Walt Disney’s seven-part paean to classical music, Fantasia, opened in 1940 to calamitous box office. While reviews were mixed, few cartoon features have been as galvanizingly influential over Pop art and high art. This audiovisual smorgasbord animates eight basic repertory pieces—including The Rite of Spring—with fanciful stories, picturesque scenes, and abstract designs. On the high side, it gave American audiences their first chance to experience The Nutcracker as intoxicating dance. Decades later, after a smash 1969 re-release as a “trip” movie, it catalyzed a new genre: the classical-music video.
On the Pop side, Fantasia’s version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice reshaped Mickey Mouse into a Chaplin-esque figure with expressive eyes, a pinkish face, and a pear-shaped body. The T. rex and gentler dinosaurs from its Rite of Spring re-emerged in Steven Spielberg’s The Land Before Time and Jurassic Park series; and the movie’s demon-topped Bald Mountain from Night on Bald Mountain evolved into Devils Tower in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg even found an inspirational moment in the saccharine Olympus that Disney envisioned for Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.