How Disney’s Fantasia Changed My Life

This is going to sound a little crazy, but when I say Disney’s Fantasia changed my life just hear me out ☺…When I was little, one of my mum’s friends gave me the Disney movie Fantasia on video for my birthday. In hindsight she was probably ejecting it from her own collection since her kids were not really the type to be interested in cartoons set to classical music. But I adored it. Classical music was never about poshness in my house, in fact no one even played an instrument, apart from my mother strumming pop and English and German folk songs on her guitar. It was my Grandad who was the working-turned-middle class connoisseur of Classical Music. He introduced me to classical music by giving me a CD of the Carnival of the Animals. Since I loved animals too, nothing was more fun than hopping around the living room pretending to be a rabbit.

Anyway, when I watched Fantasia for the first time I was transfixed, taking the musical journey with innocently foolish Mickey in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the doomed dinosaurs in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the fairies ice-skating to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and the colourful centaurs, fauns and cupids celebrating in the The Pastoral Symphony.

But towards the end, after the crocodiles had done their best to try to seduce the ballerina hippos in the Dance of the Hours, everything changed. Suddenly everything went dark. Wisps of dark cloud swirled around a jagged mountain peak as moody, ominous strings announced the start of something scary.Night on bald mountain 1

And there he was.


The mountain peak was alive, unfurling its wings to reveal the awakened horned demon, his eyes flashing yellow with glee. As the shadows of his hands reached over the slumbering village to cover it in claws of darkness, my own hands reached out – and the screen went black. I threw the remote on the floor and scrambled downstairs to find my mum.

Over the next few years I carried on watching Fantasia, but always hitting the stop button before I had to witness the creature that had been visiting my nightmares. But one day, I decided I was old enough to face my fears. I decided it was time to be brave and give the demon another try, so with a deep breath and a packet of Haribos I steeled myself to endure the whole sequence.chernabog night on bald mountain

I watched the yellow-eyed monster Chernabog luring skeletons out of their graves, and they began hypnotically floating up into a stream of ghosts and ghouls, all making an eerie pilgrimage to a black mountain while his hideous grin bared his sharp teeth. I remember feeling the dread rising, but as I had an older brother to whom I was always trying to prove I wasn’t a scaredy-cat, I was going to be brave.

The demon’s ghoulish playthings danced to his command around the fires of his hellish belly, becoming dancing flames, then puny goblin-like creatures, then clawed devils.


But suddenly a bell began to ring with flashes of grey light and interrupted this Danse Macabre. The Night on Bald Mountain was suddenly over. The ghosts were compelled back into their tombs; the demon shrouded himself in his wings and once more became the mountain. The purity and goodness of Ave Maria sounded, conquering all the fears of the night with the light of the dawn. The world had survived, and so had I.fantasia ave maria

Now, with the procession of orange lanterns I wasn’t afraid anymore. In fact, I’d really enjoyed it. I remember sitting in the bathroom later, feeling so proud of myself that I’d faced my fear and feeling that I had suddenly grown and become very brave. I can’t have been more than about 7 years old.

I know this might seem a small, insignificant event, but to me it sowed the seed of what I believe about the horror now. I believe that horror is about survival in the most frightening of circumstances – the triumph of the human spirit in circumstances that are beyond comprehension.

Chernabog_sunAs such, I believe that from reading or watching horror we are on some level making mental notes on how to survive, how to overcome particular evils, even if they are borne of the imagination or the supernatural. It can give you the opportunity to confront fears and train your brain self-control to be better equipped to deal with stresses. Obviously most of us aren’t going to come across a mountain demon anytime soon (I hope – but if you do I want to hear about it!), but to have been to a nightmare in your imagination and overcome it, is an like exaggerated version of dealing with the more day-to-day fears we face in ourselves.

I was raised with the idea of ‘you’re a girl, why would you want to look at horrible things?’, as if only mentally deranged people enjoy horror. But to me it’s not about trivialising suffering, it’s about imagining yourself in that place of power as the one who overcomes it all, no matter how terrible or frightening.

Now, the Night on Bald Mountain is my favourite sequence of all the Disney cartoons, and that’s how Fantasia in its own small, strange way changed my life.

kay nielsen fantasia concept sketch.jpg
Original concept art by Kay Nielsen- one of my favourite illustrators (1940)

Which movies scared you as a child, and how did you overcome your fears? Did you watch Fantasia and enjoy it ? Leave a comment!


You might be interested in purchasing:
Fantasia – [DVD] [1940] – the original movie now remastered
Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” – the art book including lots of concept sketches, storyboard images and photographs
Fantasia 2000 [DVD] – the semi-sequel with all new interpretations of favourite Classical music pieces




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