Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla
One of Hollywood's major curses is that it regularly seeks to improve upon a revered original. All of us can name at least one ill-advised remake, an update that litters the bowels of the septic tank of celluloid failure.
Wisely, the animators at Disney taking on the concept of "Fantasia 2000" realized that they didn't have to improve on the original so much as measure up to it. The original 1940 "Fantasia" is as highbrow as animation gets; it was (and is today) to standard animation features as going to an art museum is to attending a wrestling match. The same comparison can be made for the new opus.
Returning only the beloved "Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence from the original (the one wherein Mickey Mouse enchants a broomstick to carry his water for him), the updated "Fantasia" adds eight new sequences ranging from the simplistic geometric animation of the opening "Beethoven's Fifth" sequence to the intricate storytelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" set to Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2.
The animation here holds up well to the original. Check out the self-satisfied smirks on the pink flamingos in Saint-Saens "Carnival of the Animals," which asks the age-old question "What would happen if you gave a pink flamingo a yo-yo?" (it is also the most charming and shortest of the sequences here). Check also the looks of parental concern on the whales in the gorgeous "Pines of Rome" (by Respighi) sequence. This particular part is breathtaking in its imagination, having majestic humpback whales float in the air as serenely as they plow through the water, but the world of these whales is not necessarily what it seems; the sequence's end is a delightful lesson in perspective.
Another favorite sequence is set to George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," done in the linear style of cartoonist Al Hirschfeld. It depicts a depression-era New York City in which a construction worker dreams of being a jazz drummer, an unemployed man dreams of getting a job, a henpecked man dreams of being able to let the child in him go free and a little girl dreams of more attention from her parents. In this idealized Big Apple, dreams come true amid the glitter of the lights of Broadway.
Another sure-to-be fave is Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" (yes, the graduation theme for every high school ever) which stars Donald Duck as Noah's assistant in loading up the Ark in preparation for the flood. Donald is separated from his beloved Daisy during the frenzied boarding; each believes the other left behind. While Donald puts out various fires in his capacity as assistant (the woodpeckers within are more dangerous than the storm without) while Daisy pines at the railing of the mighty ark. They are reunited as the animals disembark in a particularly poignant moment.
The movie closes with Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite," which portrays an anime-style nymph battling a volcano-spawned firebird.
Each sequence is introduced by a celebrity host (Steve Martin, James Earl Jones and Penn and Teller are all particularly delightful). The animation here is superb, especially on the ultralarge IMAX screen with digital sound. The remastered "Sorceror's Appearance" works seamlessly with the other sequences.
This is probably a bit too long-winded for smaller kids, which is true of the original "Fantasia." As a work of art, it's magnificent. As entertainment, it requires patience and imagination, something for which the American movie-going public is not noted. Still, for the smart fellers and smart gals reading this, it's a without-question must-see.
Theater or Video?
Note from John Orr: When Walt Disney first came up with the idea for "Fantasia," his original plan was to revisit the film every few years, adding new sequences and taking away some of the old ones. It was meant to be a continuous work in progress. However, the film originally tanked at the box office, and it wasn't till decades later that it became a "classic," and a box-office success in re-release. Years ago, when the Disney people announced they would finally attempt to realize Uncle Walt's original idea for "Fantasia," and change the film with new material, they released the original "Fantasia" for perhaps one last time on video tape and laser disc. (Which is why I have "Fantasia" on laser disc despite not actually owning a laser disc player; but, it turns out, the old "Fantasia" is still available, including on DVD.) Now, finally, Disney has realized the original idea and updated "Fantasia" -- not only with new sequences, stars and music, but in a new format, the huge IMAX.
See other information about "Fantasia/2000" at Internet Movie Data Base.