Fantasia – Toccata and Fugué in D Minor

Oskar Fischenger (1940)

In Disney’s mind, the success of Snow White and the Mickey Mouse cartoons had purchased for the studio the artistic and financial freedom to take their art to new heights — and to take the risk of venturing into abstraction. “The abstractions that were done in Toccata and Fugue,” he explained, “were no sudden idea. Rather, they were something that we had nursed along for several years but we never had a chance to try.”

German-American animator Oskar Fischinger, whose Optical Poem (1938) had been set to music by Liszt, was regarded as the world’s finest creator of abstract animation.

Disney called on Fischinger to design visuals for the Bach animation — but when Disney insisted on adapting Fischinger’s work to a degree Fischinger found excessive, he quit and did not receive credit for his work.

By 1940, abstraction in art wasn’t new or shocking. Was the world ready, though, for dark, dense abstraction in an animated family feature? That was what Walt Disney was ready to find out when he brought his new film Fantasia to debut in New York City, which had been rocked 27 years earlier by Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase.

Opening Fantasia with the Bach animation was a very deliberate choice. Not only did the challenging segment establish from the outset that this would be a very different sort of film than Snow White or Pinocchio, it served as a bridge between the orchestra and the screen.

With Fantasia, Disney aimed not only to explore new frontiers in the medium of animation, but to help a mass audience unlock the layers of complex classical music such as Bach’s organ composition.

“There are things in this music that the general public will not understand until they see the things on the screen representing that music,” Disney said in a Fantasia story conference. “Our object is to reach the very people who have walked out on this Toccata and Fugue because they didn’t understand it. I am one of those people; but when I understand it, I like it.”

-Jay Gabler


  1. Ooh I have seen Watership Down! Indeed a very nice one. And I recommend “gone with the wind”. Its abstract – just how you like them 🙂

  2. Oh man there are so many. If you look through my posts on my website under the label Animation Inspiration, you’ll find some I like. I really love Ralph Bakshi and Sylvain Chomet. Watership Down is also a great cartoon

  3. Absolutely no problem – your blog is a pleasure! Yeah – playing the piano relieves all stress and just makes life seem so beautiful for a moment. Not only classics but other genres too.

  4. Perhaps someday. I always found it relaxing when you were able to shut off everything but what you are trying to play on the piano. Very therapeutic, as is most art I suppose. Thanks for following HMC:)

  5. I totally feel your point and would actually wish for that too! Well – it’s never too late to learn again, right? 😉 There are beautiful pieces beginning grade 7

  6. I’m glad you liked it. I tried to learn piano but I just don’t have the patience for it. It’s a beautiful instrument. I love abstract and experimental animation, and feel that Disney should have ventured down the abstract road more than realism.

What's on your mind?