Was it wrong for Disney to censor Fantasia to remove the character Sunflower?

This post is an expanded version of something I wrote on Quora.

One of the most controversial aspects of Disney’s Fantasia is the censorship of the character Sunflower from the Pastoral Symphony segment of the film.

Sunflower is a centaurette (female centaur) who is depicted as being a hybrid of a young black girl and a donkey.  She is shown performing duties as a servant to the other centaurettes who are depicted in a wide variety of pastel colors.

Beginning in the 1960s, Sunflower was deemed a racist and negative depiction of black people, and her scenes in the film were deleted.  Beginning in 1990, the scenes were restored, but the shots she was in were cropped (zoomed in) so that she could not be seen, except for one that was.  For the 2010 DVD and Blu-ray release, Some scenes had Sunflower digitally erased, and others were cropped to a smaller extent than in earlier releases, all to reduce graininess.

There is much debate over whether she should’ve been removed from the film.  There are those who say that she should be censored in order to move away from the attitude of depicting black people as negative stereotypes.  Others say that she shouldn’t be censored because such portrayals were very common in animated films of the time, and that removing them is the same as saying that they never existed in the first place.  Some believe that there should be a middle ground; in other words, for example, the late film critic Roger Ebert felt, “While the original film should, of course, be preserved for historical purposes, there is no need for the general release version to perpetrate racist stereotypes in a film designed primarily for children.”

Also of note: There are other black characters in the segment.  There are two identical unnamed centaurettes who are part young black women and part zebra and another young black girl donkey centaurette named Otika who in the original rolls out a red carpet; in all versions currently available, Otika is digitally removed so that the red carpet appears to unroll by itself, and the zebra centaurettes have never been altered or removed from the film.

Sunflower

Otika

Sunflower’s scenes can be viewed here and here.

My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music Monday: My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music: Part 11: Fantasia 2000

I’m sorry to post this a day late, but I felt rather tired, as I did not get much sleep on Sunday night, and I could not focus on completing it; I decided not to skip this post because I figured, “better late than never.”

I talked about the original Fantasia before, but today I will talk about its sequel, which was 60 years in the making.

As the original Fantasia was being developed, Walt Disney intended for it to be a perpetual entertainment experience.  In other words, people it would be regularly rereleased with new segments replacing some of the old ones.  According to Wikipedia: “Disney had wanted Fantasia to be an ongoing project, with a new edition being released every few years.[145] His plan was to substitute one of the original segments with a new one as it was complete, so the viewer would always see a new version of the film.[71] From January to August 1941, story material was developed based on additional pieces, including Ride of the Valkyries by Richard WagnerThe Swan of Tuonela by Jean SibeliusInvitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von WeberFlight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov,[13][71].”

However, that would never happen.  There were many reasons.  First, Disney wanted to release Fantasia as part of a roadshow exhibition.  However, his distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, refused to handle the film because of its length (124 minutes) and because money, materials, and time required to install the new Fantasound sound system in the theaters.  RKO allowed Disney to distribute the film himself.  However, due to the limited release (Fantasia played in only thirteen different roadshow engagements), the fact that the film couldn’t be released in Europe because of World War II, and high costs, the film failed to turn a profit.  The plans to update Fantasia were cancelled.  Disney did make two films consisting of musical segments, Make Mine Music (1946) and Melody Time (1948), but they were not true updates to Fantasia, and were different in style.

Disney’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, however, belatedly fulfilled his uncle’s dream by producing Fantasia 2000, which opened in IMAX theaters on January 1, 2000 (mirroring the special road hshow release of the original).  The film featured 7  new segments plus the return of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; instead of having one host, each segment had a different host or hosts.

The film begins with a compilation of scenes from the original Fantasia with Deems Taylor’s introduction heard in voice-over, and then the first number is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which acompanies a story of abstract butterflies fleeing their more sinister counterparts; this segment mirrors the abstract animation of the Tocatta and Fugue from the original.

The second segment uses the music of Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome to tell the story of a pod of humpback whales who can fly.  Steve Martin formally welcomes the audience to the film, and then the film changes its focus to violinist Itzhak Perlman who introduces the segment.

The third segements features the jazzy Rhapsody in Blue, the signature piece of George Gershwin, which tells the story of four New Yorkers (drawn in the style of caracaturist Al Hirschfeld) during the Great Depression who all have different dreams: Duke, a construction worker who longs to be a drummer for a jazz band; Jobless Joe, who wants a job; Rachel; a little girl who wants nothing more than to spend more time with her busy parents; and John, who wants to leave his overly demanding wife.  It is introduced by music producer and mogul Quincy Jones who is accompanied by the piece’s pianist.

Next, Bette Midler gives the viewer information on several pieces and concepts that were considered for a new Fantasia, but they never made it to the screen.  Eventually, the Disney animators chose to Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, but struggled to find the right music for it, finally settling on Dmitri Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto.  First composed in 1957, it is the newest piece in any of the Fantasia films.

Next, James Earl Jones introduces the Finale of The Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saens.  This piece answers the age-old question “What happens if you give a yo-yo to a flock of flamingos?”  It’s definitely the funniest piece in the film.

Next, Penn and Teller introduce The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the only returning piece from the original Fantasia.

Next, James Levine introduces a piece featuring Donald Duck, The first four Marches of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance set to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, featuring Donald as Noah’s assistance.

Finally Angela Lansbury introduces, Igor Stravinky’s Firebird Suite.  This segments features a wood sprite bringing a forest back to life after the winter, but then she awakens the Firebird, who lives in a volcano…

While, I don’t think that Fantasia 2000 matches the original, I still feel it’s a worthy feat, with the right amount of diversity, style, and tone.  I wish that Disney would make another one, but I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

 

 

TV Tropes Tuesday: TV Tropes: Missing Episode

This entry on TV Tropes is known as Missing Episode.  Given the site’s roots as discussing the narrative devices of TV, it’s obvious why this trope is called what it is.  However, as TV Tropes evolved to cover all media, this trope naturally was expanded to give all examples of media.

Missing Episode refers to the phenomena of an episode of a TV, or for that matter any work that is no longer publicly available.  There are a variety of reason why an episode might be missing.  One example could be that the content is considered offensive, such as due to racial insensitivity, violence, sexual content, and so on.  Another could be an episode that seems insensitive following a tragedy such as a natural disaster, mass shooting, or the like.  Others have to do with legal issues; the most common legal issue is TV shows that license music for the original run, and being unable to license it for reruns or home media distribution, and not releasing it in any form because changing or removing the music would ruin the episode.  Another reason is that the episode does not exist anymore.

To expand on that last point, many films from the beginning of cinema are lost forever.  Martin Scorcese’s Film Foundation, an organization devoted to film preservation, estimates that over 90% of films from the silent and early sound eras are lost.  Even some of the the most popular actors of the time have most or all of their filmographies lost. The reasons are diverse.  First of all, many studios assumed that the film lost value after their theatrical runs ended.  In a world before theatrical reissues, TV broadcasts, and home media, few to no people assumed people would decades later, let alone the follow year, would want to see them; therefore, studios would simply discard or destroy the films, especially if they lacked the money to store them.  Not only that, films were shot on film stock made of nitrate, which was flammable and fragile and would disintigrate or catch fire if they were not properly stored; it didn’t help that studios would intentionally destroy the films to take financial advantage of the silver therein.  Another reason is that many early sound films used a sound-on-disc system.  If the discs became lost or damages, the films would be considered worthless and discarded.

However, some films even if they did survive, are lost in their original forms.  Often scenes would be cut out before original release or before reissues, and discarded and/or destroyed.

My favorite movie Fantasia is lost in its original form.  It was originally released as a roadshow engagement at the length of 124 minutes.  After the financial failure of that released, it was rereleased in standard theaters recut to 81 minutes, removing the Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor segment, and all of the introductions by Deems Taylor.  Later releases restored the Tocatta, but Taylor’s introductions were kept to a minimum.  In 2000, for the film’s 60th anniversary, All of Taylor’s interstitials were restored, but audio tracks were damaged beyond use; voice actor Corey Burton was hired to redub Taylor’s dialogue.

A Star is Born (1954) is partially lost.   It had a test screening at a runtime of 196 minutes.  It was cut down to 181 minutes for the premiere.  However, theaters complained about the length, saying it would limit showing, and therefore, profits.  As a result, Warner Bros. cut the film to 154 minutes.  Director George Cukor and star Judy Garland were outraged.  Cukor refused to see the film again, saying that it hurt to watch the recut version.  Garland claimed that the fact that several crucial scenes were cut, lead to her losing the Oscar for Best Actress.   Ironically, this attempt to increase profitability lead to the film losing money.   In 1981, a restoration proved partially successful, extending the length to 176 minutes, and replacing lost scenes that couldn’t be found with photos of the scenes being shot, to give an idea of what they would have looked like.

Many American soap opera episodes are lost, as the owners of them did not preserve them.  It was not until the middle of the 1970s, that they began preserving the episodes.  The exceptions are Dark Shadows, which has only one lost episode, and Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless, which have preserved all of their episodes before it was common to do so.

Many talks show and game show episodes are lost because the tapes were reused, due to videotape being very expensive.  This practice ended in the late 1970s.

The BBC is famous for discarding many of their programs.  This practice is known as wiping.  It was not until 1978, that they developed a policy of preserving all their material.  The reasons were varied, but included issues such as cost, making room for new programs, and deals with talent unions to limit or forbid reruns from talent unions on the rationale that reruns might put them out of business.  The most famous examples of this policy is Doctor Who.  Many early episodes are lost forever, but occasionally, lost episodes did turn up.

With regard to anime, many episodes are missing often because of content reasons, that are offensive to Western sensibilities or deemed inappropriate for children.  One anime series is, however, lost in its original form because of of changes made when it was imported for dubbing in America.  That would be Astro Boy.  Adter NBC recut the episodes, they offered to send the original film elements back the rights holders in Japan; the studio, however, refused to accept them because of financial issues, and they told NBC to do whatever it is that they do with film elements that they can’t or don’t want to keep.  NBC discarded them, and now all versions of the show are made from NBC’s version.

I even have a lost film of my own.  In 1999, me, my brother, my sister, and my father created a short film called The Giant Pikachu.  I lost the VHS tape is was saved on.

My Love for Classical Music

As I mentioned in my new introductory blog post, I also had plans to talk about music from time to time, even though it is not the main purpose of my blog.  Today I will talk about music.  More specifically, I will talk about classical music.

My love for classical music came from three primary sources.  One the film Fantasia 2000, the sequel to my favorite movie ever, Fantasia.  In late 1999, I first saw commercials for Fantasia 2000, I was entranced by the use of classical music combined with animation.  Early that next February, me and my father and my brother and sister went to see it playing at the IMAX theater at Navy Pier.  That was also the first time I had ever seen an IMAX movie. (Now, it seems like every movie or at least every major movie is released in IMAX format).  I loved it and the experience.

Months later, I rented Fantasia on VHS from Blockbuster (there’s not many of those stores anymore).  I also fell in love with that movie, perhaps more so than its sequel; I suppose in many cases it’s true that original is always best.  Later, I eventually purchased the DVD (months after my aunt gave me the VHS of Fantasia 2000 as a Christmas gift), and enjoyed the experience of that as well as the bonus features which enriched my understanding of the film’s background and history.

Later on my mother introduced me to two cassette tapes from Victoria’s Secret.  They were called Classics by Request, they were performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and my mom owned the second and fifth volumes.  The second volume included such classic such as Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons and the second movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (also known as the Pastoral Symphony) which was also in Fantasia.  I loved those cassette tapes very much, and that just cemented my love for classical music more and more.  I eventually found a box set of all five volumes of the Victoria’s Secret Classics by Request on Amazon, and I hope to purchase them one day.

I like classical music because of it’s feeling.  I feel like I am listening to something with a lush texture.  I feel like I am listening to something pleasurable and fun.  I very often listen to it on various music-streaming platforms such as Spotify, Songza, Pandora, and iTunes Radio.  My love for it will always stay.