Walt Disney's Fantasia is one of those works of art that does not fit well into any one category. It was first conceived as a vehicle for Disney Animation's star, Mickey Mouse. It has to be remembered that at the time this project was first started in 1937 cartoons and their characters were seen as little more than fast past vehicles for gags. Though Disney's Snow White that was to be released in 1938 would slowly changed that, the perception that animation is a medium for children still persists today.
In making a short that would feature his main star, Mickey in a short set to The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas which was originally inspired by the Goethe poem, hoped to create a piece that captured the imagination of both adults and children. As the production progressed, Walt realized the potential of the project and turned to his friend, conductor Leopold Stokowski of the Philadelphia Orchestra to assist him in selecting great pieces of orchestral work that could be brought to life through drawings. Stokowski expressed his enthusiasm for the project by stating: "The beauty and inspiration of music must not be restricted to a privileged few but made available to every man, woman and child. That is why great music associated with motion pictures is so important, because motion pictures reach millions all over the world."
My favorite segment is The Night on Bald Mountain/Ava Maria. This is the only animated segment in the film that blends two entirely separate musical compositions by two different composers. The Night on Bald Mountain segment is a showcase for animator Bill Tytla, who gave the demon Chernabog a power and intensity rarely seen in Disney films. The nocturnal Chernabog summons from their graves empowered restless souls. The horror of the demons, ghosts, skeletons, witches, harpies, and other evil creatures comes to an abrupt end with the sound of the bells.
The bells send Chernabog and his followers back into hiding, and the multiplane camera tracks away from Bald Mountain to reveal a line of faithful robed monks with lighted torches. The camera slowly follows them as they walk through the forest and ruins of a cathedral to the sounds of the Ave Maria. The animation of the worshipers is some of the smallest animation ever done: the camera had to be so close to some of the work that it had to be rendered at only an inch or so high. Even a slight deviation in the width of the final painted line would have been distracting to a movie audience on the big screen. The multiplane camera then finally tracks through the trees to reveal a sunrise as the film fades to its conclusion.
Originally the plan was for the procession to enter an actual church, and there are numerous concept drawings of gothic architecture, stained glass windows, and actual statues of the Virgin Mary as can be seen on the Fantasia Anthology bonus disc. Ultimately, this ending was deemed too overtly religious by Walt, and he opted for a more natural setting instead. However, the forest design in the segment still mimics that of a cathedral with an overtly gothic motif.