Fantasia 2000
Fantasia 2000

M O V I E   R E V I E W   B Y   E L I Z A B E T H   A B E L E

The original concept for Fantasia when it was released 60 years ago was to continually rotate in new animated sequences set to classical music--so that each release would be a new film. "It is our intention to make a new version of Fantasia every year," said Walt Disney in 1941. This concept would allow top animators to present innovative and experimental pieces unsuited for animated features.

Unfortunately, the new incarnation of Fantasia, aptly titled Fantasia 2000, is not a showcase for innovative, imaginative animation, even with the added possibilities of the IMAX format. Ideally, this format should also allow animators to explore additional possibilities with sound and 3-dimensionality. However, only a few of the pieces make much use of the IMAX format, and the animation pales besides the studio’s stunning recent work in A Bug’s Life, Tarzan, or Toy Story 2.

The least interesting animation--Beethoven’s "Symphony No. 5" and Ottorino Resphigi’s "Pines of Rome"--unfortunately open the film. "Symphony No. 5" is an abstract short that fails to dazzle. Despite its claim to feature an "innovative approach that texture maps pastel colors onto traditional hand-drawn animation," the effect resembles the construction-paper technique of South Park. "Pines of Rome" uses computer-generated animation to present the fanciful images of flying whales, but it fails to capture the majesty of real animals or to create personable animals that the audience can fall in love with. My disappointment in "Pines" was heightened by the possibilities of the concept, but unfortunately the character-less whales and the blue-and-white Arctic tones contributed to a sterile feeling. Strangely, Coca-Cola used computer-generated animation and an Arctic setting to create charismatic yet dignified characters. On the plus side, these two pieces make the most of the IMAX format, creating 3-dimensional worlds that envelope the audience.

"Rhapsody in Blue," inspired by the cartoons of Al Hirschfeld, relishes its two-dimensionality and its Gershwin tune with full bravura, pulling the audience into the dreams of 1930s New Yorkers by the power of its story-telling. While Fantasia 2000, seems to be the first major Disney project for Pixote Hunt ("Symphony No. 5") and Hendel Butoy ("Pines of Rome"), "Rhapsody in Blue" director Eric Goldberg also directed Disney's animated feature Pocahontas and based the character of "Genie" in Aladdin on a Hirschfeld cartoon. Goldberg’s use of a limited color scheme of blues is much more engaging than Butoy’s "Pines."

Sequence director Francis Glebes does a masterful job in transforming Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance into the loading and unloading of Noah’s Ark--by assistant Donald Duck. As arranged by Peter Schieckele, Elgar’s familiar march provides the perfect score for an epic tale. This short perfectly entwines majestic music with the grandeur of the animal kingdom, reminiscent of the opening sequences of The Lion King. It was appropriate that this piece followed the reprise of "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice," as Mickey made way for Donald Duck’s best role to date. The scenes with Daisy Duck were genuinely touching, and allowed us to see our blustery old friend in a new light.

Two other pieces were solidly entertaining, though uninspiring. "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," directed by Hendel Butoy, was a fine example of computer-generated animation, capturing the secret life of toys. Dmitri Shostakovich’s "Piano Concerto No. 2," "Allegro, Opus 102" provided a lively backdrop for the Hans Christian Anderson tale of a one-legged toy soldier who does battle with an evil jack-in-the box over his music-box lady love. Eric Goldberg also directed Saint-Saens’ "The Carnival of Animals," bringing to life an unused concept from an original Fantasia animator. The whimsical combination of flamingos and a yo-yo fails to overcome the simplistic animation.

The most imaginative piece of Fantasia 2000 is, appropriately, its finale, Igor Stravinsky’s "Firebird Suite," directed by Paul and Gaeten Brizzi. This elegant and powerful piece follows the awakening of a woodland sprite by an elk, monarch of the forest. The sprite joyfully flowers the woodland floor--until she comes face to face with a sleeping "firebird," a sleeping volcano. As this volcano awakens, it destroys the spring growth, to the exhaustion and despair of the woodland sprite. This great battle between life, destruction, and rebirth is not only perfect for Stravinsky’s score, it fills the IMAX screen, grabbing audiences through its grand animation and its grand storytelling.

The pieces are introduced by whimsical celebrities--Steve Martin, Bette Midler, Quincy Jones, and Penn and Teller--who strangely come off as wooden as Michael Eisner introducing the Wonderful World of Disney. At one point, Bette Midler names a few Fantasia ideas that "didn’t make it," including an epic piece by a Danish illustrator and a Dali-inspired segment on baseball. Instead of being relieved that these ideas had been rejected, I longed to see what else lay in that trashcan, in favor of these less original segments.

I hope that the next Fantasia--Fantasia 2004?--will reprise "Rhapsody in Blue," "Pomp and Circumstance," and "Firebird Suite", bring back the ballerina hippos—and, most of all, feature new segments that truly show us the best animation and imagination that the Disney studio can produce. They have set the bar too high to expect us to be satisfied with this collection.

[rating: 2½ of 4 stars]

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Movie Web site: Fantasia 2000



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