Five questions we still have for “Fantasia”

One of my favorite attractions at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World is Mickey’s PhilharMagic – and surprisingly, only about 20% of that reason is because it offers a respite from the disgusting Florida heat and humidity. But alas, if all I wanted to do was escape into an air-conditioned heaven, I could do that in The Hall of Presidents and wait in zero line.

No, PhilharMagic is great because it’s a big nod to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” the most widely recognized segment of the 1940 Disney classic Fantasia. As a kid, I was never hugely into this movie because it was kind of the first Walt Disney Animation Studios film for grown-ups, complete with adult themes (birth/life, death, temptation, etc.) and stunning classical music –which wasn’t my thing at the time, when I was more into Sesame Street than Tchaikovsky.

But now, even though I appreciate Fantasia so much, I still have a few unanswered inquiries. Here are the top five.

Who was “The Sorcerer”?


So Mickey was some magic guy’s apprentice, who stole his hat (though, to be fair, he shouldn’t have left it unattended in the first place) and wreaked havoc. We know a few things about this wizard who is OK leaving his valuables lying around: His name is Yen Sid (“Disney” backwards!), he was based on Walt Disney himself, and he has appeared in some Disney-related media since Fantasia, like in the House of Mouse TV show and Kingdom Hearts video games.

But what is his deal? Is he descended from anyone cool, like Merlin? Where did he find this magic hat, and is the hat the only source of his magic? Does he have any magical family members, or ties to other Disney character(s)? How did he meet Mickey, and what did he see in a squeaky-voiced mouse that made him say, “Hm, this guy would make a good sorcerer”?

Where do wildlife take dance classes? (And can we go, too?)

One of the best parts of Fantasia is near the end, when hippos, elephants, ostriches, and other animals dance around to “Dance of the Hours” by Amilcare Ponchielli while wearing tutus and whatnot – especially when the hippo and alligator perform a sexually charged pas de deux.


But it does make me wonder how much more amazing life would if animals dance studios were a thing. I mean, you can train animals to do lots of things, so why not ballet? WHY NOT? Also, at first, the alligators want to kill the hippos, because that’s what alligators do. But suddenly, ballet makes them rethink their natural instincts. I don’t know what my question here is, really, but at the very least I do know that I just need some more background information right now.

Why was everyone so bored?

As Demos Euclid so amusingly points out in his blog Hilarity by Default, there’s a pretty decent amount of yawning in this movie. Like, a lot.


I know that classical music doesn’t scream “PARTY TIME!”, but let’s be real: As a kid, we were already nodding off a little while watching Fantasia because it didn’t really have a linear story. Like I said earlier, I appreciate it way more now, but still. Did the animators put this constant yawning in for a reason? It seems to happen way too frequently to be an accident. I’m hoping it was a way to poke fun at themselves for releasing something that was perhaps not as kid-friendly as its predecessors, but either way, it’s a question that remains for the experts.

Why did Stokowski conduct “Fantasia” for free?

According to Disney lore, Leopold Stokowski – conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who provided the music for Fantasia – agreed to conduct the music for the movie for free. It seems like he did it out of the goodness of his heart and because he believed in the movie, but I don’t know about all that. I’m personally tapping my fingertips together and letting my mind wander into the depths of thinking maybe Disney had some dirt over ol’ Stokowski. Why else would such a highly lauded conductor offer his services for free – especially for a project that no one really had any idea about how it would do, considering Fantasia was still fairly early in Disney Animation Studios history and was so different from anything Disney had done so far? HMMM.

Did Alfred Hitchcock have any influence over this movie?

So we know Disney movies have mellowed out a lot over the years in terms of including scary scenes and such. But 1940 was also the year one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most well-known films, Rebecca, premiered. And considering some of the sequences in Fantasia, it got me thinking about whether Disney was influenced at all by this guy. Like…I know brooms are inanimate objects, but in this movie, they can walk around and they have arms and this is just terrifying.


Also, way to make Night on Bald Mountain the last sequence, guys. As if kids watching weren’t already going to have enough nightmares from the broom-murdering scene.


(All images courtesy Disney)

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