Monday, May 21, 2012

Disney's Fantasia 2000

Fantasia 2000 is the second sequel film in the Disney canon, Rescuers Down Under being the first, and Winnie the Pooh the third. I honestly don't count The Three Caballeros as a sequel to Saludos Amigos! A lot of people I've talked to about this film really didn't like it, which is confusing to me. I've always liked this movie. When comparing it to Fantasia, this newer one seems a lot less boring. Sure I can appreciate the older one better now than I did as a child, but the whole dinosaur segment still makes me want to snooze. The first question that always comes up when you hear about a sequel is: "Why bother?" Rescuers Down Under did poorly compared to the other 90's films, so why put another sequel out there? Plus, one from what is considered one of the best Disney films of all time, if not the most innovative. Well, as the film itself says, it was Walt Disney's dream. Disney wanted to come out with a new Fantasia film every couple years, adding new songs and animation so the audience would see a different film each time. Unfortunately, Fantasia didn't make much, wasn't shown in Europe because of the war, and wasn't a hit with critics. Walt Disney's aspirations were seen as economically unsound, and who can blame the company. That wasn't the end of Fantasia however.

Walt's nephew Roy E. Disney decided it was about time for another Fantasia, albeit after Walt had passed away in 1966. Roy decided to pitch the idea to Micheal Eisner and the project was thrown around a little. A project for the sequel titled Musicana was to come out in the late 70's and focus on the world's cultures through musical compositions, but it was shelved in the early 80's. There is a special feature on the Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray/DVD that gives the history of Musicana and shows how much they had animated before the project was shelved. Finally, the idea resurfaced in 1990, and went into production, not under the name Musicana, but Fantasia Continued. In 1991, composer James Levine attended a meeting with Roy Disney, Thomas Schumacher, and Peter Gelb, who asked Levine to conduct several musical pieces of their choosing for the movie. Pieces like Pines of Rome (the whale segment) were there from the beginning, but others like Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major-1. Allegro were added very late in the mix. The film was even going to include more pieces from the original, like Dance of the Hours and The Nutcracker Suite, but were pulled because Disney wanted to shorten the run time, or they wanted something completely new, aka Rhapsody in Blue. The only original segment that made it was The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The original release was for the mid-90's but production ran long and it was delayed until 1999. The name of the movie was thus changed to Fantasia 1999. Yuck. Luckily, the movie was again delayed until 2000, making it a very busy movie year for Disney, as Dinosaur and Emperor's New Groove would come out the same year. So, Fantasia 1999 thankfully became Fantasia 2000, which is still not the best name but beats the hell out of anything with 1999 in the title.

Something that the studio wanted to keep from the first film was the introductions to the pieces, though in this case they wanted more than one person to do them. This way, it would "cleanse the emotional palate" of the audience and allow for some background on the piece. Such stars and musicians that introduce the pieces are: Steve Martin, Bette Midler, Quincy Jones, violinist Itzhak Perlman, Penn & Teller, James Earl Jones, composer James Levine (with Mickey Mouse and Leopold Stokowski, Stokowski's voice being from the original film), and finally, Angela Lansbury. Let's take a look at the segments:

First off we have Symphony No. 5 by Ludwig van Beethoven. Director Pixote Hunt decided on the concept for Symphony No. 5 with a conflict between the "good" multi-colored shapes and the "evil" dark shapes and how it resolves itself. Staff members visited zoos looking at butterflies and bats to get a sense in how each behaved. This is a very short piece, but for me it is very effective. The whole parent and child dynamic always gets me on an emotional level and I can remember being struck by the whole sequence when I first saw this in the IMAX. As always though, good triumphs over evil and though it appears the darkness has overtaken the father/mother, they appear at the very end of the piece. Still gets me.

The second piece is probably my least favorite but still is incredibly beautiful. Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi, though it seems like it would have an animated sequence about...well...Rome, doesn't. The animators went in a different direction and thought more along the lines of whales. Besides Rhapsody in Blue, I believe it is the longest section and for me has always been boring. Don't get me wrong, whales are cool and all but the whole whales flying around because of a supernova is a little odd. This segment, along with The Steadfast Tin Soldier are the lone completely CGI segments, which incidentally were finished before Pixar's landmark CGI film Toy Story even came out.

The next segment is my favorite: Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. I don't know if it's because it's sort of a historical piece, or if it's because of the various stories going on, or the unique animation, but I really like this piece. It helps that I also like the song. Though it is a long piece, it doesn't bore you, as it tells the story of four different people: a construction worker longing to be a drummer, a begrudging husband who has to follow his high maintenance wife around, a down on his luck man who is just looking for employment, and a little girl who just wants to spend time with her parents, not her nanny. In the end, the construction worker chooses to become a drummer in a band, the husband decides to go out and have some fun, the unemployed man takes over the constructions worker's job, and the little girl is reunited with her parent's after she is almost hit by a ton of cars. I love the feel of the whole piece; the 30's setting, the Al Hirschfeld style animation, and the surprise cameo by Gershwin himself playing piano.

Piano Concerto No. 2 follows and tells the story of The Steadfast Tin Soldier. Disney knew they wanted to tell the story of the steadfast tin soldier, but didn't find a song for it until late in the game. This is another really good piece, as it's story is easy to follow and the music accents it perfectly. The story details the love between a tin soldier who is missing one leg, and a toy ballerina. Their relationship is cut short by a jealous jack-in-the-box who wants the ballerina for himself. The tin soldier is knocked out a window and though he goes down into the sewer and is eaten by a fish, he inexplicably ends up right back at his master's house. He battles the jack-in-the-box and successfully throws him into a fire. The soldier and ballerina live happily ever after! Well, that's the Disney version at least. In Hans Christian Anderson's version, the jack-in-the-box is a goblin instead, and in the end, the soldier and the ballerina are accidentally knocked into a fireplace by their boy owner. The tin soldier burns into the shape of a heart. Very sad and kind of disturbing. I'm so glad Disney sanitizes some stories.

The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens is another very short piece. This segment details what would happen if you gave a yo-yo to a flock of flamingos. The idea for the segment came from legendary story artist Joe Grant, who loved the Fantasia segment Dance of the Hours. He wanted to have a bunch of ostriches with a yo-yo, but it was eventually changed to flamingos. I remember that they had a lot of merchandise at The Henry Ford where we went to see this when it first came out, but the only thing I thought was cool was the yo-yo with the flamingo on it. Hey, come on...yo-yo's were cool back then and I was fourteen. It's funny because I think I still have it around here somewhere.

I'm skipping The Sorcerers Apprentice since that's an old piece. The next new piece is Pomp and Circumstance by Edward Elgar. I, like most people, associate this song with graduations, so I was a little put off by it at first, but it's grown on me. This segment details the Biblical story of Noah and the flood. Donald and Daisy star as helpers of Noah and Donald gets into some hijinks. When the flood comes however, Daisy is convinced Donald didn't make the ship and counts him lost. Of course Donald is alright, he's just under Murphy's Law 24/7. They eventually land and Donald and Daisy are reunited. What else would have happened? Good piece if you can disassociate the music with graduations. And Donald makes everything awesome so you can't help but like this segment.

Last but not least is the Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky. This is one of those segments that has grown on me, but its still not one of my favorites. Disney wanted to have a piece that was the same thing as the Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria segment that closed the first Fantasia, so they went with a story that details the theme of life-death-rebirth deities. The segment was also meant to be a stylized interpretation of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The segment involves a spring sprite and her companion, the elk, who both accidentally wake up the Firebird, a fiery spirit of destruction in a nearby volcano. This segment has breathtaking visuals and full of action, a little more so than the others. Still, it's not as good as some of the others in my book.

The film received a positive critical reception, though most critics noted that there were some faults in the movie. Most pointed out that though it was good, it wasn't the original. That sentiment usually comes up when dealing with a sequel. The film was screened at 75 IMAX theaters throughout the world from January 1st to the end of April. It was later released at regular theaters on June 16th and in the end made a little over $90 million, just $10 million more than what they spent on the movie. So, was it all worth it? I think so, but maybe if I was a Disney executive I would think differently. It may not be as much of a landmark film as the original Fantasia, but I definitely think it's a bit more entertaining. I was a little surprised when I realized this was part of the Disney canon, but it is! I think the fact that it came out in the same year as two other animated films threw me off. Also, check out the video for Destino. Bette Midler actually talks about this piece that almost made it into the film, being the one with Salvador Dali's touch. Destino is an odd little piece that doesn't seem to fit into the mold with the others, but it's still very intriguing and beautiful, so check it out!


  1. Woow! amazing!
    I really love this movie. And I agree with you, my favorite segment is Rhapsody in blue, I don't why but I think the segment have something very interesting I don't know how to explain.

    I Love your blog.