In the summer of 2000, I was one of the few teenagers begging their parents to see Fantasia 2000 in IMAX. The begging worked. My whole family went to see 70 minutes of top-notch Disney animation set to instrumental pieces, like I had dreamed of for years. My younger siblings seemed happy enough with the outing. During the film, I was in awe and soaked up every image and note. But after watching the original Fantasia for nearly fifteen years, I felt slightly let down a while after leaving the theater.
You see, the original Fantasia from 1940 was a visual masterpiece, but a financial flop. However, give anything with the name Disney on it 60 years to ripen and it can get a sequel. With IMAX and digital animation being the new big things, 2000 was a perfect time for Disney to finally get around to continuing Fantasia like it was intended to be. However, most modern film goers would not be happy sitting through half an hour of an animated version of the Earth’s evolution set to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. As a result, the seven new shorts that comprise Fantasia 2000 are shorter, snappier and a bit less ambitious, in my opinion.
The film starts with its most abstract short, set to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It’s a colorful and energetic piece to set a tone for the rest of the film. Then the film turns to its most surreal movement with Respighi’s Pines of Rome, where digital whales embark on an adventure in the aurora filled skies. The film then turns jazzy with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, depicting stylized New Yorkers, designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. Next we see the story of The Steadfast Tin Soldier set to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, the film’s most impressive use of digital animation. Then we get a cute 90 second segment of Carnival of the Animals with a yo-yo flinging flamingo. Next, as originally intended, we revisit a piece from the original Fantasia, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring Mickey Mouse. Then a Donald Duck helps tell the tale of Noah’s Ark set to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance, a sure crowd pleaser for those who need something more familiar. And the film ends on on a wonderful high note, Stravinsky’s The Firebird with a beautiful depiction of nature’s ability to carry on through the fire.
I have a fun memory from seeing Fantasia 2000 in theaters as a teen, besides my mom falling asleep during Pines of Rome. During The Firebird, just after the lava-volcano-firebird destroys the forest, engulfs the poor little sprite and the screen cuts to black on a murderous note, a little boy somewhere in the theater shouted, “Wow! That was wonderful!” My family and I couldn’t help but laugh. Sure, he kind of ruined the somber moment in the movie, but to hear someone so young so moved by this film was one of the most fulfilling moments in my time going to movies. And even with that funny memory in my head, I’m still brought to tears by The Firebird segment nearly every time I watch it. The music combined with the beautiful animation just gets to me.
Fantasia 2000 does not forget its humble roots. Deems Taylor’s introduction is used as the orchestra warms up. Images throughout some of the shorts feel like descendants of their predecessors. The clouds and beams of light in Symphony Number 5 are reminders of the opening movement in the original, Toccata and Fugue. The Firebird number contains a menace lurking in a mountain, just as Night on Bald Mountain. And both end on an uplifting note of life anew.
I applaud Disney’s team of animators and idealists for bringing back Fantasia. Unfortunately, I doubt there will be a third film, as much as I may wish for it. I am one of the few that love this sort of filmmaking. But I’m happy that I was around for the last hurrah. I may have been the happiest teenager who got to see this in an IMAX theater. Today I own this film on Blu-Ray, and regularly use it to lull my son to sleep. Pines of Rome usually gets his eyes drooping every time. And if he’s still awake during Carnival of the Animals, we can’t help but dance together.
“What would happen if you gave a yo-yo to a flock of flamingos? ….Who wrote this?”