Fantasy 2000 (1999)
Directed by: James Algar, Gaëtan Brizzi, Hendel Butoy, Francis Glebas, Eric Goldberg, Pixote Hunt | 75 minutes | music, animation, family | Starring: Leopold Stokowski, Ralph Grierson, Kathleen Battle, Steve Martin, Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn Jillette Teller, James Levine, Angela Lansbury, Wayne Allwine, Tony Anselmo, Russi Taylor
If you read the title ‘Fantasia 2000’ and think that this is a typical case of an uninspired sequel that wants to take advantage of the success of its predecessor, you are wrong. It is a self-contained collection of short films, using the same concept as ‘Fantasia’ (1940) but using completely new subjects and pieces of music. With the exception of one cutscene, called ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, which was taken directly from the original. However, this should not be seen as a sign of laziness, but as a tribute to the original as well as to the original idea of Walt Disney himself. Indeed, the ambitious Fantasia project was intended to be regularly updated, with old favorites continuing to exist alongside the new additions. Unfortunately, due to the critical and commercial flop of ‘Fantasia’ and the outbreak of World War II, this dream had to be shelved, only to come true again as the new millennium approaches. In the meantime, there had been a re-evaluation of the original, and Walt’s nephew, Roy Disney, thought the time had come for a revival of his famous uncle’s dream wish.
‘Fantasia 2000’, its predecessor was in fact a forerunner of video clips, links imaginative animation films to well-known and lesser-known classical music pieces; this time all from the twentieth century. These films range from abstract, such as the light-dark color fight set against Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, to purely narrative, as in the case of Donald Duck’s attempt to get all the animals in Noah’s ark and also to find his beloved Daisy. The piece of music used for this is the bombastic “Pomp and Circumstance” by Elgar. And, even if not every video is equally overwhelming, there is not a bad note in between. Every contribution is above average to say the least, with interesting animation tailored to the music, where the two parts really reinforce each other. Sometimes movies get an extra load and they know how to lift the simpler parts in the animation to a higher level, as well as to make the well-functioning parts simply formidable.
Even the reverse is observable. The imaginative animations sometimes make you look at familiar music in a new way. Suddenly you start to see drama, humor, or tenderness in specific pieces of George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ or Shostakovich’s second piano concerto, which you might have interpreted differently before. The combinations thus ensure that you listen to these pieces of music with a newfound hearing, rather than ruining the respected pieces with animation kitsch as some music purists protest.
What is sometimes regrettable is that the music pieces have been shortened. This is a pity, both with regard to the balance of the pieces of music, but also with regard to the impact of the films themselves. As overwhelming as some animations are, at times you have the feeling that more could have been done with the stories in terms of theme, which the movies could have gone on for a little longer. The film as a whole is also a bit short. The original ‘Fantasia’ lasted just under two hours, but this new incarnation, if you omit Mickey’s old movie and the cutscenes, doesn’t even get to the sixty minutes. Which immediately brings us to the last point of criticism: the introductions of the various films. Sometimes these are interesting as in the case of the informative stories of Bette Midler, Angela Lansbury, and James Earl Jones, where we learn, for example, what ideas have been put forward in the past, such as a contribution by Salvador Dalí ( about a “baseball game as a metaphor for life”). But in the case of Steve Martin and some rowdy American magicians, it’s just annoying. In addition, we want to get to the actual content of the film as quickly as possible, rather than looking at memorized skits. Fortunately, this content does not disappoint.
After Beethoven, we hear the majestic sounds of Ottorino Repighi’s ‘Pini di Roma’, where we are presented with a first moving and later psychedelic spectacle: flying whales! It’s adorable to watch the baby whale leap to the staccato sounds of the trumpets, and to feel the heavier threatening music as the great whale group soars over the clouds, toward the storm’s epicenter, a cylinder of clouds with lightning bolts shooting through, accompanied by the sound of large cymbals or cymbals. Magnificent!
But there is more, such as a touching and exciting story about the tin soldier by Hans Christian Andersen. The soldier has only one leg and falls in love with a dancer who initially seems to have only one leg because of the dance pose she adopts. However, a jealous “Jack-in-the-box” intervenes and forces the soldier to fight for his love, and even ends up among creepy rats in a sewer.
A funny little watercolor film, of just a few minutes, about flamingos and a yo-yo turns out to be the perfect partner for the finale of Saint-Saens’ “Carnaval des Animaux”. Airy, bouncy, and over before you know it. Perhaps the most successful contribution is the film based on Al Hirschfeld’s line drawings about four individuals in New York who are all unhappy and looking for their dream situation. This is about a man with insomnia who is looking for a job; a construction worker who dreams of a career as a jazz musician; a playful man who wants to get rid of his serious, dominant woman; and a little girl who has to take all kinds of courses against her will. All their stories are told parallel to each other in a dynamic and humorous way, and come together in a beautiful way. The animation is original and significantly different from the colorful other films. Blue-grey and pastels dominate in this extraordinarily satisfying film in both content and form. A perfect musical component has been chosen in the form of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, ideal for this New York setting and the jazzy, melancholy, but also playful atmosphere. At the end we are moved and feel like we were really involved with these characters. Not surprisingly, this video is also the longest of the collection.
Finally, the finale is a breathtaking piece of animation that is clearly inspired by Japanese anime, and very reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s great ‘Princess Mononoke’. It is a story of life, death, and renewal, and its main characters are a bird-like forest nymph who brings life to the forest, but with her powers does not reach the ground of a volcano. No matter how she tries, it stays barren in here. This place is therefore the ground of evil, or in this case the “fire bird”; the film is therefore tailored to Stravinsky’s suite of the same title. A fierce battle takes place between the two primal forces. A fantastic piece of animation, and a beautiful, yet simple story about the power of hope, life, and its constant relationship with evil. Unfortunately, with its epic character, this story doesn’t last very long, and leaves the viewer wanting more. At the same time, it is a compliment to a film if the viewer would like to see much more.
Could ‘Fantasia 2000’ have gone further thematically or substantively? Maybe. But the film is undeniably a success. He entertains, amazes, moves you and gives you an audiovisual explosion of taste such as you rarely experience in cinema. ‘Fantasia 2000’ is a true “orgasmic feast for the senses”, as Kramer from the sitcom “Seinfeld” would put it, and animation and (classical) music lovers would do well not to miss this piece of art. . And let’s hope we don’t have to wait another sixty years before the next visual and music spectacle presents itself.