Fantasia: “The Pastoral Symphony” (1940)

Fantasia was Disney’s third animated feature. It was made up of eight animated vignettes which were set to classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. This project emerged from the production of the “Silly Symphonies” shorts in the 1930s which similarly paired story with music, but Fantasia went beyond these humorous stories to create an immersive experience.

The fifth segment of the film is the 22 minute “Pastoral Symphony” by Beethoven, which depicts a mythical Greco-Roman world of colorful centaurs and “centaurettes” engaged in heteronormative romantic displays (see also Winsor McCay’s 1921 film, The Centaurs). These tender and erotic depictions of male and female Centaurs in love is unusual. Not only are female Centaurs a rarity in ancient sources, the ancient male Centaurs are usually portrayed as uncivilized and sexually aggressive (see the Centauromachy). There are also cupids, fauns and pegasi frolicing in a natural setting and a festival in honor of the wine god Bacchus in the second half, which is interrupted by Zeus, who creates a storm and throws lightning bolts at the participants before growing tired and going to sleep.

Interestingly, the scene was originally set to Cydalise et le Chèvre-pied by Gabriel Pierné, but the music was replaced with sections of Beethoven’s sixth symphony — a change that the conductor Stokowski disagreed with.

The pagan-inspired vignette also received its fair share of controversy: the female centaurs were originally drawn bare-breasted, but because of the Motion Picture Production Code, they had to be redrawn with garlands around their necks. Additionally, there were black female centaurs depicted in the original cut with “braided ‘pickaninny’ hair” who served as attendants of the white female centaurs. These racially insensitive figures were edited out in the 1960s.

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