'Fantasia' leaps and stumbles

October 05, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Mousecartoon time now is here.

Fifty years after its birth, "Fantasia," the animated Disney extravaganza of middlebrow classical music, has been re-released for about the umpteenth time, improved yet again from the previously improved edition of 1982. It's much cleaner and less crackly, and some lost footage has been restored. That's the good news.

It's still "Fantasia." That's the bad news.

The piece, which marries seven famous but familiar pieces of music to seven fanciful animated sequences, was a flop when it was released in 1940, but has gradually grown in both audience acceptance and critic's opinions since then.

Originally, Disney ran into considerable hostility from refined circles for some of the casual savageries he worked on the pieces he chose, particularly the "abridging" of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." The great composer called it "an unresisting imbecility."

To my incorrigibly unrefined tastes, however, the "Rite of Spring" is one of the better pieces, though I can see how you might disagree if you either like Stravinsky or dislike dinosaurs. It's a kind of dinosaur-video, a chronicle of the rise and fall of the Saurian phyla in day-glo colors and high-definition animation.

And I like the Mouse. The Mouse plays the naughty assistant to the head magic guy in a stirring version of Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." This is certainly the most famous episode in the film, and rightly so. It's vigorous, vivid feature animation. And best of all, Mickey doesn't talk much in that twitty little voice.

And "Night on Bald Mountain." Goblins, spooks, a red-eyed, winged demon. Great stuff, until "Ave Maria" diddles its treacly little skirts for us.

Now, this is just personal opinion and all, but I think the rest of it is pretty awful. The little unicorns in halter tops. Olympus as Iowa as imagined by animators who'd seen entirely too much Thomas Hart Benton. The cute little blips of abstract color swirling higher and higher in a widening gyre. The dancing hippos to the insufferable "Dance of the Hours." And that guy Deems Taylor narrating it in this corny, condescending voice. It's enough to make a guy dig up his Led Zep tapes.


Animated feature.

Various directors.

Distributed by Disney.

Rated G.


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