We all know Walt Disney as the humble, fatherly showman who gave us great movies, music, and theme parks – not to mention the great gifts they inspired. But sometimes, people forget that he was also a pioneering artist whose vision went beyond many from his time. The best example from his movies is Fantasia, the 1940 masterpiece that elevated animation from children’s entertainment to a genuine art form.

Mickey's Design Evolution

Even if you haven’t seen Fantasia, you’ll definitely recognize the most popular part of the movie: “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” This short gave Mickey Mouse, not just a colorful and recognizable outfit – red robes and a blue, starry wizard’s cap – but a total design change. This was the first time he had pupils instead of old-school Pac-Man eyes, making him more expressive than ever before. The look stuck.

The Power of Animated Art and Classical Music

Walt wanted to release “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by itself, envisioning it as the biggest Mickey cartoon yet. However, it also became the biggest-budgeted one yet, and putting it out by itself didn’t really make sense. That’s when he and the studio’s creative team decided to package it with seven other mini-movies, all based on the same idea: combining masterful animation with classical music. Just like that, the project went from nine-minute short to two-hour epic.

Besides the movie’s format, Walt’s ambitions come through in the weird choices made for each segment. The beginning of the movie, “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” introduced children to abstract art. “The Rite of Spring” shows the slow creation of the Earth and the slow evolution of prehistoric life over 35 long minutes. To top it off, it’s set to a ballet that was, at the time, wildly controversial. Then there’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” which depicts demons and monsters partying with a terrifying, mountain-sized devil. This then effortlessly transitions into a softer, quieter pilgrimage sequence for “Ave Maria.”

It’s definitely a challenging movie, but there’s still fun to be had for the kids. You can see hippos, ostriches, and crocodiles dancing ballet in the ridiculous “Dance of the Hours.” An extended segment set to Beethoven’s 6th Symphony shows pegasi, cherubs, centaurs, and Greek gods getting into all kinds of mischief. Viewers even get to “Meet the Soundtrack,” a thin white line that transforms based on sound … and has a snarky sense of humor.

Studio Production

The making of the movie was a huge effort for the studio. Animators spent three years creating two hours of fully-colored animation by hand. Walt hired famous conductor Leopold Stokowski to score the movie. The production team used revolutionary techniques to bring the film to life. To give listeners the feeling that they were right next to the orchestra, Disney’s engineers created “Fantasound” – the first example in history of surround sound. The budget ballooned to $2.28 million, making it one of the most expensive movies ever at the time.

The massive budget and other circumstances proved to be too much, and Fantasia was a box office bomb at the time. However, modern audiences can fully appreciate it as Walt Disney’s magnum opus and a towering achievement not just in animation history, but art history. It’s experimental, entertaining, beautiful, and still so effective. The movie’s tagline was exactly right: “Fantasia will amaze ya.”

Fantasia Merchandise

Fans of Fantasia can find all sorts of themed merchandise here at Your WDW Store! You can find Disney World-exclusive Sorcerer Mickey pins, rare Vinylmation figures of characters from almost every segment, and so much more. Add something from this classic to your collection!