The Chernabog – Scaring Our Inner Child

Screenshot 2014-06-05 23.07.32I think we can all agree that monstrosity means something different to kids than it does to adults. As one of our other writers pointed out earlier this month, “The best movie monsters, for the most part, are the ones that take a psychological giant leap from meek to menacing.” However when analyzing monsters in children’s movies we have to take a slightly different approach. The psychological analysis of movie monsters that we see above, the kinds of monsters that represent, “the constant reminder that all men have the potential to release the monster-made impulses from within,” come from a more fully realized understanding of the world than children have.

So the villains in children’s movies have to be less nuanced and more archetypal in their representations. Case and point: the Chernabog from Fantasia. A monster that appeals to primal fears that almost anyone can understand. Speaking personally, the Chernabog is my classic understanding of a monster from my own childhood. Where the rest of Disney’s Fantasia is a generally happy affair, when we get to The Night on Bald Mountain we are introduced to a darkness that we rarely get in the rest of the Disney Canon. A darkness that only appears in film like The Black Cauldron, Sleeping Beauty, and Hunchback of Notre Dame. A darkness that speaks to the child in all of us, that there is evil in the world and that evil is arguably as powerful as God.

The Night on Bald Mountain, begins with the Chernabog arising from Bald Mountain, spreading his wings and using his dark powers to unleash stretching shadows across the town below. These shadows unlock the souls of the dead who rise from their graves. Bats and vultures and demons – all things evil arise from their depths at the behest of the Chernabog. And in demonic fire light they dance and wreak havoc. In this scene it is important to remember what we have already seen in the film. In a number of other sequences of Fantasia we see good spirits dancing and celebrating similarly to these demons. In the scene directly before Bald Mountain we have the dancing hippos in tu-tus. Disney takes us from that celebration of life and wonder straight into the darkest sequence in the history of Disney films.

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The Chernabog looks both human and animal.  Horns and wings and claws characterize this beast as not human although it certainly has a humanoid looking body. And all of the creatures that flock to it represent this line between human and the unnatural. They represent death and temptation and chaos, simple ideas that are easily recognized. The Chernabog is a holistic representation of evil that wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting world until goodness makes itself known.

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As the Chernabog is about to send his demonic followers to attack the world, a bell is rung and stops him in his tracks. The bell rings two more times and then the Chernabog’s power is drained, all of his minions return to their graves and he  collapses himself into the peak of the mountain, protecting himself from the coming sunlight. As this happens the Ave Maria begins playing and we see nuns, walking through the woods by candlelight as the day arrives.

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The Chernabog is a pure embodiment of evil. Taking shapes that any child brought up in a demon fearing culture will recognize. And he is violent, using unnatural forces to raise the spirits of the dead and bring demons to life. He brings fire and torment, but all that it takes to stop him is a bell and the coming sunrise. Whether you take that to mean God or not is irrelevant. This film instills the fear of violence and the desire for peace. That evil, while powerful can be overcome.

 

This is an old idea and one that has been used plenty since this. But the Chernabog, and The Night on Bald Mountain, is one of the best examples of this idea because it is done without dialogue. Imagery and music convey the struggle beautifully and the Chernabog, while powerful, is ultimately vanquished.

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