SUSPENDED ANIMATION #260
In Disney’s animated feature Fantasia (1940), The Pastoral Symphony takes place in the serene shadow of Mount Olympus and presents a story accompanied to the music of Beethoven’s “Sixth Symphony”.
In the Disney version, famous Grecian creatures, like pegasi (the official plural of pegasus), satyrs, centaurs and cupids, leapt from the dusty pages of mythology books to flirt with the opposite sex, indulge in freshly made wine and to dance and play in the “candy box colored” Elysian Fields until prankish Zeus puts an end to the party.
Male centaurs, creatures who were half-man and half-horse, had been illustrated for centuries in stories where they usually appeared as muscular stallions with chiseled Mediterranean faces and torsos.
Disney artists created a never-before-portrayed, delicate female version that they dubbed “centaurettes”, the very first time that term was ever used. Supervising animator Fred Moore was assigned the task of creating concept sketches that brought femininity to characters who might have appeared grotesque in less skillful hands since they were, after all, half horse.
Sunflower was called Sunflower because in the scene where she is braiding flowers into a centaurette’s tail, Sunflower wears a huge sunflower on the side of her head. It is apparent that Sunflower is a subservient character, like the cupids, whose primary purpose in life is to care for the centaurettes. She is significantly smaller and younger than all the other centaurettes.
Sunflower is a stereotypical caricature of an African American female child of the time, as evidenced by her distinctive hairstyle in which parts of her hair are separated by hair-bands of cloth into multiple stubby, spike-like bunches equivalent in size often used as a stereotypical visual in live action and animated films to define an African American child.
In 1969, with the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the United States, the segments with Sunflower were cut completely, causing short blips in the accompanying soundtrack that was also eliminated along with those cuts.
For its 60th Anniversary DVD release in 2000, Disney’s manager of film restoration, Scott MacQueen, supervised a restoration of the original 125-minute roadshow version of Fantasia, so that Disney could officially announce this was the original and “uncut” version of the film.
This feat of trickery was accomplished by clever panning and digitally zooming in on certain frames to avoid showing Sunflower. For instance, the camera focused on the preening centaurette and not Sunflower at her feet polishing the hooves.
Four shots were reframed and others that were beyond redemption were changed by repeating some frames.
First, at the beginning, as the centaurettes languidly primp with the help of the flying cupids, one has her hair combed while another has her tail braided. The very next shot introduces Sunflower on the left-hand side of the screen holding the hoof of a pretty white-haired beauty.
Sunflower blows on the hoof and polishes it with a white cattail plant (often found growing near bodies of water) in an action reminiscent of the African American shoeshine boys of the time. At the same time, the aloof centaurette buffs her fingernails with a similar cattail. The animators for this scene were Bill Justice and Milt Neil.
Second, after the centaurettes, with the help of the cupids, find appropriate head gear, the scene with the centaurette using doves in her hair then cuts to Sunflower diligently putting a dozen or more pinkish-purple flowers into the yellow tail of a centaurette.
Sunflower is visibly disconcerted when the centaurette can not hold still and swishes her finely combed tail as she rushes to catch a glimpse of the approaching centaurs. All the carefully placed flowers fly into the air as Sunflower places her hands on her hips and looks disapprovingly as they float to the ground.
Officially, this is Scene No. 37 and the description of the action on the draft is “Sunflower (Black Centaurette) pins flowers in the tail of ‘Judy’—Judy swishes her tail scattering the flowers. Sunflower annoyed.” The animators for this sequence were Milt Neil and Joshua Meador.
The centaurettes had names? To help the animators distinguish between the centaurettes, the official draft of the scenes gives each of those characters a name. The centaurettes gazing out through the vines are identified (in order) as Sandra, Hilda, Melinda, Judy and Cabina. (However, even though Melinda is listed, she does not seem to appear in the scene as finally animated.)
Melinda is the centaurette with the pale blue body and yellow hair in pigtails—the only centaurette who doesn’t “hook up” until the cupids help her do so with the buff centaur Brudus. (He is called Brudus because he “broods” that he doesn’t have a girlfriend as does all the rest of his fellow centaurs.)
Undeterred, Sunflower then follows the centaurette Judy to the grove where the other centaurettes are peering through the vines and, once again, on the left hand size of the scene, attempts to add decorative flowers to Judy’s tail.
Officially this is still considered part of Scene No. 37. Animation by Bill Justice and Paul B. Kossoff.
Third, after the centaurettes parade down the stair-like grassy levels to display their attributes for the eager young centaurs, the scene cuts to a pink-haired centaurette with a garland of flowers around her waist walking back and forth. A little Black centaurette prances proudly along behind her, holding the other end of the garland high in the air as if it were the train of an elaborately long dress.
However, this Black centaurette is not Sunflower. In the official draft it states that “Atika (colored centaurette) holds Hilda’s train.” “Colored” was a term at the time that referred to African Americans.
Atika, except for a different hairstyle, looks exactly like little Sunflower, resulting in many viewers to just assume it is the same character. Instead of the offensively labeled “pickaninny hairstyle” of Sunflower, Atika’s hair is in two pigtails. Just like Sunflower, Atika has been removed optically from the scene.
Finally, it is Sunflower who unrolls the red carpet up the steps to the makeshift barrel throne of Bacchus. The playful satyrs and Jacchus, the donkey unicorn, follow behind her and desperately try to guide the unsteady and boisterous Bacchus up to his seat.
Sunflower stands behind the seat to steady it and tries unsuccessfully to help as Bacchus loses his balance and tumbles forward, causing an upset Sunflower to run around in circles with fearful despair and her hands on the sides of her head. Once again, it is Neil and Kossoff doing the animation of the character.
On the currently available Blu-ray version, the red carpet magically rolls itself up to the barrel throne and all evidence of Sunflower has been erased from the scene with Disney cine-magic.
The episode of the weekly Disney television series entitled Magic and Music (first shown March 1958) showed The Pastoral Symphony segment intact, including scenes with Sunflower. A repeat broadcast in 1963 was edited to remove Sunflower, and that is the version that was usually rerun ever since on television.
This editing was done while Walt was still alive and was in charge of approving everything that happened at his studio and so he obviously had no objections. This type of retroactive editing was not unusual.
Although the Disney Company has been aggressive in removing any video of Sunflower from the Internet and various websites, a persistent Disney fan may be able to find several locations where these scenes can be viewed complete and uncensored.