Thursday, October 8, 2009

The darkness of Disney: Night on Bald Mountain

I'm tired of all the people whining about how Disney is too "cute and fluffy" to own Marvel Comics. Disney ain't just talking mice and cuddly critters, ya know. To prove it, I'm devoting the rest of this month to exploring the DARKNESS of DISNEY. For me, there's no better way to start things off than with that most celebrated and astonishing of dark Disney moments -- "Night on Bald Mountain," from the feature film Fantasia (1940).

Fantasia is the third movie of what's commonly referred to as Disney's "Great Four" (Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi -- and sometimes Dumbo). They were the first animated feature films Disney produced. No expense or artistry was spared, and they were produced at a time when the studio was much more willing to take artistic and technological risks. World War II and reductions in box-office takes, along with a nasty studio strike, effectively put an end to this wild animation experimentation, and the Disney studio, unfortunately, never really recovered during Walt Disney's lifetime. Recovery in the animation department didn't take effect until the release of the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, in 1988, which sparked the beginning of the "Disney Renaissance," and a Renaissance in animation in general.

Fantasia arose from a meeting between Disney and legendary composer/arranger/orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowsky, during which they discussed creating a concert feature starring Mickey Mouse. What resulted was a movie consisting entirely of animated sequences set to Stokowsky'e arrangements of famous classical music pieces. Think of the segments as being sort-of classical music videos -- of which "Night on Bald Mountain" is one of the most famous. In it, the devil/demon Chernabog and a hoard of spirits dance to Stokowsky's arrangement of Mussorgsky's dark masterpiece. Chernabog was animated by the legendary Vladimir "Bill" Tytla, who reportedly used Bela Lugosi as a model.


SallyP said...

You're right of course, there are plenty of darker moments in Disney, but they seem to be mostly in the older stuff. But heck, Bambi's mother died, and there were dragons, and some scary stuff for little kids.

And you know what? Little kids LIKE to be scared sometimes. So do big kids.

Anonymous said...

My kids love "Disney's Halloween Treat" and "Once Upon a Halloween" ... both are clip shows of scary moments in Disney movie history with some great scary songs. Delightful!

wik said...

How do you know you're a comic geek? When you look at that and see a mutated alternate universe Batman with Beast's hairstyle and The Shade's/Nightshade's shadow powers, among a few other things :P
But yeah, I love the darkness in some of the earlier Disney works, and Fantasia in particular is such a treat for the senses.

MetFanMac said...

HECK yeah. Disney, particularly early Disney, is a lot darker than most people assume! They've got a whole page in TVTropes under "Nightmare Fuel"!

Sea-of-Green said...

The Disney studio did PLENTY of "dark" animated during the 1990s "Renaissance," but there was a VERY long period there when they were severely hamstringed by audience and censorship demands to "not be too scary."