Well, it only took Disney 59 years to produce a follow-up to “Fantasia.” The 1940 “Fantasia” featured countless moments of brilliance (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, The Age of Dinosaurs, Night on Bald Mountain, The Rite of Spring) along with a few minor moments of boredom. Walt Disney originally intended the film to be a continuous “work-in-progress” which would regularly add new animated sequences with each Fantasia outing reaching an event-like status. While this plan was derailed, the original has been rereleased theatrically a number of times to delight new generations. The IMAX presentation of this millennial sequel is a welcome addition to the family, though it seems to lack the heart of the original.
“Fantasia 2000” is executive producer Roy (brother of Walt) Disney’s baby and it comes screaming into the world with seven new sequences along with the classic “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The premise is the same, classic musical pieces are brought to life with animation, however, this new presentation strays slightly from the original in that celebrities introduce each of the sequences in semi-clever wrap-arounds. Prepare to get the full IMAX treatment of Steve Martin, Bette Midler, Quincy Jones, Penn & Teller, James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury as they guide us through this animated feast. It was refreshing to see that Penn & Teller were not Disney-fied when brought to the screen – we see all of their trademark tricks and hand-chopping antics within their introduction. The most interesting intro is strangely from Bette Midler who discusses just a few of the rejected “Fantasia 2000” story concepts. (Disney could have produced a whole documentary on this aspect alone, and the segment is cut far too short though the topic makes for interesting supplementary material for a future DVD release.)
So just how good is the new “Fantasia”? The 2000 model is a mixed bag of high-quality animated sequences. Don’t get me wrong, all of the new animated shorts are very, very good, just not quite as charming or memorable as the shorts from the original. There is not one new sequence that really stands out. Here’s a quick rundown:
“Symphony No. 5” – This introductory segment features soothing new age images of clouds and rain while soothing colorful butterflies flitter about. Just relax and enjoy which is what the audience must have done. At the screening I attended, the bathroom wreaked with the smell of pot, which some members of the press must have smoked before the film. This segment seemed to be a good match to a stoned state.
“Pines of Rome” – A family of whales float above the water in a romantic dance. Mommy and daddy whale are suddenly separated from baby whale as trouble brews inside an iceberg. Don’t worry, it’s only a cartoon. The amazing animation is enhanced with the help of computers and really shows what it can do when an entire school of whales joins the family. In a word: breathtaking.
“Rhapsody in Blue” – This musical piece by George Gershwin is generally associated with Woody Allen’s “Manhattan”. This rousing instrumental illustrates a day in the life of 1920s New York with drawings inspired by caricature artist Al Hirschfeld. Beautiful and funny.
“Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102” – This tale of a one-legged Toy Soldier and a Ballerina is both epic and cute. A healthy dose of computer animation helps elevate the animation to jaw-dropping levels. Great.
“Carnival of the Animals” – Hmmmm…. I’m trying to remember this one, but for the life of me, I can’t. I think it has something to do with dancing birds. See what I mean about some of the sequences not being memorable.
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” -“Apprentice” has been restored to its original colorful luster and better yet, it remains unaltered. Kudos to Disney for ignoring the current frenzy for “Special Editions” and the unnecessary need to “update-for-modern-audiences”. That kind of “Special Edition” mentality is the thing that has ruined modern classics like “Star Wars.” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is unchanged and just as magical as when I first remember seeing it at the age of nine. It’s even more impressive on an IMAX screen.
“Pomp and Circumstance – Marches 1, 2, 3 and 4” – This musical piece is most often played at graduation ceremonies and it must be running through your head right now. The story of Noah’s Ark is told using a familiar duck by the name of Donald. Donald is separated from his one true love, uh, the female Donald Duck, whatever her name-is (y’see, I’m not a Disney-phile) and depression sets in. Humorous animal antics with graduation music unfortunately results in perhaps the weakest segment.
“Firebird Suite – 1919 Version” – The ladybird of Spring helps usher in the lovely new season and is threatened by an awakening volcano. Incredible imagery coupled with a ho-hum storyline which ends the film on kind of a downer.
Ultimately, “Fantasia 2000” is definitely worth a trip to the IMAX theater and it never bores at a fast-paced 75 minutes.