Perhaps one of the most revered – and, simultaneously, the most forgotten – Disney titles of all time is the 1940 symphonic masterpiece, Fantasia. Featuring some of the most gorgeous, frightening, and imaginative animated sequences ever to come from the studio, and heavily influenced by some of the most incredible classical music pieces of all time, Fantasia is a unique film whose imagery lingers in the mind long after watching it. I often watched this film as a kid, and I still remember the vivid scenes of centaurs, hippos dancing with alligators, leaves spiraling through the air, and the bone-chilling terror of the Night on Bald Mountain segment, with the mountain-dwelling demon Chernabog and a horde of spectral ghosts and ghouls wreaking havoc on a small town.
But the most iconic segment of the film is probably The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring Disney’s main mouse, Mickey – and it features the definitive image of the film as a whole.
In the sequence, apprentice Mickey dons the hat of his master, Yen Sid, and begins to cast magic that he is not quite prepared to handle… and, as magic tends to, matters swiftly go awry. There’s brooms and flooding involved. Even if you’ve never seen the full film, you are probably familiar with this image and know a bit of the story behind it.
This image is what Fantasia means. It’s magic, wonder – and a lesson to be learned. By putting that hat on, Mickey discovers how it feels to create, to be masterful, to have power beyond trudging up stairs carrying water pails. But he neglects the fact that he is not ready to wield that power, and faces the consequences of those actions as he loses control. Just by looking at this image, a viewer can see what Mickey is doing – and knows that an ominous undercurrent weaves beneath the magical glow of that starry cap. He is not big enough to sit in his master’s chair, his robe is too large for his tiny body, and darkness creeps all around him as he does something forbidden… and yet, there remains the shining allure of that magical hat, which he can’t keep his eyes off of. The viewer knows, after seeing this single shot, that they are about to witness a story to remember, and that Disney magic is about to be born, even if our favorite mouse must suffer a bit in order to learn what it means to wrestle with power you aren’t ready for.
Fantasia is a film with animated sequences that evoke feeling without any words – aided only by the sumptuous, classical soundtrack – and this single image is the impetus of a magical journey about to begin. For all the films that have been locked away in the vault, this one shall remain timeless, and should never be forgotten.