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Movie Review

Fantasia/2000

Reviewed by: Matthew Prins
CONTRIBUTOR

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Children
Genre:
Animation
Length:
1 hr. 15 min.
Year of Release:
2000
USA Release:
_____
Copyrighted. Scene from Fantasia/2000. Scene from Fantasia/2000
Featuring: James Earl Jones, Quincy Jones, Angela Lansbury, Steve Martin, Penn and Teller
Director: Hendel Butoy, Francis Glebas, Paul Brizzi
Producer: Don Ernst
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

Aside from their collaborations with Pixar, Disney has been in an artistic chasm lately. When the “The Lion King” was released, it seemed like Disney had been putting out high-quality animated features year after year since the beginning of time; it was easy to forget that the reinvention of Disney didn’t start until 1989’s “The Little Mermaid” and 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast”. Then came the somewhat disappointing “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and the dreadful “Pocahontas”, and the barely-better “Hercules” and “Tarzan,” and we were reminded that there was a time not so long ago when Disney animation was usually bland and ignorable.

“Fantasia/2000” is Disney’s attempt to get back some of the critical acclaim that has been missing from its recent fare while—and this is very important to Disney executives—making a good bit of money. The first “Fantasia” was a box-office flop, only getting into the black during its re-release 25 years after it first came out; the mildly obscure classical pieces and snippets of abstract animation didn’t appeal to a mass audience until psychedelic images became more mainstream in the ’60s.

I mention the economics of “Fantasia” and “Fantasia/2000” because I suspect worries about finances caused the pedestrianness that protrudes Fantasia/2000. There are seven new animation segments in “Fantasia/2000,” and only one—featuring four interlocking stories in a line-drawn New York set to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”—tries a visual style different from Disney’s current palette. There are high points in the other six shorts, but it would be a stretch to call any of them unique, inventive, or particularly emotionally compelling. It doesn’t help that the classical pieces in the film are the most among the ubiquitous selections possible: Beethoven’s 5th, the aforementioned “Rhapsody in Blue,” and even the graduation staple “Pomp and Circumstance.” Familiarity sells. Disney knows it and has made “Fantasia/2000” more palatable to the general public because of it. (The film shows a snippet of a Salvador Dali segment that was considered; that bit was more interesting to me than most of the other segments in their entirety.)

Despite their lack of originality, most of the shorts in “Fantasia/2000” work on the excitement of their commotion, if nothing else. The opening sequence of thousands of fluttering triangles is the best example of that excitement, even if the sequence adds up to nothing. “Pines of Rome” features a heroic story of flying whales; its pictures of those mammals floating over the water benefits the most from the IMAX treatment. The New York short is easily the masterwork; it’s the only new segment that is emotionally involving, perhaps because it is the only segment to feature humans as major characters. A short involving a tin soldier and a ballerina is notable only because it shows how sloppy cartoons can look when computer and hand-drawn animation don’t quite mesh. The shortest segment involves a yo-yoing flamingo; it’s happy and light, and it doesn’t overstay its concept.

Disney was originally going to have three segments from the original “Fantasia” in “Fantasia/2000;” time constraints cut that down to only “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” which translates better to the IMAX screen than some critics had hinted. The nadir of “Fantasia/2000” is an ill-advised rip-off of “Titanic” (with a happier Disneyesque ending, of course), starring Donald Duck as Leonardo DiCaprio, Daisy Duck as Kate Winslet, and Noah’s Ark as The Boat. “Fantasia/2000” ends with an ecological rejuvenation similar in theme to the anime film “Princess Mononoke”; it counteracts its convoluted story with the most fantastic visuals of the film. Separating the sequences are contrived appearances by movie stars (James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Steve Martin, Bette Midler) that usually are unneeded and unsuccessful comic relief; James Earl Jones, in particular, shows why he should turn down all future comedic roles.)

More than most G-rated Disney films, “Fantasia/2000” has moments that might bother parents with young children. The most obvious of these moments occurs between sequences when Teller (of comic troupe fame Penn and Teller) chops off his hand with a butcher knife. It’s quickly shown to be a prosthetic, but it still seems very out of place in a G-rated film. There are dark moments, but not much darker than the dark moments in recent animated fare. Some Christians may be upset at the flippancy and inaccuracy in the Donald Duck and the Ark sequence; given Disney’s perceived track record, others might be happy to see a Biblical story in “Fantasia/2000” at all.

If it’s possible, see “Fantasia/2000” in an IMAX theater rather than waiting for the 35mm release in May. Despite all the film’s weaknesses, it’s invigorating seeing a film in the IMAX format that doesn’t mistake flying through the air for content.


Viewer Comments
Once again, as in the original “Fantasia”, Disney caters to the masses by choosing the most overplayed warhorses in the classical repertoire. (With the exception of the Shostakovich, an incredible and still underplayed work which I was ecstatic to see on the program, that is. With the addition of both his piano concerto and the Firebird Suite, at least twentieth-century polytonality is well-represented. Stravinsky notwithstanding, the result of the original “Fantasia” was overwhelmingly romantic, even if the composers were not technically from that period.) That said, the marriage of animation and music is a thing of beauty. While I hesitate to assign any programmatic aspects to Beethoven’s 5th or any other pieces—one risks being too arbitrary when assigning any visuals, even with openly programmatic pieces—the animation adds another, if simplistic, dimension to the hearing of the works. In this sense, I find that the abstract animation risks distorting the meaning of the works least. Those who dismiss this as a work for children are missing the point entirely. This is art, however watered-down and accesible. That it is enjoyable to children makes it that much more effective, but that isn’t its only purpose. We have lost Bernstein and his youth concerts, and as yet have no replacement, but children still need to be introduced to music in an accesible manner. I only hope that they will be able to focus both on the music and the animation. Adults should be able to enjoy both the Chicago Symphony’s crisp and robust playing, far better than the Philadelphia Orchestra in the original, which occasionally lacked precision and made up for it with an excess of vibrato. I worry that being associated with Disney will cause the film to be assigned to the realm of cutesy children’s films in the minds of many adults, when it has so much more to offer. My Ratings: [4/5]
—Jessica Price, age 20
What a wonderful movie! It’s especially enjoyable to watch it on an Imax screen. The music is beautiful and educational. I also thought the animation was beautifully synchronized to the music. Our family, ages 2 to 34 were delighted with the experience. My Ratings: [4½/4]
—Sarah Modisett Lee, age 34
I also saw this at the Seattle Boeing IMAX theater, and all I can say is: Cool! I give the film a 4½ rating in the Christian category (due to the famous “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence which shows, among other things, a sorcerer conjuring up spirits from a human skull) and a glowing 5 in the moviemaking category. The “mother nature” sequence at the end was not at all anti-Christian, but only symbolized the struggle of nature against the elements. Like the passing of the seasons, and the advent of disaster, and so on. The Noah’s Ark segment, with Donald and Daisy Duck as the two ducks, was delightful, and made me yearn for a full-length, big budget Veggietales feature! (by the way, has anyone noticed that the same people who criticize Disney for the whimsical nature of its Noah’s Ark portrayal, are buying up Veggietales videos like hotcakes?) I must stress this: if you’re going to see this film, see it on an IMAX screen! My Ratings: [4½/5]
—Timothy Blaisdell, age 36
I saw “Fantasia/2000” a week ago at the Seattle Boeing Imax Theater. Maybe it was just where I was viewing it, but I’m afraid to say this film was underrated here. I’m giving it a 4 out of 5 Moral Rating because it DOES include some Christian content such as the ark scene (a rare part of Disney filmmaking), but it sort of balances it out with a mother nature theme in the last number. I’m giving it a 4½ out of 5 in Moviemaking quality because the animation is simply incredible, yet it lacks a movie plot. Being a musician, I thoroughly enjoyed the musical numbers (Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” score still sends shivers up my spine!). I especially enjoyed the “Rhapsody in Blue” sequence. And although the mother nature theme in the last sequence was a little… interesting, I still enjoyed the music chosen. The hosts chosen for “Fantasia/2000” were all good, except for Steve Martin. Maybe it just me, but I don’t know how his personality fits with the “personality” of the whole film. To summarize everything: go see “Fantasia/2000” now! If you cannot, wait till it comes out on video. It’s worth it, believe me. My Ratings: [4/4½]
—Aaron O., age 14
Because the movie is done in 8 segments, I will address a few individually. (1) Symphony #5—Far from being pointless as the review here suggested. I found this to be an allegory of good and evil, God vs. satan. (2) Pine of Rome—Greenpeace ought to love this one. The baby whale is engagingly cute. (6) The sorcerer’s apprentice. I find any representation of sorcery disturbing. The old sorcerer mimicking Moses’ feat of splitting the waters is not a healthy image for children. (8) Firebird Suite—this was the most disturbing of the segments. Christians BEWARE of the new age imagery. Be sure to discuss this with your children… My Ratings: [2½/4½]
—Bruce Carter, age 45
I just want to go to the museum and watch it again!
—Steven Ip Ka Leong, age 13, non-Christian
I saw this movie in LA where Disney built their own temporary IMAX theater and I’d have to say that it was one of the best experiences I’ve had at the movies. I call it an experience because this is not an ordinary movie, with a plot and so on. It was, though, an amazing cinematic experience and I was thoroughly entertained the whole time. Some people are complaining about the guest appearances, but I thought that they fit in to the film well. If you can go see it at an IMAX theater, you should. I do plan to see it again when it comes to the regular theaters also. I found nothing in it offensive. My Ratings: [4/5]
—Shane Mulholland, age 18