The Lost “Clair de lune” Scene in Disney’s Fantasia

(By Brian Davidson)

In all the celebration of Debussy’s 153rd birthday yesterday, many have forgotten that his most iconic piece, “Clair de lune” was originally meant to be in Disney’s 1940 animated film Fantasia.

Fully animated and completed in time for the film’s production deadlines, the short was cut from the final version due to the long running time. However, the animated short was reused in another production Make Mine Music in 1946 set to different music; the original footage reel would end up lost in archival storage for many decades. Eventually the reel was discovered, restored and re-set to the original music of Debussy’s “Clair de lune” performed by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

While visually beautiful and balanced by a subtle panel scripting, the animated short falls incredibly short of the creative standard set by the rest of the film. Quite frankly, the short is remarkably dull and practically plotless.

The music, however, is a wonderful rendition of Debussy’s “Clair de lune”; a very twilight rendition by Stokowski that was reminiscent of film scores of the era.

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