Fantasia 2000 - * * *


The original Fantasia was a bold experiment merging animation and classical music. Its episodic nature was originally intended to be an ever-evolving work in progress (with new segments swapping out the old ones). After 60 years, Fantasia/2000 is the result, presenting seven new classical pieces set to animation (and the return of one of the original segments). As an added benefit, for the first five months of Fantasia/2000’s release, the film is presented exclusively in IMAX theaters, giving the animation an epic feel. However, this new Fantasia is much like the old one, mixing some very good segments with some very bad ones.

The opening segment is set to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It’s an abstract work, though a little more substantive than the Toccata and Fugue segment from the original Fantasia. This one deals with fluttering triangles, both good and evil. It’s a little obscure, and though pleasant to watch, is never truly breathtaking.

The second segment is one of the film’s best. Set to Respighi’s Pines of Rome, it follows a herd of flying humpback whales in the arctic. Yes, you read that right, “flying”. Needless to say, it’s not terribly realistic, but it does produce some very beautiful imagery, particularly in and around a glacier.

The third segment is a mixed bag. Set to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, it interweaves four storylines from 1930s New York. What is most striking about this piece is the artwork, which is unlike any of Disney’s prior cartoons. Based on the drawings of Al Hirschfeld, the segment has a very flat, linear feel. The storylines aren’t terribly compelling, but the interesting artwork makes for a mildly enjoyable segment.

The next segment is a story on it’s own. Using the music of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, it tells the Hans Christien Andersen tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier. In it, a one-legged toy soldier combats an evil jack-in-the-box for the love of a beautiful porcelain ballerina. The action is nearly all computer animated, and well done. The story, on the other hand, is rather straightforward, and nothing to shout about.

It is at this point that Fantasia/2000 truly begins to slide downhill. In an unwise attempt to capture the silly comic spirit of the first film’s Dance of the Hours, Fantasia/2000 introduces Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, and illustrates it with a goofy piece involving flamingos and yo-yos. The chuckles are few to begin with, and die off quickly. Thankfully, the segment is mercifully short.

In the only returning segment from the original Fantasia, Disney has remastered The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. While the storyline and music are good, the film is a jarring contrast to the rest of the imagery in Fantasia/2000. Whether it is the limitations of the aging film stock, or the process involved in blowing up the images to IMAX size, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice looks jarringly grainy, and unmistakeably bad next to the newer segments. Perhaps it will translate better on smaller screens, but for now, it’s a pity.

Next comes a new segment featuring Donald (and Daisy) Duck. Cast as a helper on Noah’s ark, Donald must herd together all the animals to the tune of Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance. Though animated well, the storyline for this segment is paltry, and the humor very sparse. It is one of the worst parts of the new Fantasia.

But, finally, the film gets a chance to redeem itself in its final (and best) segment. Using Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, this segment tells an epic tale of the birth, death, and rebirth of nature. With only three characters (a sprite, an elk, and a deadly phoenix), this final segment manages to create some of the most beautiful and stunning imagery present both this film and the original Fantasia. It’s a breathtaking finale, and one truly worthy of the IMAX treatment.

In a move that will certainly date the film, each segment is introduced by a celebrity guest (with talent including Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn and Teller, and others). The comic banter with which they segue into the next portion of the film is eerily reminiscent of the overscripted remarks by the presenters at awards shows. Where’s the fast-foward button when you need one?

Younger children may very well get impatient in the dialogue-free animation sequences, but older children, and those with a fondness for music, will get a kick out of the film. Thought the individual segments vary widely in quality, the IMAX treatment is a very good addition which only serves to enhance the full film. Fantasia/2000 ends up as a worthy, but not spectacular, successor to the original.

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