The Pastoral Symphony segment suffers from being the most childish of all the sequences. The humor suffers from too much slapstick. It is not as innovative as in The Sorcerer's Apprentice or Dance of the Hours. Furthermore, the animation is bland and not particularly memorable. Walt Disney had originally intended for the centaurs to be much more wild and beastlike, but concerns by the studio and censors ended these plans. As a result, the centaurs are merely pretty. There are some good moments, such as the storm scene, but this ends before it can become too threatening. The segment is cute, but not much else.
6. Nutcracker Suite
This second piece of Fantasia is extremely beautiful, but that is about all there is to say about it. Scenes such as leaves falling, ice fairies, and Russian flowers are beautiful to look at, but because there is no story, they are ultimately forgettable. This number is gorgeous to look at, but when one is done watching the film, it is hard to remember. This is still better, however, than being geometrically animated and forgettable, like the flamingo with a yo-yo in Fantasia 2000.
5. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
This opening piece is meant to represent what the audience imagines while hearing a piece. At first the viewer can plainly see the instruments. Then one can see images that could be perceived as instruments. Finally the instruments disappear completely.
This is one of the reasons I like Fantasia. This sequence does not have a story; rather it introduces the audience to the concept of Fantasia, for example, when the strings' moving bows become an abstract. The sequence does not pander to children and put in a story, as Fantasia 2000 did with its "abstract" number, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. Yet the earlier opening number has more educational interest because it introduces the orchestra.
This sequence has beautiful animation and I admire the ambition of it, but ultimately it lacks the emotional power of the final four on the list.
4. The Sorcerer's Apprentice
This is probably the most famous sequence from Fantasia, and justifiably so. Making Mickey Mouse a sorcerer in the first place is funny. Then we see how badly he botches his simple task of mopping the floor, and while we're laughing, we also sympathize.
We've all probably messed up some simple job, but not spectacularly as he does. The juxtaposition of his fantasy of ruling the universe with the out of control flood inspires sympathetic pity and anxiety, but also laughter at the ridiculous grandiosity of his aspirations. When the brooms multiply so dramatically, it's funny, but also terrifying because they are trying to drown poor Mickey. Likewise, the sorcerer's return is frightening, reassuring, and funny all at once. Mickey has been caught, and everyone can identify with the fear that inspires. At the same time, he puts an end to the madness Mickey started. And the ease with which he does so, as well as the bop on the bottom he administers with the broom, is comical.
While it is entertaining, however, this sequence does not have the fast-paced humor of the next entry on this list or the beautiful animation of the final two entries. It is excellent, but the final three here are great.
3. Dance of the Hours
This is arguably the high point of humor in Fantasia. The dance between the hippo and the alligator is the ultimate anti-Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire. While that pair personified grace, the hippo smushes the alligator, who nevertheless retains his romantic drive and debonair aplomb. The humor comes from the fact that both seem to think that they are graceful. In fact all the animals seem to believe that they are great dancers.
Though this sequence is highly amusing, the final two on my list combine drama with masterful combinations of animation and music that tell memorable and moving stories.
2. Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria
Night on Bald Mounta
in is my favorite part of Fantasia. The animation, showcasing the dead returning to the devil captures the insane evil evoked by the music. Bela Lugosi modeled for the animation of the devil, and his smile can be seen as the devil revels in torturing the souls in his hands. There can be no mistaking who he is as soon as he emerges from the mountain.
Why is this sequence on the number 2 spot then? For one reason: Ave Maria comes after it. Ave Maria is nice, but it is blandly, even sentimentally, good. The choral introduction and accompaniment emphasize the goody-ness with syrupy, inappropriate slides, and the personal, pleading quality of the prayer in the piece is reduced when the choir soars over the high parts of the solo, implying that heavenly balm will smooth over actual, human troubles. This is replicated in the animation, which reduces people to faceless lights in the beginning, then soars to saccharine heavenly vistas by the end.
Night on Bald Mountain, as good as it is, has the major flaw of being followed by an unmemorable number. But I believe that the final entry on this list encapsulates everything good about Fantasia and has no flaws.
1. Rite of Spring
This sequence manages to contain all the aspects that make Fantasia good. It has powerful, abstract visuals, such as the opening lava storm. It also has the same terrifying, raw almost primitive might as Night on Bald Mountain. This time, however, it is not softened by a feel-good Ave Maria choir; rather the dinosaurs just die. It does not explain why to children, thus allowing them to draw their own conclusions. The films Dinosaur, and more recently Walking with Dinosaurs, could have taken a lesson from this sequence. One does not have to put in dialogue and frame things as good versus evil for children to be interested.