23 years ago I had the privilege of catching Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in theatrical re-release. At the time I was acutely aware what a privilege it was, because about five years earlier, in a history of animation class at the School of Visual Arts, I had written a research paper about that very film, and in those days there was no easy way for me to actually watch the film I was writing about!
Among a few Disney films deserving of the title “masterpiece,” Fantasia remains a unique achievement.
Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is widely celebrated as a beginning, the first feature-length animated film in Hollywood history. It’s just as correct, though, and perhaps more illuminating, to hail it as a culimination — as the crowning achievement of years of experimentation, discovery, growth and achievement by Disney’s animation team.
Emotionally resonant, visually dazzling, imaginatively captivating, thematically rich, Walt Disney’s Pinocchio may just be the greatest of all the early Disney masterpieces, possibly outshining Snow White, Fantasia and Bambi.
Somebody has to say it: Made at the height of Disney’s early brilliance alongside Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Bambi, Dumbo is the odd weak link in the chain.
The process of growing and learning is often glossed over in plot-driven coming-of-age films like The Lion King. By contrast, Bambi is about nothing else. With the patient single-mindedness of a child learning to walk or talk, the film focuses on the young deer prince’s repeated attempts to prop himself up on his stilt-like legs, to hop over a log, to say a word, to distinguish one boldly colored or flying thing from another. We see Bambi makes friends, cower at a thunderstorm, discover girls, and, in a defining, indelible scene recalled by subsequent films from The Lion King to Finding Nemo, face crushing tragedy. We watch him go from perplexed distaste at the mysteries of the opposite sex to falling head over heels, and we see him confronted with the implacable necessity of fighting for love.
If Fantasia failed to spark a hoped-for entertainment revolution, its achievement is all the more starkly singular. A joyous experiment in pure animation, an ambitious work of imaginative power, a showcase of cutting-edge technique, and a celebration of great music, it is without precedent and without rival. I’ve watched it far too many times to count, and I have yet to begin tiring of it.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.