to Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”, was the one I loved as a kid and really stuck with me. It’s fantastically dark and the towering demon was just the right mix of cool and creepy for a little kid.
The image of dancing flames was one I remembered vividly, and it still works as this anarchic celebration of evil, filled with ghouls and demons. Although I still feel the “Ave Maria” ending makes a disappointing come down.
The other one I could remember large parts of clearly was the Greek myth section to “The Pastoral Symphony” by Beethoven. It gave the world the word “centaurettes”, which the world promptly gave back.
Centaurs, fauns, unicorns, cherubs and
pegasuses? Pegasi? flying horses abound. It’s so vibrant and cheerful, featuring cherubs matchmaking centaurs and features Bacchus, who is a wine swigging comedic delight, his rotund form perched upon a tiny donkey unicorn.
And then Zeus turns up, thunderbolts blazing, spoiling his fun. The petty and cruel king of the gods is far closer to the Zeus of myth than the one who would appear in Disney’s Hercules decades later.
The other stand out is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” composed by Paul Dukas. It’s essentially a Mickey Mouse short and a hugely entertaining one, energetic and full of anarchic fun. It’s the most iconic of the sections and holds up really well, a simple, amusing story.
The hit rate is surprisingly high, with only the first abstract piece falling flat (it overstays it’s welcome a bit) and I was surprised by how much of the film I could remember from the dancing flowers during a medley from The Nutcracker, the bleak extinction of the dinosaurs and the sassy ballerina hippos.
It’s a great movie, with glorious visuals cleverly married to the classical score. The innovation and skill on show means that this has really stood the test of the time. A treat for the eyes and ears.
Disney Score: 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.