On the one hand, Fantasia 2000 invites unfavorable comparison with its predecessor, which was one of the greatest movies ever made. On the other hand, it reminds me that there was indeed a period in my lifetime where Disney, in addition to being an evil corporate behemoth bent on world domination, was artistically more than just a copycat of Pixar and Dreamworks. Indeed, the idea of any major American animation studio putting out something like F2000 in 2016 is unthinkable. And that’s a bad thing.
Fantasia was the only Disney feature with the sequel baked right into the original design. Walt Disney’s conceit of making an audio-visual “night at the concert” by marrying classical music to hand-drawn animation was originally far more ambitious: instead of being one discreet feature film comprised of a series of shorts, Fantasia was supposed to build up a whole repertoire of shorts that any individual screening could pick and choose from. Ideally, a screening of Fantasia would feature a mix of old favourites and as well as new pieces. This went out the window when Fantasia flopped. Nevertheless, there was the latent possibility that more Fantasia material could one day emerge, and sixteen years ago it did.
It could have been better.
F2000’s primary failing is its inability to appreciate the principles underpinning its predecessor. The original respected the integrity of the music it used and its audience as well; cuts to the scores were minimal, with the animation paced to the music. It had faith that the audience would be capable of sitting through the entirety of Beethoven’s 6th, or Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. However misplaced that faith may have been from a monetary standpoint, from an artistic standpoint it is vital to Fantasia‘s success. It aimed to bring high culture to a populist medium, and also to elevate a populist medium to high art, and it did so without condescending to the audience.
F2000, however, slices and dices its compositions as it sees fit, whether for the sake of fitting the music to the animation (and not vice versa) or for cutting down the running time. The music is never given the chance to exert its own power, and the whole thing feels breathless in a bad way, with the film racing to the credits in order to avoid boring us. The long string of cameo MCs cracking lame jokes doesn’t help.
Still, I enjoyed myself, and it’s a film I’ll likely return more to than, say, Frozen or Big Hero 6. If only because it reminds me of how much I like Disney’s approach to traditional animation.
The new shorts are nowhere near as inspired as the original’s, but that’s an unfair animation, and most of the animation is as good as anything else from the Disney Renaissance.
The worst of the bunch is at the front: F2000 opens with a painful attempt to ape the original’s abstract setting of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, this time with the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5th symphony. It’s all so busy and garish and is over so quickly that it feels like someone threw a bunch of confetti and glitter at your face.
Next up is Respighi’s Pines of Rome, which is used to tell the story of…..a pod of flying humpbacked whales. Ok. I can dig it. The issue here is that the whales themselves are rendered in CG which has not aged well, and which sticks out terribly on the otherwise beautiful hand-drawn scenery.
Then we have Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with a narrative following three people in Depression-era New York. In perhaps the most inspired touch of the movie, the animation is done in the style of Al Hirschfeld’s cartoons. It’s in the running for my favourite (new) segment. And Rhapsody in Blue, being a mostly formless string of vivacious tunes, is the piece most suited to what F2000 is trying to do.
Fourth is The Steadfast Tin Soldier set to Shostakovich’s 2nd piano concerto. Lots of early CG here, but it acquits itself a little better by deliberately aping the look of hand-drawn animation. Not too crazy about this one.
Fifth is the finale to Saint-Saens’ Carnival of Animals, now about a flamingo with a yo-yo. It’s short, silly and colourful. Another high-point.
Then, in a token nod to Disney’s original intentions, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the original gets a re-screening here, and it blows all the competition out of the water. When I think about it, is it really unfair to make comparisons between the two films if F2000 invites it like this?
The seventh gives Donald Duck a chance to shine as the biblical Noah’s assistant in getting the animals on board the Ark, set to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches. There’s a lot of The Lion King in this one, but honestly I’m so starved for this kinda stuff that I’ll take the re-heat.
Finally, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite is used to tell a story about the cycle of nature. Or maybe its a cautionary environmental fable? Or about the death and rebirth of a forest nymph? Whatever.
Perhaps, in retrospect, it was better that Disney’s original plans for Fantasia never came to be. Could you imagine how dicey 70s Disney Fantasia shorts would have been? It could have been worse, though; they could have done something stupid like Bambi 2 instead.