A big failure when it was released, totally misunderstood by the press at the time and even more so by spectators despite its innovative side, Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” also suffered from scissors because of racism…
Building on the critical and public triumph of his first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, waltz disney now saw things in a very big way. He hired a battalion of 1,000 animators, supposed to allow him to release a feature film every six months.
Three feature films were thus in preparation: Baby, Fantasia and Pinocchio. The budget of the latter also exploded that of Snow White, whose production had already required the mortgage of the house of Walt Disney. The failure in the theater of the (mis)adventures of the wooden puppet was very painful for the firm.
Released in November 1940 in the United States, Fantasia dealt another blow to Walt Disney, and was a huge failure in theaters. A failure all the more painfully experienced by Disney as the film was intended to be a precursor, the most ambitious project ever made.
A film without dialogue, except for the parsimonious voice-over of Deems Taylor; the animated images serving as a setting for classical music, the famous pieces of which are played under the direction of the illustrious conductor Leopold Stokowski.
The specialized press and, even more, the public, shunned the very innovative work, which notably exploited a brand new sound process called Fantasound. The artistic concept remained too complicated to understand. And, visually, Fantasia was (and remains) finally a work difficult to access for the youngest, even if Mickey played the sorcerer’s apprentice during a very famous sequence.
It is an understatement to say that the fate of Fantasia was chaotic. For its initial outing, its duration exceeded 2h05, to which was added the 15-minute intermission. This version, using the original editing wanted by Walt Disney, was only shown in 12 theaters (out of the 16 equipped with Fantasound) until January 1941.
In January 1942, the film was released in theaters, under the auspices of the RKO, which however did not hesitate to massacre the initial editing: cutting all the voice-over and even cutting a whole segment, that of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, the plane stroke was particularly violent. Fantasia has thus gone from a duration of 2h04 to 1h21.
Re-released in 1944 and 1946, the film would not be any more successful, even if the version broadcast in 1946 reintegrated, with a few more modifications, what had been cut in 1942. In 1953, a new re-release, accompanied by a new spatialization of the sound , now in stereo. In 1956 and 1963, Fantasia was screened again. This is to say if the firm has persisted in evangelizing the crowds in front of its misunderstood work.
Accusations of racism
The turning point came at the end of the 1960s, in the wake of the Civil rights movement. The film conveys a racist image of the African-American community, with all the stereotypes that go with it, in a sequence that Disney had removed from the editing shown in theaters in 1969. Frank cuts which have also impacted the score musical, resulting in quite perceptible mismatches.
These are six shots, featuring two “centaurettes” by the name of Sunflower and Otica (also spelled “Otika”), in the segment devoted to the Pastoral Symphony set to music by the 6th symphony of Beththoven. The two characters appear as servants of white centaur women, with stereotypical features.
If in March 1958, this segment of the Pastoral Symphony was broadcast, in its entirety, as part of the weekly Disney show Magic & Music, it was cut in 1963 for subsequent television broadcasts. A cut also validated by Walt Disney, who controlled absolutely everything within the studio.
Here are the sequences featuring Sunflower and Otica.
In 1990, for the 50th anniversary of the film, Disney financed an expensive restoration of the film, based on the 1969 version. not reinstated. The trick found, questionable with regard to the integrity of a work, was to zoom in on the image on these now cropped scenes, so that the two black centaurettes did not appear.
For the 60th anniversary of the feature film released on DVD in 2000, Scott McQueen, the head of the film restoration teams at Disney, had supervised a restoration supposed to be complete, 2:05, so that the firm could announce that it this time it was the original version and uncut of the movie. If the quality of the images was indeed increased, the same zoom process was used for the problematic scenes, as well as the reuse of certain shots, to compensate for the clean cuts.
Ten years later, the film will once again go through restoration, under the impetus of John Lasseter. The assembly is almost identical to the 2010 version; a digital retouch making the character of Sunflower disappear, allowing the scene to return to its original framing. The shots with Otika are also digitally reworked. Still, this version, released on Blu-ray, and which reproduces the original colors as faithfully as possible, is the most complete, in any case the closest, to that desired by Walt Disney.