Stunning. Breathtaking. Spectacular. These are but three
adjectives that will certainly be used to describe _Fantasia/2000_,
Disney's long-in-the-works update of its 1940
classical-music-set-to-animation "work-in-progress," _Fantasia_.
However, one word you won't hear in association with _F/2K_--unlike
the original--is "classic."
Don't get me wrong--there are a number of stunning bits of new
animation that will stand the test of time, particularly in the film's
first three segments. Taking a cue from the original, which began
with an abstract rendering of an abstract musical piece, _F/2K_ opens
with an extremely trippy interpretation of Beethoven's "Symphony
No. 5, " directed by Pixote Hunt. A relentlessly kinetic sequence
with triangles up, down, around, and every which way multiplying with
every "da da da daah," the segment is made even more dizzying by the
IMAX giant screen format (one can only imagine how much more so it
would have been had the film been in IMAX 3D).
Things are decidedly less hyper in the next segment, but the
product is even more breathtaking. To accompany Ottorino Respighi's
"Pines of Rome," director Hendel Butoy has come up with a spectacular
vision of whales whose aquatic acrobatics take them to the sky in the
wake of a cosmic explosion. The concept could not be farther from a
piece of music titled for trees in an Italian city, but this is
_F/2K_'s most seamless and inspired melding of music and imagery. The
gorgeous, inspiring melodies and the amazing three-dimensional
computer animation make for an experience that can only described as
The in-your-face visuals of the first two segments make way
for the simplistic, two-dimensional Al Hirschfeld-inspired line
drawing style of Eric Goldberg's take on "Rhapsody in Blue," composed
by George Gershwin. While it features the least flashy art and
animation of the new segments, "Rhapsody"--which follows a
cross-section of sad Manhattanites in the 1930s--is perhaps the most
aesthetically ambitious of them, staying strictly within its very
specific art style and employing a limited palette of primarily
blue-based tones. The heavily stylized approach makes for the segment
with the most personality, and one of the highlights of the film.
Unfortunately, that's the last big triumph in _Fantasia/2000_,
for the work is more uneven from there. The film hits rock bottom
with the next segment, an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen
short story "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," set to Dmitri Shostakovich's
"Piano Concerto #2, Allegro, Opus 102." The segment is about as
exciting as that title. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this
story of a tin soldier who battles with an evil jack-in-the-box over
the affections of a music box ballerina; the animation is clean,
especially the 3-D CGI used for the main trio of characters. It's
just that among a group of shorts that bear at least one distinctive
feature, this one comes up emptyhanded. I guess director Hendel Butoy
exhausted all of his ideas on the whale segment.
Holding slightly more interest is another segment by Eric
Goldberg, "Carnival of the Animals (Le Carnival des Animaux), Finale,"
which uses Camille Saint-SaŽns' familiar tune as a musical backdrop
for a vignette involving a flock of flamingos and a yo-yo. The only
flat-out comic piece of the _F/2K_ puzzle, it is a vibrantly colored
(the brightest of the whole set) and fast-paced amusement. The
problem is, it's so short and weightless--in style and subject--that
it evaporates from the memory about as quickly as it zips by on the
After a glorious reappearance of the only returning segment
from the 1940 _Fantasia_, the Mickey Mouse-starring favorite "The
Sorcerer's Apprentice," comes a sequence starring another classic
Disney character, Donald Duck. This segment, set to Sir Edward
Elgar's familiar "Pomp and Circumstance" and casting Donald as an
assistant to Noah before and during the flood, is not without its
cutesy charm. But it's a mess; the Biblical theme, Donald, and a
romantic subplot where he and Daisy Duck keep on missing each other
are mixed uneasily by director Francis Glebas.
The disjointed result doesn't quite feel of a piece with the others,
and, unlike "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," it feels less like an expression
of the music than an excuse to shoehorn in a popular character.
A similar sense of blatant pandering to the masses hovers over
interstitial segments, where celebrities introduce each sequence.
Only lightly amusing at best (Steve Martin and Bette Midler, who have
been funnier) and excruciating (Penn and Teller) at worst, these bits
are the big reason why _F/2K_'s long-term shelf life won't come close
to that of the original film: they date the film as being a project of
the here and now--and not because these are celebrities of
contemporary times, but that it highlights the commercialist mentality
of the era (not to mention that of Disney, perhaps the biggest
perpetrator of all). The interstitials are obviously a device to make
more mainstream-palatable what is essentially an animated art film for
an especially rarefied crowd. While a bit on the stuffy side, Deems
Taylor, the host of the 1940 _Fantasia_, was a much more suitable
host. His earnest demeanor not only lent a certain timeless quality,
he made it that much easier to take the film seriously as a serious
concert film, not a cartoon show for the kiddies. With all the jokey
celeb cameos, the latter is more the case with _F/2K_.
Thankfully, _Fantasia/2000_ ends on a note more befitting of
the former, with an ambitious segment set to Igor Stravinsky's
"Firebird Suite - 1919 Version." It is a beautifully animated tale of
death and rebirth, with a forest's natural splendor ravaged by a
volcano and then replenished by a magical sprite. Directors GaŽtan
and Paul Brizzi's work is lovely, blending state-of-the-art computer
techniques with the organic hand-drawn style of Japanese animť.
While I do admire this segment, I am far less enthusiastic about it
than the opening three; perhaps I would have enjoyed the segment even
more if it Hayao Miyazaki's _Princess_Mononoke_ weren't so fresh in
the memory, for this segment's storyline bears more than a passing
resemblance to the finale of that film.
While I did have a few problems with _Fantasia/2000_, overall
it is a worthy extension of the idea conceived by Walt Disney nearly
60 years ago; and, after _Tarzan_, it's another important step forward
into riskier, more ambitious artistic territory for the Mouse's
animation house. In some points of execution, there is fault; but in
terms of grand spectacle, it's as close to perfect as anything out
there now--which makes it all the more important that it is seen in
its intended IMAX form, not on a regular multiplex screen, where
_F/2K_ will play after a four-month exclusive run on IMAX.