by Walt Disney
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Music has always held a special place in Disney cartoons, dating back to the "Silly Symphony" days. When it was released in 1940, "Fantasia" could have been considered almost as the epitome of the "Silly Symphony," a film about music without any apologies. When Walt Disney produced "Fantasia" in 1940, his plan was to continuously update the film. Unfortunately, when it was released to theaters, "Fantasia" only did moderately well and it was not updated. Walt's nephew, Roy Disney, has now had the opportunity to fulfill his uncle's fantasy.
"Fantasia 2000" is a collection of 8 pieces of music tied together by short introductions by a variety of celebrities. These introductions add little to the movie as a whole and could easily have been left out or replaced with a simply voice over without harming the film in any way. Steve Martin's introduction, particularly, seemed out of place and forced (although James Earl Jones's introduction of Saint-SaŽns's "Carnival of the Animals" was quite good).
Three of the pieces used in "Fantasia 2000" are generally overused. The film opens with an abstract production of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5," replacing the original abstract set to Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor." The Beethoven may well be the most recognizable piece of music in the world, but the Disney animation really does not anything new to the piece. The original "Fantasia" included twenty-two minutes (or half) of Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony (Symphony No. 6). For some inexplicable reason, "Fantasia 2000" only includes a single movement from the Fifth, ignoring the remaining thirty-four minutes of music and leaving the audience with the single movement that is known.
Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" is played to a Hirschfeld-like animation of life in a depression age city clearly modeled on New York. Although the use of simple black and white line drawing would have made the animation even more like Hirschfeld's work, the piece succeeds so well that thoughts of United Airlines hardly pass through the viewers mind while watching. At more than twelve-and-a-half minutes, "Rhapsody in Blue" is the longest segment of the film.
Finally, Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance, Marches #1, 2, 3, & 4" plays behind a rendition of the story of Noah's Ark with Donald Duck in the role of an assistant to Noah. This work of animation is filled with humor and pathos and manages to purge all thoughts of mortarboards from the viewer's mind. The introduction to this piece makes full use of the surround sound elements with Mickey Mouse searching the theater for a missing Donald Duck.
The rest of the music in "Fantasia 2000" is less well known and works reasonably well with the animation provided. Respighi's "Pines of Rome" has a sequence of whales in the arctic which is beautifully animated but seems to go on longer than it should. By the end of the ten-minute running time, the viewer is ready for something new. Unfortunate planning placed the even longer (but more satisfying) "Rhapsody in Blue" immediately after it.
One of Disney's strengths is reinterpreting classic fairy tales for a modern audience. At the same time, this opens them up to much criticism because of their tendency to give happy endings to stories which were initially warnings (for example, the ending of the Grimm version of Cinderella or the Perrault version of Sleeping Beauty). Disney has again performed a switch with the ending of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," which has been set to Shostokovich's "Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102." For all the story this animation tells, it is (next to the abstract for Beethoven) the weakest short in the film and does not leave any specific memories for the viewer, especially sandwiched between Gershwin and Saint-SaŽns.
Saint-SaŽns's "Carnival of the Animals, Finale" is the shortest piece of music in the film, lasting less than two minutes. It is also, however, the most unremittingly funny as it depicts a series of flamingo's attempting to perform a reasonably serious ballet, reminiscent of the sequence which accompanied Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" in the original "Fantasia." Their intentions are scuttled by one of the flamingos who has managed to smuggle in a yoyo and uses it to deleterious and humorous effect.
While "Carnival of the Animals" reminds the viewer of "Fantasia," the next short, Dukas's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," is taken directly from the older film. When "Fantasia" originally was released, Walt Disney planned to update it with new work while leaving some of the older works in. Unfortunately, the animation has progressed so much in sixty years, that the differences are very obvious. Mickey and his dancing brooms appear grainy, a fact which isn't helped by the inclusion of a 3-D style Mickey in the interlude between "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and "Pomp and Circumstance." Furthermore, while "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" may be one of the more popular pieces from "Fantasia," much of that popularity is due to the appearance of Disney's trademark mouse. Other pieces, such as "The Nutcracker Suite," "Dance of the Hours" or "A Night on Bald Mountain" could have been substituted.
The finale to "Fantasia 2000" is provided by Igor Stravinsky. "The Firebird" is a moving piece, and the story of birth and renewal is well shown on screen, but it pales in comparison to memories of the pure evil of Mussorgsky's "A Night on Bald Mountain" followed by Schubert's uplifting "Ave Maria" which completed "Fantasia." On the other hand, despite a knowledge of the music, the animation did contain some surprises which went perfectly with the score.
While there is little reason to see "Fantasia 2000" in IMAX, it is certainly worth seeing in the theater when it receives a more widespread release in April. In trying to make classical music more accessible to an audience which is not necessarily familiar with classical music, "Fantasia 2000" succeeds as well as its predecessor.
Beethoven Symphony No. 5 Respighi Pines of Rome Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102 Saint-SaŽns Carnival of the Animals Dukas The Sorcerer's Apprentice Elgar Pomp and Circumstance, Marches #1, 2, 3, & 4 Stravinsky Firebird Suite--1919 Version
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