One of the first filmmakers associated with fantasy film was the French filmmaker Georges Melies (1861-1938), who used trick photography and elaborate sets to create fantastic stories such as Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon, 1902). As longer feature films developed in the silent era, a smattering of science fiction and fantasy narratives appeared such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1916), and The Thief of Bagdad (1924), which starred the silent film idol Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939). In Germany, directors such as Robert Wiene (1873-1938), Fritz Lang (1890-1976), and F. W. Murnau (1888-1931) set the stage for a darker type of fantasy associated with German Expressionism. Highly influential to the horror genre, these disturbing tales of evil and supernatural forces included such classics as Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (The Cabinet ofDr. Caligari, 1920), Metropolis (1927), and the vampire movie Nosferatu (1922), known for its chilling visuals and trick photography. Hans Richter (b. 1919) took a more experimental approach to special effects, using stop-motion animation in Vormittagsspuk (Ghosts before Breakfast, 1928), a short avant-garde film that featured flying bowler hats and other inanimate objects brought to life.
Jean Cocteau. everett collection. reproduced by permission.
Jean Cocteau. everett collection. reproduced by permission.
The advent of sound film in 1927 was accompanied by innovations in special effects, creating new possibilities for cinematic fantasy. Though not as dark or gruesome as the German silent films, Hollywood's spate of monster and horror films in the 1930s, such as Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), used a similar bag of special effects tricks, including miniatures and stop-motion photography to create fantastical creatures such as the ape in King Kong, created by special-effects pioneer Willis O'Brien (1886-1962). On a lighter note, the 1940 remake of The Thief of Bagdad delighted audiences with its vibrant colors and fantastic scenarios. Fantasy also benefited hugely from the special effects wizardry of O'Brien's protege Ray Harryhausen (b. 1920) and from George Pal (1908-1980), who produced and directed Tom Thumb (1958), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), and Jason and the Argonauts (1963).
By the 1950s, science fiction had emerged as a major genre in its own right. Playing on fears of nuclear holocaust and anxiety associated with space travel, most science fiction films used special effects to create frightening aliens from outer space or monsters created by atomic radiation. During the same period, Hollywood audiences were treated to The Thing From Another World (1951), The Blob (1958), and a host of alien invasions. Japanese filmmakers introduced their own infamous monster in Gojira (Godzilla, King of the Monsters, 1954).
The confluence of sound, special effects and Technicolor could also yield a more light-hearted type of fantasy, as evidenced by the perennially popular musical, The Wizard of Oz (1939). Combining song and dance within a fairy-tale narrative, the film drew on the conventions and sensibilities of the musical, a genre known for creating its own particular versions of utopian and romantic fantasy. Musical fantasy also became a common element in many Indian films, such as Awaara (The Vagabond, 1951) by Raj Kapoor.
The combination of music and fantasy has long been a hallmark of Disney films. Perhaps best known for its work in animation, Disney has specialized in fantasy stories since its inception, with a heavy emphasis on musicals and children's fare. Classics such as Pinocchio (1940) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), hailed as the first full-length animated film, were precursors to the recent trend in animated musicals like The Little Mermaid (1989). While many fantasy films are intended for youthful audiences and are derived directly or indirectly from children's books or fairy tales, some successfully operate on the adult level as well. The term ''family film'' often denotes films like Shrek (2001) that appeal to all ages by combining fantasy worlds with clever animation and more sophisticated humor.
Children's stories, fairy tales, and myths have influenced many American fantasy films, yet other cinematic strands of fantasy could be found in the ''art'' films of Europe, which often featured innovative, complex, and sometimes disturbing fantasies. Eschewing narrative coherence, the Surrealists used vivid set pieces, special effects, and montage to explore the possibilities of cinema as an expression of subversive and subconscious impulses. In France, the Spanish-born Salvador Dali (1904-1989) and Luis Bunuel (1900-1983) collaborated to produce Un chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog, 1929), a short experimental piece that has retained its ability to shock and disorient film viewers. In 1930, the two applied their artistic sensibility to the politically explosive feature L 'age d'or (The Golden Age).
Avant-garde and experimental filmmakers pushed the boundaries of cinematic expression, but fantasy also continued to flourish in more traditional forms. Drawing on his earlier explorations of surreal effects, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) applied his imaginative skills to the creation of a classic fairy tale, La belle et la bete (Beauty and the Beast, 1946). Current audiences are familiar with Disney's animated version of the story, but for many,
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