Sitting in rehearsal for the Pittsburgh Symphony's presentations of 'Fantasia' this weekend, I found myself wondering what the classical music and film critics of 1940 thought of Walt Disney's creative ambitions- accompanying concert music with animated imagery and invented narratives. Did they find it vulgar? Unnecessary, disrespectful, distracting, superfluous? An entry into territories the sensible and dignified among us would think wiser of traversing?
Here's a sampling:
"What the music experts and the art critics will think of it we don't know...Probably there will be much controversy, and maybe some long hair will be pulled. Artistic innovations never breed content."
- Bosley Crowther, New York Times film critic
"The illustrations of the Beethoven 'Pastoral' are sufficient to raise an army, if there is enough blood left in culture to defend itself. . . . The clean, pure sounds--the unbearably clean, pure sounds--fall about us while we gaze on the raspberry and marshmallow Olympus, and the pure, strong music seems to be dropping cold and frustrated tears."
- Dorothy Thompson, New York Herald-Tribune
"Much of Fantasia distracted from or directly injured the scores...we could have had from last night a fantasia of musical sequences in which the fanciful and absurd, the witty and romantic, the burlesque and the sentimental were delightfully commingled. What we saw was a conglomeration reminding of Mark Twain's Colonel Sellers at the breakfast table, 'planning a railroad which should run through Slouchburg and Doodleville, Belshazar, Catfish Babylon, Bloody Run, Hail Columbia and Hark From the Tomb.'"
- Olin Downes, New York Times music critic
- Film critic Pauline Kael
". . . To have the Pastoral Symphony interrupted by applause for sugar-sweet centaurettes is painful."
- Franz Hoellering, The Nation
Ten days before the film's premiere, Walt Disney said to the New York Times, ''Maybe I'm screwy. I don't know. It isn't that I deliberately set out to break movie traditions. But if someone didn't break loose with new things the movies wouldn't be where they are today. You'd still have 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' Somebody's got to be a damn fool."
Here's to the fools.