Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite: Disney’s Fantasia LP

This post may contain material that could be deemed culturally insensitive by today’s standards. Any such material is presented in its original context and form and is intended to preserve a piece of history so we can hopefully learn from it.

Fantasia was a ground-breaking animated film produced by Walt Disney in 1940. It consisted of eight segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski, seven of which are performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The music selections on this LP are direct tracks from the film by the above artists.

But Fantasia isn’t without controversy, especially when viewed by a modern audience. From subservient Centaurs to naked nymphs (both from The Pastoral Symphony segment), it would struggle to hold up in today’s market! But we will focus only on the segments of the film showcased by the LP below.

This LP contains music from two segments: The Nutcracker Suite and the Dance of the Hours.

Disneyland Records c.1963

From the image on the cover, depicting a scene from The Nutcracker Suite, you can likely see one of the other culturally insensitive aspects of the film. Selections from the ballet suite underscore scenes depicting the changing of the seasons from summer to autumn to winter. A variety of dances are presented with fairies, fish, flowers, mushrooms, and leaves, including “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, “Chinese Dance“, “Dance of the Reed Flutes”, “Arabian Dance” – “Russian Dance”, and “Waltz of the Flowers”.

Stereotypical Depiction, anyone? From the slanted eyes to the hat shapes, long Fu Manchu mustaches and arm positions, this image has its share of problems! This was simply seen as a cute segment in 1940 where a little mushroom tries to participate in a dance but mostly fails to do so, with comedic effect. Seen today, what stands out the most is the perpetuation of Asian stereotypes.

Side One

The labels for Disneyland Records are mostly yellow in color, as seen below, so it was interesting to find this version in gray.

Disneyland Records c.1964

Acting Out the ABC’s was originally released in the US in 1962, one year before The Nutcracker Suite. The label above is from the 1964 Canadian pressing. But this doesn’t help us with our label color issue! According to Disney Wiki, most of the DQ Series LPs had a plain yellow label, however some had a blue, green or red label (notice they don’t mention our gray label). Beginning in 1976, the records were pressed with a yellow “rainbow” label. So this information doesn’t exactly help us with our gray label mystery.

FUN FACTS: The DQ Series seems to have been a value-oriented LP series with new and re-released versions of soundtracks. Some of the albums, however, were cover versions of the songs in the various films, and not true soundtracks. (Disney Wiki)

But let’s get back to the real matter at hand with a look at the other side of this album:

Side Two

Dance of the Hours is a comic ballet in four sections: Madame Upanova and her ostriches (Morning); Hyacinth Hippo and her servants (Afternoon); Elephanchine and her bubble-blowing elephant troupe (Evening); and Ben Ali Gator and his troop of alligators (Night). The finale finds all of the characters dancing together until their palace collapses.

This is one of the more entertaining segments of the film. However, one could question the use of overweight dancers (hippos and elephants) for comedic effect, such as when a slimmer alligator performs a lift with a hippo, albeit with some difficulty!

The problem with a work like this, as I see it, is how to address these issues. Do we simply remove the offending pieces, such as was done with the black centaur servant, or remove the entire product from circulation? Admittedly, there might not be much left of Fantasia if the latter option is chosen!

Debate rages on over these issues. Song of the South is gone. Gone With the Wind has been annotated. Other films are under scrutiny. Fantasia remains… for now. And as many focus on the films or images themselves, I wonder how all of this should, does, and will affect the collectibles market. It’s an aspect that I’m sure will enter the debate before long!

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