Books and Film

A Brief History of Horses in Music Videos

A long time ago (before The Big Bopper coined the phrase “music video” in 1959), in a galaxy far, far away (Earth, before MTV), it was the dawn of the “talkie era”. A rag tag team of animators from the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles (Walt Disney Productions, of course) produced a series of musical shorts known as the “Silly Symphonies”.

Among the 75 short films they produced between 1929 and 1939 is this equestrian gem:

But this little ditty about hounds and horses is just a precursor to the pièce de résistance in Disney’s equine music video catalog: Fantasia.

I can still remember vividly the first time I saw it.

I was on an otherwise unheard of family outing to the movies in the fall of 1990. At my mother’s urging, we dressed a bit nicer than was customary to see a film, which seemed appropriate when we entered the single theater movie palace that would host the evening’s performance. The lights went down and I was introduced to this 1940 classic.

For its 50th anniversary, Fantasia was screened in its traditional version, including the live action scenes with Deems Taylor and the original Leopold Stokowski score. I was naturally terrified during “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and entirely entertained by the “Dance of the Hours”, but it was this little black pegasus that stole my heart.

There was something about the way he kept his spirits up, despite being a bit behind his brothers and sisters on the learning curve, that was downright inspirational. In fact, when my family made the great pilgrimage to Walt Disney World a few years later it was a plush version of that plucky pegasus that I picked as my special souvenir. And he’s still with me two decades later.

Of course, like all music video celebrities and innovators, young pegasus is more than just my personal idol. He belongs to the world and the history books. Time magazine’s film critic described the 1940 Fantasia premiere as “stranger and more wonderful than any of Hollywood’s” and the experience of the film’s Fantasound “as if the hearer were in the midst of the music. As the music sweeps to a climax, it froths over the proscenium arch, boils into the rear of the theatre, and all but prances up and down the aisles.” Clearly the reference to prancing makes it plain to me at least that pegasus can count more than just me as a fan.

He did have his haters though. Early on RKO cringed at the idea of distributing Fantasia, which it described as a “longhair musical.” And when it was re-released in 1969, matters got worse for pegasus. The film was promoted with a psychedelic-styled advertising campaign that made it popular among teenagers and college students who reportedly took drugs during the film for a psychedelic experience. Who knew that my little pegasus was formerly as offensive to conservative parents as the mop tops and musical films of The Beatles!

But like The Beatles, time has proven the artistic value of this once controversial character. Fantasia now holds a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The consensus: “A landmark in animation and a huge influence on the medium of music video, Disney’s Fantasia is a relentlessly inventive blend of the classics with phantasmagorical images.”

That’s right, my young pegasus. You are officially the origin of animated equine music videos. Well done!


About the Author

Marjorie Wilkinson is the co-founder and co-editor of Counter-Canter Culture—a revolutionary online publication intended to unite the equestrians and equestrian-enthusiasts who aren’t afraid to kick up the dust that has settled on the conventional equine lifestyle. She is also a real-life Hollywood music supervisor and the official curator of Counter-Canter Culture’s musical column, “100% Sound”.

File Under