- Music written by Ludwig van Beethoven between 1807 and 1808 and first performed in Vienna.
- Animation directed by Hamilton Luske, Jim Handley and Ford Beebe.
This segment depicts mythological creatures engaging in playful merriment in the Elysian fields at the foot of Mount Olympus in Greece. Each movement in Beethoven’s composition comprising each scene in the segment: “Awakening of Pleasant Feelings upon Arriving in the Country” (fauns, unicorns and pegasus playing at Mount Olympus), “Scene by the Brook” (centaurs and centaurettes), “Peasants’ Merrymaking” (bacchanal), “The Storm” (Zeus interrupts the bacchanal) and “Shepherd’s Hymn of Thanksgiving After the Storm” (sunset).
This segment is the most widely criticized of all the segments in Fantasia and it also happens to be my least favorite. I will get into the reasons why but first the positives.
If you viewed the concept art for this segment you would have no reason to think it wouldn’t look amazing when brought to life. The rainbow-colored dream-like backgrounds are especially well-designed here.
It even starts out on a high note with the fauns and unicorns playing in the fields with appropriate accompaniment by Beethoven’s cheerful melodies.
The pegasus are my favorites of the entire segment and Walt Disney was also a particular fan of them, even coming up with the visual cue to have them fold their wings like swans when they landed in the water. Animators Eric Larson and Don Towsley supervised the family of pegasus and their animation is the most beautifully realized, especially as making a horse with wings look believable could not have been an easy task.
Eric Larson, who previously animated the forest animals in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Figaro in Pinocchio, was well cast here. Larson would end up becoming one of Disney’s most prolific animators working on every animated feature between Cinderella and the Winnie the Pooh films animating both animals and humans. Don Towsley would go on to work at UPA, Hanna-Barbera and with Chuck Jones on many of his MGM projects from the sixties including How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and The Dot and the Line before becoming an animation director at Filmation and on Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears in the eighties.
Fred Moore animated and designed the centaurs and centaurettes but there is an argument to be made about whether he was miscast. Bill Tytla the animator of Chernabog in the Night on Bald Mountain sequence was eager to tackle the centaurs but Walt knew he needed Tytla on Night on Bald Mountain and so the task fell to Moore, although Tytla said he would have done a better job and criticized Moore’s centaur designs. Moore’s designs of women were good but they look so much like modern girls that they seemed out of place in a Greek mythological setting. Moore’s girls felt natural in the All the Cats Join in segment from Make Mine Music but not here.
The other element that doesn’t hold up well is the stereotypical portrayal of a black centaurette named Sunflower who is assisting the other centaurettes. Although that issue got resolved when her scenes were cut out in every reissue since 1969, so most of the public is unaware of her existence.
Ward Kimball and Walt Kelly animated many of the scenes involving Bacchus the God of Wine and his unicorn donkey Jacchus. Kimball who animated Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio and the crows in Dumbo brought his typically wacky gusto to these characters. Bacchus was a weak character but Kimball would go on to do much more memorable work on characters in The Three Caballeros, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. Walt Kelly who also animated the fauns would of course go on to create the comic strip Pogo.
Art Babbitt animated Zeus and Vulcan in the storm sequence. Babbitt did well here but was not given much to work with. Many of Disney’s animators were not in peak form in this segment despite their best efforts. Zeus terrorizing the folks of Olympus and the slapstick antics of Bacchus as he avoids the lightning bolts make for some average comedy and zero drama.
A fundamental criticism of this segment is that the animation does not do justice to Beethoven’s music. However it is worth pointing out that for Walt’s interpretations of Greek mythology he originally intended for Henri Constant Gabriel Pierné’s “Cydalise” but the music didn’t blend well with the sketches he was seeing from his artists. And that may have had something to do with how rushed and largely uncreative this segment felt.
It’s not without merit but compared to every other segment in the movie which all reached for the stars in terms of their artistry, this one felt like any old cartoon that lesser talents like Walter Lantz or Paul Terry could have pulled off. Although any cartoon made by Disney artists is never all bad. Occasionally their creativity shines through here. Just less so than usual.