As a flagship Disney character, many of the biggest risks the company took early on centered around Mickey Mouse. In the late 1930s, there was a lot of competition from rival animation studios, and the folks at Disney felt that Mickey needed an ambitious new project to give him a boost in popularity.
So, work began on a new short film “Silly Symphonies” titled “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, centered on Mickey as the hapless assistant of a mysterious magician. Walt Disney had big plans to use the short film to push the animation in new directions by putting the story on classical music rather than the usual slapstick sound effects. True to the prestige associated with the project, Disney wrote in a letter to the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski, saying: “It will be possible for us to put the best men in the factory, men of color. to the hosts, on ‘The Wizard.’ “
Due to the extra money invested in the project, it soon became apparent that “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” would not be able to make a profit as a typical “Silly Symphonies” short. It was then that Disney decided to turn the short film into a feature film. The result was the 1940s animated classic “Fantasia”, which featured eight animated segments to classical music pieces conducted by Stokowski, most of which were performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra.