Disney have another live-action remake in the works! Hooray! A classic story reinterpreted for a newer, younger audience! Oh wait, it's Fantasia? Oh god! Hide the children! Don't let them be scarred for life like I was!
Remember when the prospect of Disney making live-action remakes of their classic properties was irksome and groan-worthy? Surprise hits like Maleficent and this year's Cinderella have changed all that. Fans not only accept live action adaptations of classic animated figures; they encourage them. It seems we will be welcoming the adaptation of Beauty and the Beast with open arms.
The latest addition to this lengthening list of live action rejuvenations will be Fantasia. Great news, right? Fantasia has its routes deep in classic Disney territory, what with being made in 1940. 1940! There's just one detail that separates it from the other more narrative-fixated Disney efforts of late.
Fantasia is an art film
You may not realize it upon watching it for a first time. Hell, Walt Disney may not have realized it. He probably just wanted to assemble some nice animation to some music he enjoyed, yet Fantasia is an ambitious movie with artistic clout, no matter how much Mickey Mouse you try to fill it with. Just look at the opening of the movie. It's an experiment in displaying a visual representation of sounds through use of abstract colors. Man, Walt Disney sure wouldn't have made this movie if he'd known how many hippies would eventually love it. The section involving Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring put to scenes dinosaurs coming and going in the grand history of Earth is haunting, troubling and beautiful all at once. Fantasia actually rivals Watership Down in depicting the nihilistic unforgiving terror of the universe. Alas, this proposed adaptation will focus only on one section of Fantasia.
Night on Bald Mountain
This is the section of the original Fantasia that Disney are looking to adapt. It's arguably the finale of the film itself, and uses the original music of Modest Mussorgsky, as we see the Slavic night demon Chernobog rise from a mountain and inflict his whims upon the town below. There's some pretty unsettling imagery, with the souls of the wretched dead being yanked from their slumber and forced to dance for Chernobog's amusement. There are skeletal spectres sweeping across the night, naked souls tossed into fire, then the demon is chased away by the morning light and the purity of faith... and that's about it. The sequence is beautiful as it is disturbing, and it is only about seven minutes long. I'm really not sure what kind of narrative could be placed upon it. Then again, it didn't seem like any narrative could be placed on last year's Dracula Untold, yet writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who are connected to this project, still gave it their best shot.
What could ruin it?
I've decided to use these kinds of adaptations as case studies to determine what we as a culture are most obsessed with thematically. When adapting something that, on the face of it, doesn't have a lot of narrative context, filmmakers occasionally try to fill in the gaps themselves. This explains why so many remakes have added huge battles and end of the world prophecies to their initial stories. Snow White and the Huntsman, Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent have all fallen prey to this temptation, not trusting a mass audience to enjoy something that doesn't concern huge world changing battles and hero's journey nonsense.
Worse still, we could even see what was done with Maleficent, having the initially evil and ominous figure being made a sympathetic, tragic protagonist. We don't need Chernobog to be siphoned into a traditional humanoid hero who, only at the very end, becomes a mountains sized night demon. I doubt there's any real point in complaining. Disney will probably just cast Tom Hiddleston, and then we'll all be happy.