51 Days of Disney (Day 38): Fantasia 2000

After 59 years, Walt Disney’s original plan for Fantasia to be a reoccurring event that has a combination of new and old segments has finally been realized.

Symphony Number 5 – Ludwig von Beethoven

This segment is the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor of this Fantasia program, and I would actually say that it does a better job at it’s intended goal than the Toccata and Fugue. The two pieces are music for music’s sake, and as such have rather abstract segments, but Symphony No. 5 manages to have some  semblance’s of a story, but not one that is easy to explain due to the vagueness of the characters. The visuals are fantastic and the segment does not overstay it’s welcome.

Pines of Rome – Ottorino Respighi

At around ten minutes in length, this is one of the longer segments in Fantasia 2000 (which is funny because that would make it one of the shorter ones in Fantasia) and this is one of the best in the film. The segment centers around a family of whales who can fly in the moonlight.

Yes, flying whales. I’m not kidding.

The baby whale gets chased by a flock of seagulls into a glacier where he is trapped because he is not a very good flyer and there isn’t any moonlight to make him fly. His parents eventually lead him to some light and the family fly off into sky with many other whales in a gorgeous sequence involving beautiful light and cloud structures.

This segment is notable because of the fact that it combines the use of CG and traditional hand drawn animation. The whales were drawn and animated normally, but then scanned into a computer where the textures were applied.

Rhapsody in Blue – George Gershwin

This was actually the final segment to be added to Fantasia 2000, which is surprising considering the fact that either this or the final segment are considered to be the best in the film. It came right from the brain of Eric Goldberg, who was the supervising animator for the Genie and if you remember, Aladdin was stylistically based off of the style of Al Hirschfeld. The segment was green lighted to give the animators from an upcoming feature, Kingdom of the Sun, something to do while the film received extensive rewrites.

This segment is actually a collection of separate stories that all intertwine on the streets of New York City during what appears to be the Great Depression. A young black construction worker hates his job and just wants to play jazz, a man is broke and just wants a job, a little girl just wants to spend time with her parents, and a middle aged man just wants to have some fun in his life, but his wife just wants him to buy her everything she wants. All four of these stories intertwine with each other and their problems are solved.

The art style takes what the team of Aladdin did and takes it to another level. Aladdin was merely based off of Hirschfeld’s drawings, but this is Hirschfeld’s style straight up. It is simple, loose, but incredibly emotive and fits perfectly with Gershwin’s score. As Quincy Jones says in the introduction for the sequence, Gershwin dressed jazz up and put it in the symphony halls and I’m glad he did. Rhapsody in Blue is an amazing piece of music and is definitely one of the two best segments in Fantasia 2000.

Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major-I. Allegro – Dmitri Shostakovich

This segment is based off of the “Steadfast Tin Soldier” by Hans Christian Anderson and follows the story of a one legged Tin Soldier who is in love with a ballerina on a clock and she reciprocates his feelings. An evil Jack-in-the-box is also smitten with her, but she wants nothing to do with him and I don’t blame her as clowns are evil and scary. The jealous jack-in-the-box knocks the tin soldier out the window with a wooden boat and into the sewers. The soldier must traverse the sewers in order to find his way home to his love.

This segment had been in production at the studio off and on for years. It was originally going to be part of the Hans Christian Anderson package film that the Little Mermaid was going to be part of in the 40’s, but that project was of course scrapped due to budget constraints. It was put into production a few more times before finally becoming one of the first segments to be made for this new Fantasia film. The character animation for the toys in the segment was done completely in CG and as such looks very similar to Toy Story (but so much shinier for some odd reason), but this segment was actually finished before the release of Toy Story. Fantasia 2000 was originally going to be released in the mid-90’s under the name Fantasia Continued, but various production snags set it back to 1999 (as Fantasia 1999) and eventually to 2000.

The Carnival of the Animals, Finale – Camille Saint-Saëns

I have an intense level of hatred for this segment, part of this stems from the reason that many people say that Fantasia 2000 is not as good as the original: the segments are too short. This segment is only a minute and a half long, but it feels like an hour, it’s awful. Simply awful.

It’s about a flamingo that likes to yo-yo, but the rest of his flock won’t let him. That’s it. It’s supposed to be funny, but it just isn’t. It could have been funny if it was given more real estate in the film (or had a better premise), but there is absolutely no time for it to be anything more than stupid and Disney should have use the space it filled for something much better. The thing that bothers me the most about this segment is that it is the one that Disney pushed the most out of all of the segments for the advertising for Fantasia 2000 and it is the worst one in the film!

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Paul Dukas

It’s the same segment down to the music from the original Fantasia, if you want a review for it you can find it here. The only differences are the introduction by Penn and Teller (which is the best one in the film) and the fact that they re-dubbed Mickey Mouse’s voice where he congratulates Mr. Stakowski. I understand why they did it, but it’s just really weird to hear Wayne Albright instead of Walt Disney doing the voice.

Pomp and Circumstance – Edward Elgar

The bible story of Noah’s Ark is the basis of this segment, but with the twist of starring Donald Duck. Donald isn’t playing Noah, but is rather Noah’s assistant and the story really centers around Donald and Daisy getting separated and not knowing if each other survived the flood. Donald feels very underused in this segment, there just aren’t that many chances for his signature character traits to really show up. He isn’t able to get obscenely angry and scream incoherently at people. He isn’t able to evilly plot against some character. It really just feels like the role Donald played could have been filled by anyone else until the very end when you actually see him do one anger filled freak-out.

That being said, the gag dealing with the regular ducks is really funny.

The segment really could have been better if it was given more time to have Donald be the Donald Duck that everyone knows and loves.

Firebird Suite (1919 Version) – Igor Stravinski

This is the best sequence in the film besides Rhapsody in Blue and actually is connected to the original Fantasia in two different ways. The first is that the piece of music was written by Stravinski, who also wrote the Rite of Spring that was used in the original Fantasia. It is also very stylistically similar to the Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria segments in that both are stories of light winning over darkness and end up being very uplifting and simultaneously moving.

A Spring Sprite, while ending winter and bringing rebirth to the plants, accidentally awakens the Firebird in it’s volcano resting place and it proceeds to destroy the surrounding forest and the Spring Sprite in a fit of rage.

The Firebird takes the place of Chernabog in this sequence and fits the role rather well. It is large, imposing, and actually rather terrifying. The scene where it rises out of the volcano is both beautiful and destructive, just like a real volcanic eruption and when it is waking up, you can actually see skulls and human forms writhing in pain in the smoke. It’s one of those things that not everyone notices, but when you do it adds another layer of fear to the whole experience. The destruction left in the Firebird’s wake is total and complete. Nothing survives, even the Spring Sprite is defeated physically and emotionally, but through the help of her elk friend, she is able to bring rebirth to the forest and make it even more beautiful. The volcanic eruption actually makes her stronger and she is able to completely engulf the volcano in plant life.

Without Roy O. Disney, we would not have had Fantasia 2000. He fought long and hard to get the Walt Disney Company to give his uncle’s original plan for Fantasia another try and the results, while not as good as the original, make me want them to make more Fantasia films. The major reason that Fantasia 2000 is not as good as the original is because of the length. The film is only around 75 minutes long and very few of the sequences have enough time to leave any sort of lasting memory on the audience or to feel like they are actually fully developed. They are just too short. The longest segments in Fantasia 2000 are only around as long as the shortest segments in the original film and as such feel like the most complete stories in the film.

One last thing I want to mention is something regarding the most recent home video release of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. Both films were released together as a bundle and it is one of the best Blu-Ray releases I have personally ever seen, the problem is that the set was only available for 5 months before being vaulted.

5 months.

5 freaking months.

The set was released on November 30th, 2010 and vaulted on April 30th, 2011 along with the Platinum Edition release of Pinocchio and the Diamond Edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This is too short of a period, Disney. I understand that Fantasia is not exactly the biggest money maker of the Disney canon, but 5 months is just ridiculous.

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