Klangbilder - Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940)

By Schwark, Daniela | Music, Sound and the Moving Image, Autumn 2012 | Go to article overview

Klangbilder - Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940)


Schwark, Daniela, Music, Sound and the Moving Image


Irene Kletschke Klangbilder - Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940) (Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft67) 205pp. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2011

Fantasia (1940) is still seen as an unusual yet innovative Disney cartoon, despite having been a commercial disappointment at its first release. Especially among musicologists, this film has notably raised questions of whether or not music can be successfully illustrated and to what degree both music and image can be combined. Now almost seventy years since Fantasia's release, the socio-cultural environment has changed, growing accustomed to sounds and music being expressed visually, from the large-scale concert hall laser show, through computers down to the smallscale commonplace smart phone. Throughout this time Disney's cartoon has retained a timeless quality thanks not only to its innovative blending of music and image or its advanced acoustic layout but also to its educational ambition in reaching and inspiring a fairly broad audience with what is generally described as classical music. Klangbilder by Irene Kletschke addresses these aspirations that made this film a 'classic' in its style, and offers a detailed account of both Fantasia and Disney in the late 1930s. This book is the publication of a doctoral thesis whose premise is a thorough investigation of the audio-visual interplay throughout this particular animation, achieved by a close and dense reading of the film's musical score and its corresponding visualisations of structures and phrasing. Kletschke deconstructs the way in which the animations follow and resemble the musical themes in a detailed analysis without losing sight of overall compositional, stylistic, and filmic context. References to a large variety of mainly English and German sources dealing with Fantasia are included and represented in numerous citations, where appropriate these are displayed in their original English state in the otherwise German account, although the critical edge that musicology has adopted in Anglo-American countries is less evident throughout. The book is complemented by insightful explanatory footnotes and an extensive bibliography including German, French, and English literature on the subject. The purpose of this review is to introduce the chapters and their content in brief, but also to provide the non-German-speaking reader with a translated synopsis. The chronological and analytical format of the work leaves little room for a more critical review, therefore the following focuses primarily on content.

Chapter 1 ('Walt Disney in 1940') deals with the story of Walt Disney and his path to fame from 1930-40 linked to the wider development of cartoon films in the 1920s up until 1942. On the back of numerous Mickey Mouse Cartoons, over seventy Silly Symphonies, and two cartoon films, the Disney Studios set out to undertake the experiment of a feature-length cartoon set to classical music, Fantasia. Kletschke acknowledges that the importance of the newly developed sound film generally helped revive the audience's interest in cartoons after the silent film cartoon presentation, with organ or orchestral accompaniment, 'had outworn its welcome' (Solomon 1994: 21). Sound effects combined with dialogue and music on the other hand enhanced the cartoon considerably, rendering it a successful means of entertainment for a mass audience - an opportunity not to be missed by all major Hollywood production companies. With Steamboat Willie (1928), Disney entered this new territory of combined animation and sound, creating the direct illusion of talking, singing, and dancing cartoon characters. The Disney Studios proved to be a pioneer in applying new technology to the area with the first cartoon in Technicolor, Flowers and Trees (1932), and the use of the multi-plane camera to show depth and dimension in The Old Mill (1937). Financially these endeavours were not often worthwhile, they merely provided an experimental field for Walt Disney's ambitions. …

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