In 1938, Walt Disney wanted to boost the popularity of his flagship character, Mickey Mouse. Disney came up with a short, animated piece called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, featuring Mickey as the title character. It was based on Goethe’s 1797 poem about an apprentice who tries to use some of his master’s tricks but doesn’t know how to control the magical beings he creates. As a standalone short, this animation would have been difficult to market, so the producers decided to embed it in a series of other short pieces, all accompanied by classical pieces of music.
The result is Fantasia, in which the audience follows Mickey Mouse’s adventures as the sorcerer’s apprentice. Along with Mickey, we appreciate the beauty and magic of nature and seasons; learn about the birth of our planet, the development of life, and the rise and fall of dinosaurs; delve into the mythical world of Pegasus, unicorns, centaurs and Bacchus; and witness fights between good and evil.
Classical music; fantasy and imagination; right versus wrong; good versus evil; life and death; love and romance
Fantasia has some violence. For example:
- In ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, Mickey Mouse destroys a broom that has come to life. He hacks it into pieces with an axe.
- In ‘Rite of Spring’, a tyrannosaurus attacks and kills a stegosaurus in a violent fight.
- In ‘The Pastoral Symphony’, Zeus and Vulcan, the God of Thunder, are amusing themselves by throwing bolts of lightning at the creatures below.
- In ‘Night on Bald Mountain’, the demon Chernabog crushes and burns creatures of the dark.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Fantasia shows some use of substances. For example, in ‘The Pastoral’, the audience is introduced to Bacchus, the mythical god of wine. He drinks a lot of wine and also gives wine to his donkey. He’s presented as a happy, clumsy drunkard, stumbling around, hiccupping, and falling over.
Nudity and sexual activity
Fantasia has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:
- Some of the characters are nude. This includes the cupids, which are angel-like, mythical creatures. But they are depicted as sexless (we see naked bottoms, but no genitals).
- In ‘The Pastoral Symphony’, male and female centaurs are seen bare-chested, but the female breasts are modestly stylised (no nipples are displayed).
- In ‘Night on Bald Mountain’, harpies are briefly seen bare-breasted.
- Male and female centaurs court and fall in love. These scenes use outdated cultural and gender stereotypes. For example, the female centaurs flirt and seduce their male suitors.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Fantasia is a remarkable spectacle of music and imagery, featuring music by some of history’s most influential classical composers, including Bach, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Ponchielli, Mussorgski, Schubert and Dukas.
Fantasia is also fascinating in cinematic history, because it was made before the invention of computer-aided animation technology. Every single frame was hand drawn, coloured, photographed and put together in an elaborate process that involved over 1000 artists and technicians. The animation was ground-breaking at the time and is still impressive more than 80 years later.
Because of its dark and scary scenes, Fantasia isn’t suitable for children under six years. Even older children might benefit from parental guidance and explanation of the movie’s historical context.
The main message from this movie is about the pleasure, stimulation and inspiration that we can find in the harmonious interplay of music and imagery.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include:
- the beauty and magic of nature
- the importance of imagination and fantasy
- an appreciation for the cycle of life
- an understanding that light cannot exist without darkness, and good cannot exist without evil.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about:
- appreciating artistic achievements in history, like Fantasia’s animation and the classical music it uses
- observing how art and ideas change over time – you could talk about how this movie is different from today’s movies.