Fantasia 2000 (1999)
Directed by Kevin Lima and Chris Buck
As in the original version of Fantasia, there are eight wordless animated sequences set to pieces of classical music. One segment, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, returns from the original, along with seven new segments, all introduced by various celebrities.
When the original Fantasia was released in 1940, Walt Disney’s plan was to re-release the movie on a regular basis, with some of the segments replaced by newer ones each time on a rotating basis. Though some of these replacement sequences had already been put into production (and would be featured in some of the package films), the re-release concept in general got shelved due to the disappointing box office of the original and the onset of World War II.
They brought the idea back out of mothballs in the early 80s, but it didn’t really go anywhere until Michael Eisner came aboard as CEO. Eisner loved the idea, but Katzenberg didn’t, and the studio dragged its feet until the original version was finally released on VHS in 1991, and promptly sold almost 10 million copies as pre-orders. Katzenberg still hated the idea, but the home video success was enough for Eisner to go over his head and green-light the production anyway.
Production on the individual segments was done over a period of several years, with animators working on it during downtime between the full-length Renaissance movies. Some of the segments made heavy use of CG for their main characters, a first for Disney animation (Toy Story and the other 90s Pixar films may have been released by Disney, but Pixar was still its own separate company at the time, and Disney itself had never incorporated 3D animation to this degree before).
The film was initially released in December 1999 as part of a concert tour with a live orchestra, before opening in IMAX theaters (the first full-length animated film to do so) in 2000. It set records for an IMAX movie at the time, but when it was released in general theaters over the summer it opened outside of the top 10, and ended up barely making its money back. Though the Renaissance films had fluctuated somewhat in their box office take, they’d all been financial successes. Fantasia 2000 was Disney’s first real swing-and-a-miss financially in a decade and is generally seen as marking the beginning of the studio’s decline throughout the 2000s.
As with the original Fantasia and the package films of the 1940s, this is a fairly hard film to actually review. Since it’s a collection of unrelated shorts, there really isn’t any plot to speak of, and none of the characters actually speak at all.
Of the seven new segments, there were none that I outright hated. But only a couple really made an impression on me. The film opens in the same style as the original, with an abstract first number (in this case, Beethoven’s Fifth). And like the original, it’s pretty much just some moving images timed to the music, like an overgrown “visualizer” from an early 2000s mp3 player.
There are also two segments (set to The Pines of Rome and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #2) which feature heavy use of mid-late 90s era CG animation. And to put it mildly, they’re a mixed bag. The ideas behind both are actually quite solid. I particularly like the idea of flying whales from the former segment. But the CG really hasn’t aged well, even more so than the early Pixar films (which at least had the benefit of being entirely CG, instead of the CG/hand-drawn hybrids we have here). It doesn’t help matters that for some reason they decided to add hand-animated eyes to the otherwise completely CGI whales. I’m usually immune to the whole “uncanny valley” thing, but that just looked weird.
Now, there were definitely parts that I did enjoy. The mix of Al Hirschfeld’s caricatures with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue works really well (though I’ll admit that the lengthy sequence, the longest in the movie, had me checking my watch by the end of it). And the fairly pretentious Noah’s Ark segment, set to Pomp and Circumstance, was enlivened tremendously by the addition of Donald and Daisy Duck. To be honest, though, my favorite piece in the whole thing was probably the most inconsequential, and certainly the shortest. It was the comic sequence of a flock of flamingos trying desperately to deal with one bird who’s somehow gotten its hands (wings?) on a yo-yo. It’s a simple concept, set excellently to the music (by Camille Saint-Saens), that gets in and gets out without overstaying its welcome.
The finale of the movie, a tale of a nature spirit combating a volcano set to Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, is another highlight. I was definitely picked up some strong Miyazaki vibes from it, especially Princess Mononoke (which Disney had dubbed and released in the US just a couple of months earlier). And if the volcano’s eruption and later appearance wasn’t based directly on Mt. Saint Helens, I’ll eat my keyboard.
Like the original Fantasia, this one is very much a mixed bag that might play better as a collection of individual shorts these days, to be consumed one at a time, than as a single 80 minute experience. The animation quality is noticeably better than the original one for the most part, though it’s marred by some overenthusiastic use of CG that wasn’t quite up to the animators’ ambitions.
As I did last time, instead of my usual rating breakdown, I’m just going to give each segment a letter grade.
Beethoven’s Fifth: B-
The Pines of Rome: C
Rhapsody in Blue: B
Piano Concerto No.2 : C+
The Carnival of the Animals: A
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: A-
Pomp and Circumstance: A-
The Firebird Suite: A-