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While writing my Snow White post, I thought it was going to be pretty hard since because there wasn’t enough of a plot to really work with. But after watching Fantasia, I think this one is much harder since there is no consistent plot, and much of it is little more than artistic imagery which is subjective at best.

  • The first bit of music is Toccata and Fugue (in D Minor). The imagery with this one is mostly clouds, colors, animated bows. It’s pretty, but at the same time, it seemed to drag out far too long for me. *yawn*
  • The second was Nutcracker suite. This one had animated characters. Dew fairies, frost fairies, dancing mushrooms, leaves, flowers, etc…. Still no plot, but at least it was something more to look at. The most interesting part to me was the dew fairies vs the frost fairies. Were these actually the same species and the only difference was the ambient temperature? That was my thought. Sarah disagreed.
  • Third was perhaps the most famous piece: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in which Mickey, apprentice to master sorcerer Yen Sid, tries to take a short cut on chores by stealing the master’s hat and bringing a broom to life to do his chores but then falls asleep while the broom floods the room eventually spilling out the window. Being a physics teacher, my immediate thought was this would be a fun setup for a mixing rate problem. Of course, this is a differential equations problem (for those that aren’t mathy, Diff Eq comes after 3 courses of calculus) and not really something that could be used in any of the classes I teach. But this is still how my mind works…
  • The Rite of Spring was the third piece that was animated. According to the announcer, the original piece was designed to go with tribal dances, but instead, it was set to a scientific retelling of the history of life, beginning with a still molten Earth and ending with the death of the dinosaurs. Again, being a science guy, this part was fun for me. While it purported to start with the first organisms, the first ones depicted were far beyond what would have been the “first” life (this topic is generally referred to as abiogenesis). Part of the problem here is that “life” is a pretty ambiguous line and what line there is, is very much drawn in the sand. It’s kinda like the definition of “planet” as it applies to Pluto.

    One of the requirements is that it be self-replicating. Of course, there’s lots of things that do this that aren’t what we generally think of as life. Crystals can do this as can many molecules. But this isn’t really life. Yet that’s still an important intermediate step in there, proto-life before full life. There have been many suggestions on how and where this may have happened. The most famous is the “warm little pond” posited by Darwin in Origin of Species. In this idea, a pool of organic molecules is energized by volcanic energy which helps sustain reactions until a self-sustaining mode is reached. However, tests of this have suggested that if clays are present, they may bind the organic molecules before they can form anything worthwhile.

    Other ideas don’t require a pool, but rather, suggest that the atmosphere itself may have been sufficient. While “organic” sounds complicated, this really just means that the molecules contain primarily carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen (CNO) which are the building blocks of life as we know it. There are many gasses that use these molecules as well, such as methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), carbon dioxide (CO2), and others. Again, a source of energy would be needed, but lightning can fill that role in atmospheres. Lightning is actually very common as long as a thick atmosphere is present. It’s been detected on other planets like Jupiter and Saturn even. So this is at least plausible. This has been further established by the famous Miller-Urey experiment which attempted to recreate such conditions and after a short time, was able to spontaneously create many of the amino acids necessary for life.

    But even that may be over stated. Complex organic molecules have even been detected in interstellar clouds of gas and dust. While astronomers aren’t fully sure how they form, we know they’re there. This has given rise to the idea that the first “life” may have been seeded to Earth from elsewhere in space, possibly deposited by passing comets which are full of complex molecules. This idea is known as panspermia.

    The main point I’m trying to get across is that the first life was far simpler than anything depicted in the video. It certainly wasn’t a distinct cell. Likely, it didn’t even contain DNA as we know it, but rather the simpler RNA. Yet the first organisms depicted have just this and even have complex life that already developed propulsion mechanisms. The leading biological theories don’t say anything of the sort, but it’s a common misconception and it’s so prevalent, that Creationists try to claim that a creator had to be involved because they seem to think that life went from zero to cells overnight. Don’t fall for that.

    Meanwhile, dinosaurs. One of the things I noticed about this portion was that the dinosaurs were constantly stealing food from one another. One dinosaur would pick some vines, and other dinosaur would try to steal it from his mouth. After the third time, we started laughing at it.

    The death of the dinosaurs was also depicted, but it was noted that, at the time (1940) it wasn’t known what happened to the dinosaurs. The leading theory at the time was that there was some sort of climate change. I think most people are familiar with the notion that a giant asteroid impact was what killed the dinosaurs. However, the idea is more nuanced than a big smash.

    There is strong evidence that some sort of crash did happen. This is supported by a layer of a rare chemical, iridium, in a certain layer of soil right around when the dinosaurs died out. This layer is known as the KT Boundary. While iridium is rare in Earth’s crust, it’s far more common in asteroids which supports a sudden deposition of this material from space.

    But as large as this blast was (2 million times larger than the biggest atomic bomb we’ve ever made), it wouldn’t be a direct killer unless you were (relatively) nearby. Everything on the other side of the planet wouldn’t be directly effected. Yet all those dinosaurs died out too. Instead, it has been suggested that dinosaurs already weren’t doing too well. There has been some suggestion that dinosaurs were already slowly dying off, not at the rate of a great extinction event, but that they were already under some pretty severe pressure to survive. Thus, the asteroid could have been the nail in the coffin.

    Such an impact would create a large amount of dust which would spread worldwide and block out a lot of light, causing some dying off of plants and adding further stresses. Additionally, the blocking of light could create a temporary cooling of the entire planet which, for cold blooded animals, wouldn’t help much. So really, the situation is a bit more complicated than what’s generally depicted. But whatever. It still made for a cool T-shirt design.

    In the end, the way it’s depicted, dinosaurs slowly dying in a parched land, isn’t inherently wrong. Dead, dry plants way well have been the case. It just skipped the bit about the big smash. Right. Enough on that.

  • After an intermission is the Pastoral Symphony which is all about centaurs and unicorns. Some of the animation reminded me a lot of My Little Pony. Not that I’ve ever seen any MLP, but it’s popular. I did laugh when Zeus popped up and started ruining Bacchus’ party by throwing lightning bolts. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
  • The ballet, Dance of the Hours was reimagined with ostriches, hippos, and alligators. I think they all look pretty horrible as dancers. That’s all I have to say for that.
  • The final piece was Night on Bald Mountain butted together with Ave Maria. This is, in my opinion, one of the most visually striking pieces with the giant Chernabog looming over the mountain. I may just have an attachment with this piece because Chernabog is one of the bosses in Kingdom Hearts series. It’s been awhile since I’ve played that particular game, but I remember it being a fun, but challenging fight.

    At the end of the night, the church bells ring and the demons all run away. This always seemed pretty lame to me. Chernabog is intended to be a representation of Satan, a great evil who is capable of challenging God. Yet a simple bell send him running? Sometimes I don’t think they’re taking their own religion very seriously.

So that’s my thoughts on Fantasia. Next week. Dumbo.