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After the original Fantasia bombed for various reasons (the necessary sound system being only installed in a few theatres, the ticket receipts not being enough to cover the costs of making the film, World War II effectively closing out the European market), Disney openly admitted that their experiment of making a film they called a "concert feature" was a big failure for the studio. This failure also brought about an end to their plans of making Fantasia a continuous project wherein each year one segment would be replaced with a new one and thus keeping the film in a continuous flux into the unforeseeable future. But what became of Fantasia ended up being a unique experiment on Disney's part that simply didn't meet the expectations set for it, leading to it being more like a strange curio in the studio's canon for years to come. However, for whatever failure the original feature was to the studio, it didn't mean the film was entirely forgotten. Over the years, Fantasia was re-released several times in various incarnations and conceptual ideas for a new Fantasia never really died away entirely. And as a new generation of younger people began their growth from the shadow of their more conservative forebears, the re-release of the original Fantasia in 1969 suddenly found itself a whole new audience: people who had a more liberal way of looking at life and who were already fawning to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey; people of the hippie movement, of intellectuals of a new generation, of pot smokers, and people looking for various psychedelic releases from the norm of life. To them Fantasia - in all its surrealist and conceptual beauty - was just the type of film that spoke to them on a wholly new level than to the previous generation. And this was the moment that Fantasia started to finally earn back its dues to the point that it ceased being an unfortunate mistake for Disney and became something they could actually feel proud of producing all those years ago. This also spurred the idea of a possible sequel to eventually being made, though the ideas never really coalesced into a fully production worthy attempt. That is until 1990 when an actual sequel plan finally solidified into a real project.
Set to be released in the mid-1990s, the film eventually was pushed back to the year 2000 as a way to at the same time tie it in with the celebration of the original Fantasia's 60th anniversary. Also the plans for the film were to make the sequel follow along in the original's aborted plans of resuming the rotating program by featuring new animated segments, but also retaining three original segments (namely the Nutcracker, Dance of the Hours, and the Sorcerer's Apprentice pieces). However, during the production this was eventually reduced to include only the famous Mickey Mouse/Sorcerer's Apprentice segment as the only actual recurring part of the whole film, with all the rest being comprised of new animated segments. Though the retaining of the Sorcerer's Apprentice in the newer film perhaps didn't provide the sequel - now ultimately titled Fantasia 2000 - with its best segment, it was perhaps the most prudent one to retain due to its status of being the central story of the original film and due to it being the easiest to appreciate on its own apart from the original feature. What resulted was pretty much more of the same, but with some very significant key differences. The first - and most notable - difference to the original Fantasia deals squarely on its animation style. Whereas Fantasia, though featuring the work of several animation directors and crews, remained largely consistent in its style of animation throughout, Fantasia 2000 on the other hand features pretty much completely different styles of animation for each of its seven new segments. This has its pros and cons: for one, it does help give larger variety to the film itself as a sort of anthology of different animation methods that reigned at the time, and some that were just on their way to being developed (these mostly prevalent in the segments focusing on the use of CGI). However, on the flipside, whereas the original film's consistent style also greatly helped to tie the disparate segments together into a cohesive whole, Fantasia 2000 doesn't have this luxury and thusly comes across more as a collection of random shorts that are only really tied together by the equally mixed guest star introductions in between the animation. While not something that truly harms the film, it does end up making the sequel less of a consistent film and more of an anthology of different animation stylistics that never really complement one another in any real way.
This inconsistency also bleeds into the previously mentioned introduction segues between the movements that rotate various famous presenters from the entertainment industry to introduce the following segments. Unfortunately only violinist Itzhak Perlman and composer Quincy Jones are in any way attached to the world of music, while the lion's share of people are mostly either actors or entertainers with no real connection to the world of music the way that music critic Deems Taylor had in the original Fantasia. Now I can see the reasons behind this as it probably makes the kids relate to the presenters a lot better than having a person they most likely wouldn't know anything about telling them what would come next, but apart from the rather mild entertainment value most of these people provide (ranging from Steve Martin and Bette Midler, to James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury) the sum-total is rather more on the level of making the film feel more easily kid friendly than the more art house styled original was. And I honestly didn't feel like needing to see the magic duo of Penn & Teller in this film, who are perhaps the most annoying couple I have ever had the displeasure to see on TV ever... and boy do they not disappoint in this achievement here either. Again these introduction in-betweens aren't a terrible problem seeing how short they are (nor are they expected to go into that much depth to begin with for them to matter much), but they do highlight a facet about this film in that Disney very consciously seemed to be trying to make Fantasia 2000 a more relatable film to children than necessarily to the whole family unlike with the original film. And it is this attitude that is clearly mirrored in the actual animated "concert segments" themselves. As mentioned above, each part is animated in largely very different ways and with completely different narrative structures. Though the latter is not unlike the original Fantasia in execution, there seems to be greater emphasis placed on having more "story" to most of the parts than what were presented in the 1940 film. The film begins in very much the same way, though, as the original did, by using the opening movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to paint in a more abstract scenery, featuring butterfly-like patterns fighting between light and dark, with the former eventually winning as the swarms of shapes flutter about the screen in triumph. While perhaps not being quite as dream-like than the Dali-ish surrealist orchestra animations of the original, it does hold up pretty well as a successor to the ideology of having an abstract "overture" to start the film off.
The next segment continues with the beginning's general sensibility, but begins a transcendence toward the more story-heavy elements of the rest of the film as it features a group of humpback whales frolicking in the sea of ice as they gradually move up to fly in the sky to the music of Respighi's Pines of Rome. Produced entirely as computer animation, it is the most obvious in its usage of CGI, and while not being as smooth as you might expect today (the very obvious computer graphics look rather dated by now) it still provides a generally satisfactory whole as an actual "musical" number. From here-on out, though, Fantasia 2000 largely abandons such openly abstract segments in favour of more child-friendly stories. The first - and perhaps the best - segment of the entire film comes with Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, following various people in New York City living their hectic life, from the African-American construction site worker wanting to be a jazz musician, the man who has just lost his job, the husband suffering under his demanding wife, and the little girl who has to go from one boarding school class to another as her parents don't have time for her. The connecting thread between these four is the wish for a better life than what they have at that moment, and how they eventually reach their desire as their lives connect with each other in different ways. The art style takes much inspiration from the 1930s caricature cartoons of Al Hirschfeld and makes for the most enjoyable, different, humorous, and ultimately satisfying segment of the entire film in not only its story, but also its application of the characters and general art style, perfectly fitting in with Gershwin's jazzy music. The following segment is more traditional in form to the studio by Disney'fying Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Steadfast Tin Soldier into a story of a one-legged tin soldier falling in love with a porcelain ballerina, the latter who is also being courted by the villainous jack-in-the-box. It is not a completely faithful version of Andersen's story as it clearly wants to have a more happy ending to the original tale, but is nice enough as a whole - though also remaining somewhat unspectacular in the end. The segment also mixes together CGI with 2D animation, the former again feeling a bit too obvious, but the merge is still acceptable if not exactly perfect, while the first movement of Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto provides a fitting enough military feeling with its Shostakovichian ironic taste to it.
The next part is more like a short interlude as it only lasts around two minutes, featuring a flock of flamingos trying to do a dance routine to the finale of Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, while one of them is rather more interested in playing with his yo-yo, thus causing the whole group to go into shambles as a result. While short in length and clearly meant for children, the simple slapsticky nature of the piece is quite pleasing, particularly with its simplified style more akin to simplified watercolour art. This is followed by The Sorcerer's Apprentice insert as seen in the original film and features no alterations to it, the only real difference to this sequence coming with the addition of having Mickey not only thank the original conductor Leopold Stokowski as in the original, but also him having a word with 2000's orchestra conductor James Levine for an additional "funny" bit as Mickey then goes scurrying around the stage looking for Donald Duck for the next segment. In many ways what comes next is the closest that we get to the sequel's Apprentice bit as Donald Duck is portrayed as Noah accumulating various animals into his Ark, and then spending the rest of the segment pining after his sweetheart Daisy Duck, whom he manages to miss at every opportunity until the very end. This is yet another very child friendly slapstick fest that is likely to keep the kids entertained, but doesn't offer much for the adult viewer. Also, this is the only part in the film where I feel the music really falls short in its awkward Peter Schickele re-orchestrations of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance Marches. Employing music from the first four marches, the music feels somewhat strangely inappropriate on the whole for the sequence, and particularly when the big tune of the first march appears again at the end, the addition of a wordless soprano solo (performed by Kathleen Battle) is a ludicrously horrid bastardization of Elgar's music, the effect being similar to the shrieking parody chorus at the end of Airplane! Not good form at all for something supposedly meant to show an appreciation of this music to younger people.
The final segment then finally returns to a more artistic style instead of being just a children's cartoon as we see Stravinsky's Firebird Suite used to illustrate a spring Sprite accidentally awakening a Firebird from a nearby volcano, resulting in the latter destroying the vibrant woods with its flames, and how the Sprite then resuscitates the destroyed woods to its former glory as an exercise on stylised symbolism of life, death and rebirth, as well as featuring references to the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 in its imagery. This is definitely the most sumptuous the animation ever gets in Fantasia 2000 and as such makes for a great conclusion, as well as offering computer animation finally being used in a way that doesn't seem somehow dated, badly applied, or inappropriately out-of-place. On the whole, Fantasia 2000 doesn't quite live up to its predecessor on various aspects, but remains a fitting enough sequel to the classic film. The lack of coherence in the art styles, the interminable introduction bits, the lack of anything quite as powerful as The Rite of Spring or Night on Bare Mountain, its very obvious child-friendly nature (certainly no pot smokers would likely get excited for THIS film), and a general feeling of "been there, done that" mar the film somewhat. Not to mention the weird orchestration of Elgar's music in one segment, and the ultimately rather pointless re-introduction of The Sorcerer's Apprentice (trying to hark back to the original Fantasia scheme simply doesn't work as this film is not a commencement of the older project idea, making the one old segment a bit of a waste of space) don't much help matters along. However, despite these issues, the film does check in pretty much all the required boxes of what you'd expect from a sequel to the original Fantasia, and the Rhapsody In Blue and Firebird segments are truly marvellous in both animation and story (as far as there is a story in the latter that is). Still on the whole it doesn't quite ever reach the feeling of pioneering achievement of the 1940 film, and thus also feels a bit of a lesser footnote to its older sibling that will likely never be regarded as highly as its predecessor (let alone a "classic"). Regardless, Fantasia 2000 is an enjoyable, often entertaining, and worthy enough sequel to the more famous film despite its shortcomings. More for the kids, but perhaps that's not such a bad thing in the end.
© berlioz, 2011
On a TV screen, even a 32-inch one, Fantasia 2000 is an amazing experience. On the big screen, it is astounding. On an IMAX screen however, it is nothing short of miraculous. The film itself is quite breathtaking, helped in no small measure by the IMAX format which allows the audience to become immersed in what they are viewing. With the screen being so large, it is easy to lose yourself, so much so that you can almost believe you're flying with whales or helping Donald Duck stock the Ark. Colours are more vivid than they have a right to be, and the clarity of the image allows you to pick out details you would normally miss, such as the buds on the flowers in the Firebird Suite passage. The combination of Disney's peerless 2D animation and the IMAX format is a match made in heaven. I've seen the film in all three of the formats described above and if you've yet to see Fantasia 2000, try your best to see it at an IMAX cinema - you won't regret it. (One caveat, though: the Sorcerer's Apprentice sequence definitely shows its age in comparison to the newer sequences; it looks much better on DVD.) And the best place to sit in an IMAX cinema? The middle, definitely.
Disney decided a few years ago to remake a timeless classic for the new millennium. They couldn't have picked a better movie than Fantasia. If you're into classical pieces, you'll enjoy this movie to the fullest. Everything from Beethoven's 5th symphony to Pomp and Circumstance is a visual feast for the eyes. My particular favorite was the Firebird piece. The movie was only a little more than an hour long, but I went out a purchased the soundtrack immediately afterward. The most absolute astonishing feature was the fact that it was shown on the IMAX screen. First of all, I had never seen an IMAX movie before Fantasia. Upon entering the theater, I was simply astounded at the size of the screen. IT'S FREAKING HUGE!!! Attempting to watch the movie was an assault on the senses to say the least. While watching the previews I couldn't help but imagine watching the Star Wars movies on a screen that big. Please, if you want to watch, no experience a moving work of art, go see Fantasia 2000 on the IMAX screen before it is taken of the screens. After that, you will have to settle for Disney's general release this summer. It won't be the same as IMAX, but I believe it would still be a lot of fun.