• Music written for the organ by Johann Sebastian Bach some time between the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • Animation directed by Samuel Armstrong.

At the beginning of Fantasia, Deems Taylor describes the three types of segments you will see in the film: music that paints a picture, music that tells a story and music that exists for its own sake. That third one is what the film opens with and what follows is a series of surreal imagery reminiscent of real things like clouds, mountains and light but depicted much more abstractly.

At first, you see Leopold Stokowski conducting the orchestra and scenes of the musicians playing their instruments in silhouette with striking use of color, shadows and sound all around. This was a visual feast unlike anything ever seen by Hollywood audiences in that period and it set the stage for the film’s adventurous spirit and its bold and creative use of Fantasound.

Abstract filmmaker Oskar Fischinger was hired by Walt Disney to inspire the Disney team with his surreal art style. Fischinger had previously worked for German director Fritz Lang on his expressionist films in the 1920s and went on to become a special effects artist in Hollywood in the 1930s while experimenting with charcoal-on-paper animation that was filmed and synchronized to popular and classical music. Some see his work as examples of the very first music videos, and he received much acclaim from film critics.

Fischinger provided Walt Disney’s team with visual inspiration for the Toccata and Fugue segment but he opposed the way his still images were interpreted by Disney’s animators and the independent filmmaker was not used to answering to anyone for his vision so he quit the film without receiving any screen credit, but this segment was a great showcase for Disney’s effects animators and it is nice to see Disney do something so different visually.

Not only was Toccata and Fugue Disney’s first abstract animation. It was also the first use of abstract animation in a mainstream Hollywood film. Plus it predated films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Koyaanisqatsi in its use of music and imagery to convey drama rather than narrative and dialogue. The entire segment is nothing short of mesmerizing and it contains animation that stands out among the entire Walt Disney Animation Studios catalog.