There are many instances of cross-genre inspiration in the literary and musical worlds, from poems inspired by art, music inspired by poems, art inspired by music, and so on. In 1940, Walt Disney extended this tradition to the masses with the feature film Fantasia, a collection of short films inspired by classical pieces. The movie brought to life music that the general population might not usually have the patience for, and succeeded so well in doing so that Fantasia has remained one of the most popular American films for the past seventy-five years. The beauty of Fantasia, apart from the art itself, is in its creativity. Each of the eight pieces is an interpretation of a composer’s work that is completely outside of his or her control, and each interpretation involved great creative freedom while maintaining a defined scope of a song. Fantasia is not an animated feature of a well-known and pre-scripted story; it is art inspired by art, creativity begotten of creativity.
In 1999, Disney released a sequel to Fantasia in the form of Fantasia 2000. For this film, they kept to the format of the original, but chose new musical works from which to draw inspiration. The sole exception was that they kept The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as an anchor piece and tribute to the original. There were rumors of yet another Fantasia several years ago, but ultimately the work was released as a collection of short films, and there have been no whispers of another film since. But as we draw close to the end of Fantasia’s seventy-fifth year, perhaps the time is ripe for another sequel. After all, Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 hardly scratched the surface of pieces worthy of animation.
Fantasia included works by Tschaikovsky, Bach, Dukas, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Ponchielli, Mussorgsky, and Schubert, all composers “from the continent,” you’ll notice, whereas Fantasia 2000 branched out very slightly by including, alongside pieces from well-known western composers, “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin, which is the quintessential American symphonic piece. In the recent collection of shorts, Disney branched out even further by including folk music. And there are myriad other pieces worthy of drawing to the attention of the average movie-goer. Pieces by your Mozarts and Beethovens, of course, but also pieces by women, pieces by Americans, and pieces by people of color.
So, for a new Fantasia, I propose a mixture of pieces by the old composers we all know and love, and pieces by women and Americans. Thus, we keep the feel of the original Fantasia, but add a twist of modern inclusiveness that is more representative of the twenty-first century.
To start, I suggest Erik Satie’s “3 Gymnopodies,” or perhaps just one of the three. These are already heavily used in contemporary film, but are generally inserted to evoke a pensive or melancholy mood, while I think they could inspire something quite beautiful on their own. This keeps us in the tradition of foreign composers, but puts us solidly in the modern age. Next, I’d like to see what the artists can do with Mendelssohn’s “Scottish Symphony,” specifically “Symphony No. 3.” This one would make up some of the meat of the film, as it contains four movements and lasts more than a half-hour. It’s well worth the time spent, and stands as one of my all-time favorite works for a full orchestra. It has everything a symphony should have: A dramatic build, beautiful and memorable themes, energy, and a fabulous finale.
As a palate cleanser following the “Scottish Symphony,” I recommend the second movement of Rebecca Clarke’s “Sonata for Viola and Piano.” This piece is playful yet moody, and gives voice to two underrepresented groups in classical music: Women and violists. Following that, the next meaty piece I’d like to see is Vaughan Williams’s “Dona Nobis Pacem.” Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the piece in 1936, and thusly its subject is peace. The second and third movements are inspired by poems by Walt Whitman, who wrote many poems about the American Civil War, and include words directly from those poems. This one would be a nod to the cross-genre homage, but also timely in a confusing and sometimes terrifying age. Due to its already abundant imagery, this one would provide for plenty of material for animators to work with.
To begin the second half after an obligatory intermission, I suggest “Concerto Grosso No. 1,” by Ernest Bloch. Bloch was born in Switzerland and studied in Europe, but moved to the United States before his career as a composer took off. The “Concerto Grosso,” is full of energy, and ends on a note of hope. Translated to the screen, this could be turned into pretty much anything visually speaking, and could perhaps make for an American success story, or twenty minutes of abstract animation following the rise and fall of the music.
Following Bloch, it seems appropriate to include one of the composers that captured an American symphonic sound. So, in the second half of my Fantasia, I would include Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown.” This was originally part of a ballet, but could easily become the soundtrack to a really fun animated sequence. It’s important to note that, in addition to being a successful orchestral composer, Copland was one of the earliest film composers. Thus, it’s doubly suitable for his work to be included in a Fantasia sequel. And to end out the list, I would include The Little Matchgirl, which Disney originally released in 2006. It is beautiful and heartbreaking, and deserves to be released again as part of the Fantasia line, in my opinion. Even if my imagined Fantasia never happens, you should check out that film.
We can only hope that we’ll see another Fantasia in the coming years. The original served not only to entertain, but to educate, and allowed generations to look at music in a new way. Seeing as there is so much music left, the well from which to draw is bottomless, and there could be new Fantasias for many generations to come, if everything falls into place.