By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
Walt Disney’s Fantasia
Orchestra, John Mauceri, conductor
Friday, August 19 and Saturday, August 20 at 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, August 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Mickey Mouse as The
Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Walt Disney’s 1940 landmark Fantasia.
Year in and year out some of the best Hollywood Bowl
programs involve motion pictures being projected on the Bowl’s large screens
(including one suspended over the orchestra), often while an orchestra plays
the movie’s musical scores. This weekend offers what may be one of the more unique
uses of that format with a program based on the 1940 Walt Disney movie Fantasia.
John Mauceri returns to conduct the Hollywood Bowl
Orchestra, an ensemble he founded 20 years ago, playing selections from the
score of a movie that Walt Disney at one point considered a failure but today
is considered a landmark for its daring blend of classical music and animation
and for its innovative melding of art and technology.
For those who have never seen Fantasia, the movie is a series of animated segments set to
classical music. However, what you’ll see this weekend is not the entire work
and not in order. Six of the seven segments will be screened: Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the first
movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral
Symphony, an extract from Stravinsky’s The
Rite of Spring, Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s
Apprentice, and Ponchielli’s Dance of
the Hours. A suite from Tchaikovsky’s The
Nutcracker will conclude the evening, accompanied by fireworks. What’s
missing are the Night on Bald
Mountain/Ave Maria sequence, the Meet
the Soundtrack intermission section, and the narration by Deems Taylor.
However, the evening will include two segments — Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela and Debussy’s Claire de Lune — that had been prepared
in 1940-41 for an update of Fantasia (in
fact, Walt Disney originally envisioned that the movie would be updated
frequently but financial problems from the movie’s opening, along with World
War II, torpedoed that idea during Walt’s lifetime).
The program will also offer Destino, a six-minute animated short made by the Walt Disney
Company in 2003 but originally conceived in 1946 as a collaboration using art
by Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali and Disney artist John Hench set to
music by Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez (Bette Midler refers to this
section in her narration sequence in Fantasia
2000). Destino was nominated in 2003 for an Academy Award for Best Animated
groundbreaking when it opened in 1940 (Bosley Crowther, in his New York Times review, wrote, “motion
picture history was made last night”).
Not everyone was enthralled; classical music purists often object to the
cartoon sequences and, indeed, it is hard to hear The Sorcerer’s Apprentice without seeing Mickey Mouse (pictured at
the top of this post) in your mind.
Part of Fantasia’s importance
was in its use of technology. Disney had already developed the multiplane
camera and used it for Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs, but Fantasia gave it
an even more extensive test. Fantasia was also the first motion
picture to employ multi-point stereophonic sound to give the moviegoer a sense
of being surrounded by a live symphony orchestra.
When the movie was originally released in 1940 and 1941 it
played in just 13 cities with limited showings using a specially designed
system called “Fantasound.” Ultimately, World War II and the cost of erecting a
“Fantasound” system in any given theater or playhouse made the original release
of Fantasia a financial loser.
However, the movie was re-released in several versions as
new technologies in both projection and sound were able to improve the viewing
experience and ultimately, it became a moneymaker for Disney.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.