Music in Motion
Sixty years ago, Walt Disney came up with the innovative premise of marrying music and the latest developments in animation. The result was Fantasia, a film that was really something special six decades ago but might not hold the same appeal for youngsters in the age of Toy Story and The Incredibles. However, Walt dreamed of Fantasia as a continuous work in progress, a film to be updated once in a while with new blends of music and animation.
Here's to you, Mr. Disney, and here's to another 60 years of witnessing these lovely sights and sounds on the screen. Fantasia 2000 was introduced into IMAX theatres across the country a few years back, where, on a mere 54 screens, it made over $54 million before performing a less successful jump into standard theatres. I would love to have seen this radiant cartoon on a huge IMAX screen, to be amazed at the lush images sweeping above my head. I guess DVD will have to do, but at least there, Fantasia 2000 can reach a wider audience. And, fortunately, seeing this movie on the small screen doesn't hurt the film's power significantly.
Following the wavelength and spirit of Disney's original vision, Fantasia 2000 presents a series of beautifully moving shorts that blend the talents of artists who compose music and those who compose drawings. With rather stale introductions by celebrities such as Steve Martin, Penn & Teller, and Angela Lansbury, the film contains six brand new vignettes, plus the classic "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" bit from the original Fantasia. The audience sees great-looking animation at work while listening to some of the most memorable scores ever conducted. There's Respighi's "Pines of Rome" to start us off, playing prominently as computer-animated whales sail through the sea and sky. Two artists, caricaturist Al Hirschfeld and composer George Gershwin, combine talents, the latter's "Rhapsody in Blue" serving as the background music for a whirlwind journey through the Big Apple's working-class side.
For the duration of the picture, such pieces as Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" and Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird" show off their keen eyes for imagery and ears for tone, while Donald Duck as Noah (of Noah's Ark fame), a nature spirit, and a lovely retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen tale "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" give them life.
I've always admired animated films because no matter how high-tech they become or how easily everything flows together, I never forget the teamwork put into bringing the finished products to our eyes. Fantasia 2000 does this two-fold, as not only are the animators tasked with devising the right images to interpret the music, the orchestras themselves are given the duty of performing the music of these famous composers. The music helps tell the story without words, and Fantasia 2000's numerous directors have a knack for deciding what stays, what goes, and in what order to place things to come up with a singular, fluid product at the end.
The host bits drag down the pacing a tad, and I'm sure there could've been room for just a few more lovely animated segments (hey, the first film was a hair under two hours long; Fantasia 2000 barely scratches 75 minutes). In general, none of the picture's flaws undermine the fact that you're having a good time watching these fantastic animated segments and absorbing the beauty of animation matched with the music's movement.
Dinosaur may have been Disney's hit for the summer of 2000, but the smaller-scale Fantasia 2000 is the more breathtaking experience. It's not quite the next step in animation evolution, but it represents Disney's most intelligent step in the game in years. Walt Disney envisioned Fantasia going on for years and years; if they're all as good as Fantasia 2000 and include better writing for their celebrity hosts, then I welcome as many additions as the studio can crank out.
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by Buena Vista Pictures and rated "G" by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.ajhakai.com.