Fantasia was Walt Disney's ambitious idea for a continuing series of films, each celebrating classical music and the artistry of Disney animators. It was his attempt to marry mass entertainment with the higher arts. The plan was for a new Fantasia to be released every year or so, featuring different classical pieces accompanied by state of the art animation. Each new program would also include an audience favorite from one of the earlier Fantasia productions. After the first Fantasia met lukewarm interest at the box-office, and for a variety of other reasons, Disney decided to abandon the idea of continuing the series. In the decades that followed, subsuquent audiences finally began to appreciate Fantasia, and it is now considered one of Disney Studio's finest works. Such a "high concept" idea was simply just too ahead of its time.
Fantasia 2000 is the long awaited continuation of Disney's original vision, and at many times it approaches the level of its predecessor. However, the music is slightly more familiar and accessible than that of its earlier incarnation. In fact, it begins with what is probably the most well known piece of music ever written; Beethoven's Symphony #5.
I won't describe every sequence in the program, but here are a few of my favorite moments:
A piece depicting 1930's Depression Era New York City,
animated in the style of the caracaturist Al Herschfeld, and
accompanied by George Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue'.
(And to Al Herschfeld fans, yes, Nina is there!)
Beautifully 3D computer rendered whales that take to the air
to Resphigi's soaring 'Pines of Rome'.
Nature dramatically bringing about the rebirth of a forest after
volcanic destruction, brought to life by the equally dramatic
'Firebird Suite - 1919 Version' by Stravinsky.
The irrepressible Donald Duck, playing Noah's assistant, who must
pair up and lead the other animals to the ark, as variations on
Elgar's 'Pomp and Circumstance' plays. There is surprisingly
subtle humor here... don't blink or you'll miss some great gags!
The one returning sequence from the original Fantasia is 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice', featuring everyone's favorite mouse, and it's amazing how well the animation holds up after 60 years!
The only time Fantasia 2000 doesn't quite live up to its namesake is with the introductions, which are given by a curious selection of music, movie, and television stars. These introductions seem more suited to a Disney Channel television special than a feature film release. Mostly intended as comic relief, they usually just come across as annoying time fillers.
Fantasia 2000 has enough to keep small children interested, as well as their parents, and is an incredible demonstration of music, animation, and the limitless boundaries of human imagination.
I hope this Fantasia will not be the last.
Directed By: Pixote Hunt, James Algar, Hendel Butoy, Eric Goldberg, Francis Glebas, Goetan Brizz
Starring: The music of Beethoven, Resphigi, Stravinsky, Elgar, Gershwin, Saint-Saens, Shostakovich; with James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and showcasing the artistry of Disney animators, and the great caricaturist Al Hirschfeld
Introduced by Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Quincy Jones, Angela Lansbury,
Penn & Teller, and James Levine