The Disney Canon: Fantasia
Walt Disney was nothing if not an immensely ambitious man. Depending on your opinion of Disney as a person, or the company he co-founded with his brother as an entity, you may find his level of ambition impressive, disturbing or somewhere in between. Consider arguably his most ambitious and unrealized project: the original vision for EPCOT Center, which was not a theme park but a literal domed city in which people would live and work. Think about how much control goes into your experience in a Disney theme park, multiplied by about a billion. A domed city! Controlled by Disney! Even if it was truly just to combat the perception of urban flight, it’s insane to imagine that his version of EPCOT would have been vastly different than what existed in 1982 or exists now.
Disney aimed high. When I wrote about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I mused about how difficult it is for those of us in later generations to grasp that the fairy tale represented some ballsy folly. How could something as straightforward as Snow White be seen as a massive risk? Today, with hindsight afforded by more than eight decades, it’s laughable to envision a scenario in which an all-ages adventure with comedy, romance, drama, thrills, and music wouldn’t be seen as a slam dunk. We’ve seen plenty of films embodying these aspects of storytelling in the ensuing period. Snow White doesn’t seem like much of a folly now, even though the lack of animation in cinema beyond short films in the early 1930s is a large part of what made it so daring.
I could not help thinking after writing that essay about the concept of the blank-check filmmaker. Griffin Newman and David Sims, as you likely know, co-host a delightfully funny and goofy podcast called Blank Check with Griffin and David, in which they and their producer Ben (I won’t insert all the nicknames from series past) talk about different filmmakers who metaphorically cashed a blank check: after a big hit, they aimed high with subsequent titles, whether or not those titles were as popular as what made them initially successful. In so doing, they’ve talked about some of the biggest filmmakers of all time: Spielberg, Lucas, Shyamalan, Cameron, and many more. They’ve discussed some of the most massive films of all time, as well.
But I submit to you: there is no greater, bigger, more daring blank-check movie of all time than Fantasia.