Fantasia (1940) - Backstory: I haven't seen it since I was 7. I recall seeing it once or twice but never feeling the desire to watch it again. When I was very young, I found it to be incredibly boring and long. Watching it again many years later has been a thoroughly entertaining experience.
Content: The film is split into eight segments, each with a self contained theme or storyline. I've gotta be honest, even as an adult watching only with my partner with no children present, I can recall smiling or even laughing at each segment.
Production: The entire picture is outstandingly animated with gorgeous colors and imaginative characterizations of fictional creatures and inanimate objects. The soundtrack, lovingly selected by a committee including master of ceremonies Deems Taylor, conductor Leopold Stokowski, and Walt Disney himself, shines at every moment, with compositions from throughout time and around the world.
Controversy: Among Disney's animated films, this one may be the most over-looked in terms of controversy. Everyone loves to talk and exaggerate about the sexy hints dropped in Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the Little Mermaid and the racist stereotypes held in Peter Pan and Dumbo. But Fantasia's main controversy adds up to about 20 seconds of censored images containing a half-donkey (rather than half horse) Black centaurette. The figure, named Sunflower, is a caricature featuring many contemporary stereotypes of Black people, including bad teeth, large lips, a monkey-like facial structure, and a subservient attitude. There are very low-quality bootlegs of these scenes on YouTube if you wanted to see them, for now. I am against censorship in almost every occasion, including this one. I own a collection of the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons on DVD, and before several of the shorts, film expert Leonard Maltin gives an introduction putting into context some of Mickey's behavior, including smoking and drinking heavily, being very disrespectful to Minnie, and two or three blackface gags. Now I ask, how hard would it have been to have a critic or expert give a little explanation before the film played, and leave history alone? Another minor controversy concerns the overdubbing of Deems Taylor's original narration by a voice double, due to many of Taylor's original soundtracks being lost. I am not as concerned by this for two reasons: a) It's a pretty faithful imitation and b) there aren't many other options, it's along the same lines as many older films are treated for Criterion release: The Gold Rush's original soundtrack was re-recorded, frames were patched from multiple different sources, etc. In the end, I would love to see the original Taylor narration restored and found. If it's lost I'll be disappointed, however, I understand many films are truly lost and I'm glad this hasn't happened to Fantasia.
Conclusion: I don't consider many films to be perfect (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Breakfast Club, and Duck Soup are among my all time favorites) but I must admit I'm pretty sure I've got another to add to that roster. This is film is the best representation of movies as art I can imagine, and is just as outstandingly brilliant now as it must have been on its original release. It's perfect regardless of the controversy surrounding it. This is truly a masterpiece.