Disney’s 1940 creation, Fantasia, is an immensely important and groundbreaking film filled with surreal, cautionary and apocalyptic images unseen before or after in Disney animation, containing memorable segments featuring Sorcerer Mickey, dinosaurs, hippo-alligator ballet and Greek mythology. However, arguably the most poignant segment is “Night on Bald Mountain,” a tale concerning the evil overlord Chernabog‘s harvesting of souls. Disney recently announced that this 14 minute segment is getting a live-action adaptation. With plenty of GCI.
“Night on Bald Mountain” is perfect in its abstract and devilish terror, being one of the darkest, most harrowing and most artistic segments Disney has ever released. What good is it to make a feature length film out of something if its original form is nearly flawless?
Stretching out a dense, 14-minute segment into a feature length film seems like a bad idea. Doing so may result in the high possibility of diluting the original intention of its creator. I’m sure many people felt this way when a single novel (The Hobbit) was stretched into three 2 hour plus films. In the case of “Bald Mountain,” the feature length film might overstay its welcome and establish plot points unnecessary to the core of the story.
Lastly, I can see Disney making a fantasy film out of this. “Night on Bald Mountain” is not a fantasy story. It is an abstract apocalyptic expression of terror and fear. Making a movie out of this segment is akin to making a movie out of a Monet painting. How would that turn out? “Great, I’d love to see what they could do with that” you might say, or “Don’t you dare touch that!” What audience-goers must remember is that what is on the screen is only a single interpretation of the work of art that “Night on Bald Mountain” is.
When audiences see this new film who previously never heard of the animated segment, they will be seeing a new incarnation of the story, one fitting to the family-friendly cinema expected from today’s Disney. As mentioned before, this is not the only meaning behind the original work, only what current Disney executives think will fit well with today’s audiences. In its original incarnation, “Night on Bald Mountain” is not family-friendly nor directed towards children.
Some good might come out of this feature film, but even saying that is hopeful. If the film (which has no release date yet) is great, “Night on Bald Mountain” will receive the widespread recognition it deserves. People will recognize the sheer cinematic presence of Chernabog, remaining in their minds long after they leave the theater.
Disney has created a great deal of now obscure characters and stories in the past that should be recognized by a wider audience. Do you know who Oswald the Luck Rabbit is? I’m sure you do, but if I asked you that question 10 years ago, you would be confused, and so would I. Oswald, Mickey Mouse’s predecessor, became popular largely because he was featured as a main character in the video game series, Epic Mickey. Disney started selling Oswald shirts and other merchandise, and boom, people knew about him. This could very well happen to “Night on Bald Mountain” and Chernabog.
I am happy that “Night on Bald Mountain” will receive a wider audience with this new live-action film, only in hopes that those who watch it will check out the source material.
But maybe the film itself will add a new dimension to the original? It might be intriguing to see how Disney turns this into a coherent hero-versus-evil film. Those who recognize the importance of the original will certainly hope this film improves the legacy of “Night on Bald Mountain,” not tarnishes it.