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It's toon time this weekend (November 1-3) at the St. Louis Symphony with music and animation from a pair of remarkable Disney films: "Fantasia" and its sequel from 60 years later "Fantasia 2000." The orchestra's new Resident Conductor Steven Jarvi is on the podium while Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and a host of other cartoon critters cavort on the screen. It's just the latest chapter in the complex—not to say convoluted—history of a film that's had as many lives as a seasonal black cat.
The original "Fantasia" started out in 1937 as a short in which Paul Dukas's "Sorcerer's Apprentice" served as the soundtrack for an animated short in which Mickey Mouse—whose celluloid career was in a bit of a slump—would take the role of the apprentice whose inept attempts to use one of his boss's spells nearly leads to disaster. Not one for half measures, Disney managed to secure the services of the most famous conductor of the time, the flamboyant Leopold Stokowski, to conduct an orchestra of Hollywood studio musicians.
The results were impressive but the cost—over $125,000—made "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" too expensive to ever succeed as a short. And it became but one segment in a pioneering 1940 feature film that would combine classical music and animation in ways that still look visionary today.
|Leopold Stokowski in a classic pose|
"Fantasia" went through a series of revisions and re-releases over the next several decades, including a 1969 appearance in which it was billed as "the ultimate trip" in an effort (mostly successful) to attract young audiences experimenting with mind-altering drugs. The 2000 release—with a digitally Walt's brother Roy produced an IMAX sequel, "Fantasia 2000," which featured performances by the Chicago Symphony under James Levine. I caught it in a standard theatrical release (at the Tivoli) and found it less impressive than its parent—but maybe that's just me being a curmudgeon.
Debussy's "Clair de Lune" is there as well, although it was never part of the original "Fantasia" and I had always assumed it was never animated. It will be interesting to see what's on the big screen at Powell for that one.
The "Fantasia" program runs Friday and Saturday at 7 PM and Sunday at 2 PM. If it's anything like other symphony film events you'll be able to purchase popcorn and take it and your drinks into the theater.
Radio Disney is sponsoring a costume competition and hour before each performance. Entrants are eligible for a drawing for a VIP trip for four to meet Disney characters during Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, November 23. Contact customer service at Powell when you arrive to register. For more information: stlsymphony.org.