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A Ceramic Fantasia

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Just finished being wowed again while re-watching Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Yeah, we all know that it’s a gorgeously animated marriage of animation and classical music. But I think it’s fascinating how, in this movie, Disney essentially captured America’s aesthetic tastes as of 1940. For all its highbrow aspirations, the film drew a lot of its visuals from decidedly middlebrow sources. You can see it in, for example, the saucy “pinup girl” look bestowed upon the centaurettes from the Pastoral Sympony sequence. Decorated tchotckes from the 5 and 10 cent store appear to be the main influence behind the goldfish and flowers in the Nutcracker Suite sequence. The Pastoral Symphony’s overwhelmingly cute baby pegasus and bare-butted cherubs were tailor made for people who felt more comfortable with Mickey Mouse than Salvador Dalí. Let’s face it, Disney knew his audience well.

Given all that, it’s no surprise that Disney once had a contract with California pottery manufacturer Vernon Kilns to produce a line of Fantasia-inspired ceramic dinnerware and figurines. Due to the lack of success upon the film’s original release, these pieces were only available for a very short time and didn’t sell well. And now, of course, they’re highly coveted by Disneyana collectors. I’ve tried to locate photos of this stuff on various online auction sites and have them listed below. This isn’t a definitive list, but check out the photos and see if you agree that this is some of the coolest bric-a-brac ever made:

10 Thoughts on “A Ceramic Fantasia

  1. Christopher on March 14, 2006 at 9:48 am said:

    Thanks for putting those all in one place. What great pieces! I had no idea there were so many.

  2. Mass Bradley on March 14, 2006 at 9:32 pm said:

    Excellent post! i had no idea these existed. NowI want’em al, blast you!

    Just curious– WHICH version of “Fantasia” do you have? I’m guessing you have it on DVD with the restored Stokowski (sp?) soundtrack– they came out with a re-scored and re-directed version (on VHS, this is the mid-80’s I’m pretty sure) that was muddy and dreadful and got lots of bad press amongst the Disney elites.

    I’m so glad you saw it and liked it at all– most don’t “get it”– too non-linear, too yaddayada…

    Yet for the sheer visual audacity and wit, the Echt Amerikan sense of the didactic effortlessly intermingled with pleasure( We’re gonna expose you to some highbrow music, sonny, but you’ll have fun anyway), and the move away from the heavy Germanic style of earlier features into a cleaner, more open sense of space and horizon and character (physiognomy is destiny, except when hippos dance!) it remains my favorite feature-length release.

    Truly an American Century movie, tricked up by special speakers( acknowledged with a special Oscar by AMPAS two years later) in selected houses (pre-THX THX!), it ransacked 2000 years of Western Classics and polished them for a New Consumer, one interested in the process AND the product, or so Walt mistakenly thought.

    Turns out all we wanted was a flimsy “Ave Maria” endorsed by Yer Uncle’s CYO Film Board to counter-act the huge fun of those animate dead things on Bald Mountain.

    Turns out we failed you, Walt. Or at least our Grandfathers and Grandmothers did. “Rebecca’ won Best Picture in 1940– maybe they just weren’t interested in something so clever…

  3. I watched the supposedly “uncut” DVD which is now out of print. The one with grainy, close cropped censored scenes in “The Pastoral Symphony”.

    It’s interesting that (from what I can tell) Vernon only made products from three Fantasia segments. I would have a heart attack if I ever saw a “Night On Bald Mountain” figurine!

  4. vance on May 6, 2007 at 5:13 pm said:

    i have vernon kilns autumn ballet circa 1940 various piecess that i might sell for the right price and that wont be cheap,,,,let me know

  5. great blog! i’m researching these pieces as well (pastoral symphony), and trying to put them all together (the VK ones are marked and numbered). i own two, but they are made by american pottery who bought out VK. i wish i owned them all! ;)

  6. Thanks, ro.

    I wish I owned them all, too, but I’m happy with my one representative mushroom salt and pepper!

  7. Anita Jo on March 21, 2011 at 8:13 pm said:

    I have an Autumn Ballet Serving Plate. I found it in My Mother in laws house after she passed. No one wanted it so I have it hanging on the wall. I am just wondering if anyonr knows the value? This thing is mint…… Please contact me at bamba1@embarqmail.com

    Thanks bunches,
    Anita Jo

  8. Hi, I have a Hyacinth Hippo marked 1940 and Vernon Kilns that also has the number 88 on it. I put it on Ebay and a hippo fan wrote me to say my number needs to be in the 30’s for it to be “real.” I think it is 100% genuine in all respects but would like confirmation.

    Can you look at the photo and tell me if this is real? I can’t find another one just like it, although on your website I see one that looks to be the same colors, style, etc. and I saw another on a different website that looks like it was made at the same time. It is as if Hyacinth was reproduced in various poses from the Fantasia Dance of the Hours ballet. I couldn’t figure out the “gravatar” so I’m sending you the Ebay link so you can see the photos and make a determination. Can you tell me what I have, please? Thanks!

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Hyacinth-Hippo-1940-Vernon-Kilns-Fantasia-Antique-Collectible-/320845751041?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4ab3e5a301

  9. Susan Ochsner on January 22, 2013 at 7:54 pm said:

    I have three of these 1940 figurines Pastoral and only one of them is on your photos. The other two are blonde angel with wings and another one has short brown hair.
    How can I best find their value and sell them? Thank you!

  10. Susan – I’m not an expert on these particular collectibles, but searching the completed auctions on sites like Ebay or even the more reputable auction houses (Heritage, Profiles In History) will give you a great idea of how much something is worth.

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