Tuesday, January 4, 2011

DAF #38 - Fantasia 2000 (1999)

Title: Fantasia 2000
Year: 1999 (Ironic)
Rating: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 14 minutes

Plot: A second collection of animated segments set to classical music.
Based on: Original ideas; "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" by Hans Christian Andersen; The Sorcerer's Apprentice; Chapters 6-9 in the Book of Genesis.
Setting: Various; Under the sea; 1930's New York City; Toyland; Yen Sid's lair...again; Flamingos; Biblical times; The Forest.

First Viewing: Early 2000 at the IMAX with my Girl Scout troop.

Oh boy, I am getting tired of reviewing these segmented movies! Thankfully, this is the second to last we will get to in this blog. And luckily, I've already done Fantasia, so I will be able to compare and contrast to my heart's desire.

Any Disney fan worth their salt knows how much old Walt loved the idea of setting animation to classical music but few know the original plan was for Fantasia was to be an ever evolving film, released every few years with new sections while old ones were rotated out. But, due to Fantasia being a financial flop and the fact that World War II sucked the European market dry, Disney had to concentrate on other projects. It wasn’t until the early 90’s when Roy E. Disney (Walt’s nephew who appears at the beginning of all those home video release) pushed for his uncle’s dream to be realized.

Originally, "The Nutcracker Suite" (fairies, flowers, and mushrooms), "Dance of the Hours" (ostrich and hippo ballet) and "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" (Mickey with the wizard's hat) were the only old segments to be included in Fantasia 2000. However, the creative teams were so excited to make new shorts that all but “Apprentice” were cut…lucky for us.

Symphony No. 5, Allegro Con Brio (Ludwig van Beethoven) – Like the original Fantasia, this film starts out suddenly with minor credits and jumps into an abstract piece. Shapes resembling butterflies and bats fight with one another in a world of dark vs. light and good vs. evil. This clash of positive and negative forces is shown through flight in a darkened sky as light is emitted in splashes, rays, and shafts. Obviously, this one's "abstractness" is meant to open the film just as the "abstractness" of "Toccata and Fugue" did back in 1940.

The Pines of Rome (Ottorino Respighi) – A family of humpback whales are able to fly due to a supernova (Uh, sure). While frolicking around, a baby whale is separated from his parents and is trapped under an iceberg. He is later freed by his mother and then joins them in flight. This is probably my least favorite. Whales...eh. Plus it has that weird late 90's animation-CGI blend thing going on that never quite looks right.

Rhapsody in Blue (George Gershwin) – So maybe it's not "classical music". If we're going to get technical, the Classical period of music takes places between 1750-1830. Which means most of the pieces used in the Fantasia series are not "classical". Personally, I love this one. This jazzy tune follows four characters throughout a day in Depression era New York City; a construction worker who longs to be a jazz drummer, a man out of work, a neglected poor little rich girl, and a sugar daddy with a domineering wife. All characters are drawn in Al Hirschfeld’s linear style which fits the music perfectly.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier - Piano Concerto No. 2 (Dmitri Shostakovich)The Steadfast Tin Soldier is an odd fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen. It would probably not make a very good full-length feature, but as a short it works very well. A one legged toy soldier falls in love with a ballerina doll who is pursued by an evil Jack-in-the-Box. The villain throws the soldier out the window, sending him on a great odyssey. But the soldier over comes incredible odds and wins the ballerina's heart.This has some kind of weird CGI-cel animation mix making the characters look plasticine. It works though since all the characters are toys.

The Carnival of the Animals (Camille Saint-SaĆ«ns) – The shortest segment involves the daily, choreographed routine of a flock of flamingos which is interrupted when one of them introduces a yo-yo to the mix.This one is fun and such a far cry from the original Fantasia. Yes, we see goofy animal antics in "Dance of the Hours" but not like this. Don't get me wrong, it's nothing new. It's pure slapstick and much appreciated.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Paul Dukas) – If only one segment from Fantasia would go into the sequel, it would be this one. It's the exact short from the original: Mickey steals the wizard's hat, enchants the brooms, dreams of being master, chops up the brooms, loses control, and is saved by Yen Sid. You've seen it.

Noah’s Ark - Pomp and Circumstance Marches 1,2,3, and 4 (Edward Elgar) – Oh my Christ, I love "Pomp and Circumstance"! It's quite possibly my favorite piece of classical music (if "classical" means instrumental-non-film-score). Because we've just had a Mickey moment, Donald gets his turn in the sun as Noah's assistant. His duties include herding all the animals, two by two, onto the Ark. But in the confusion, he's separated from Daisy and thinks he is the last of his kind. This one is damn cheesy and probably not like any of the old Donald shorts. (It's nothing like Saludos or Caballeros, you can be sure!) But I really, really enjoy its humor and heart.

Firebird Suite, 1919 Version (Igor Stravinsky) – This one's the "masterpiece". This one's the beautiful, dramatic, triumphant finale. This is the one meant to make you jizz in your pants and make you jizz again in mere remembrance. A woodland sprite is summoned by a lone elk to bring springtime to the wintered wilderness. But the beauty of the season is destroyed when she accidentally awakens the Firebird in a nearby volcano. With the help of the elk, she reawakens what lies beneath the ashes of the ravaged forest. Yes, it is beautiful but it's painfully obvious why they saved this one for last. I wonder if it was conceptualized as such: "Fuck! We need something MAGNIFICENT to cap this off! Donald Duck's Bible Stories isn't doing it for me!" I do enjoy this one despite all that.

As I was rewatching Fantasia 2000 for this post, I was surprised at how quickly it went by. I was like "Oh shit, here's the Firebird Suite!". This film is a whopping 50 minutes shorter than its predecessor. For fans of the original, I imagine this is unsatisfying, but I think its juuuuuust right. A movie made of shorts should not drag and this one is like a breeze.

That being said, it was the first DAF released after the Disney Renaissance had ended months earlier with Tarzan. Fantasia 2000 was put into production some time after The Lion King roared as victor of animation, when Disney was God and could do no wrong. Roy pushed for his uncle's dream to be realized and everyone just went along with it. Besides, shorts were rarely made anymore so that could be fun, right? No one heeded the warning of Fantasia's initial theatrical failings. It had since become a film classic! It had made thousands of dollars from its VHS release! Surely a successful sequel would follow in its footsteps. However, that was not the case. Something this Extraordinary was too good for regular movie theaters, and thus, Fantasia 2000 became the first animated film ever released in IMAX.

Fantasia 2000 lost money, but that doesn't hinder my enjoyment of it. I like the music. I like the animation and story lines. I like the length (that's what she said). And, damn it, I even like the cheesy Oscar Presenter-like bumpers featuring Steve Martin, Bette Midler, and James Earl Jones. The contemporary, comic subtext makes it easier for me to enjoy. This isn't your grandpa's intense, stuffy "concert feature." During Fantasia 2000, I can relax. While I watch the original, I feel like I'll get my knuckles snapped with a ruler if I doze off during "The Rite of Spring."

From now on in this little ranking retrospective of mine, you'll find I enjoy the following DAF's more than I don't. Fantasia 2000 is the first of these. It's a damn likable movie all the way through (save for the snags of "Pines of Rome" and that damn "Sorcerer's Apprentice"). Just as I feel its precursor is overrated, Fantasia 2000 is underrated.

“Symphony No. 5” – Ludwig van Beethoven
“Pines of Rome” – Ottorino Respighi
“Rhapsody in Blue” – George Gershwin
“Piano Concerto No. 2” – Dmitri Shostakovich
“Carnival of the Animals” – Camille Saint-Saens
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” – Paul Dukas
“Pomp and Circumstance” – Edward William Elgar
“Firebird Suite (1919 Version)” – Igor Fedorvich Stravinsky

Favorite Song: “Pomp and Circumstance” – Edward William Elgar
Favorite Segment: "Rhapsody in Blue"

Favorite Character: The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Ballerina

Next Film: Alice in Wonderland (1951)

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