Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fantasia - Dance of the Hours

For this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot, Nathaniel has chosen Disney's Fantasia, which poses a near-impossible task. Whole sequences of Fantasia are true works of art - how can you choose just one shot from the whole film as "best"? I haven't seen the whole film in years (since I was a kid), but I remember a lot of it vividly. Given the nature of this blog, it should come as no surprise that my favorite sequences are the Nutcracker Suite and this one right here:
I defy anyone to hear "Dance of the Hours" and not instantly see those dancing ostriches, hippopotamuses, elephants, and crocodiles. What I love about this sequence is how the animators constantly play with expectations. The piece starts with the ostriches, who are appropriately light and graceful, but far more flexible than you might expect. Next come the hippos, and boy do they not move according to expectations, even if all that effort tires them out. The elephants are like the hippos, only more playful. But it's those kooky crocs who steal the show. Much as I love this piece, it never really captures my attention until they show up, with their silly capes and mile-wide mouths. They should be the villains of the piece, but because of their goofy grins, they end up being far more funny than menacing, to the point that you're never sure if they want to eat the hippo or romance her.

Animator John Hench apparently resisted working on this segment because he knew nothing about ballet, so to appease him Walt Disney gave him season tickets and backstage access to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The end result is a perfect blend of ballet technique and animalistic movement. Little things like the way the ostriches walk, the literal shifting of weight in the hippos and elephants, and the way the crocodiles slither and curl up all speak to the real-life animals that inspire them, but are incorporated seamlessly into how they dance.

Taking full advantage of the possibilities of animation, the laws of physics are given a big ol' heave-ho, allowing the lead ostrich to be thrown up very high in the air very quickly, and then float down with enough time to do at least a hundred changements. It also allows the crocodiles to lift the hippos in any number of different, exciting, sometimes funny ways, like just using their tails!

Fantasia has lots of dance in it, but this is the only sequence that really uses dance (ballet specifically) as its driving force. It's also arguably the most fun, which should quiet all those people who decry ballet as boring. There are plenty of comic ballets, just as there are comic operas. Plus, if you picture people performing this instead of animated animals, it's still pretty great. Actually, seeing as how the whole thing is even structured like an actual ballet (the various ensembles each dance separately, followed by a pas de deux, then a grand finale with everyone dancing together), I would love to see some adventurous ballet company attempt this. They'd need some wires and some crazy costumes, but it could be a lot of fun.

Favorite Moment: the crocodiles' entrance, at first menacing, until they throw back their capes and have the silliest look on their faces - in perfect unison, of course (at 7:50 in the clip); and hippo's run-and-jump onto the croc, who attempts to catch her (at 9:10 in the clip) - because some (poor) partners really do feel like that when you try to lift them.
Length: Approx. 11:50

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