Original Release: December 17,1999
Runtime: 75 Minutes
Directed By: Don Hahn, Pixote Hunt, Hendel Butoy, Eric Goldberg, James Algar, Francis Glebas, Paul and Gaetan Brizzi
Performed By: James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Hello and welcome back to the package film era where we…what’s that? We’re in the renaissance era and I just think it’s the package film era because of this film here? Oh dear. I must have gotten lost. Okay, let’s try this again. Nearly 60 years after the first Fantasia, and a less impressive 5 months since we talked about it here on this blog, Fantasia 2000 is finally here to delight us with dazzling images set to classical music. I recall going to see this one at IMax and I remember just how impressive it was, knowing that the whales were actual size. A man came out before the film and educated us on what IMax was and showed the difference in size of the film reel. Afterwards, you would walk the lobby where there were photos from the creation of the film as well as concept art. It was all very informative, and at the time seemed like quite the spectacle. There is a massive amount of history to each of these shorts, so I will try to break them down to what I found to be the most interesting tidbits, while also sharing my thoughts on each one. Get your yo-yos ready. It’s showtime.
The idea of continuing the Fantasia franchise had been toyed around with several times over the years, as it was always meant to be continued after the first installment. It wasn’t until the reissuing of the DVD of Fantasia, and its success, that anyone thought it might be a good idea. Roy E Disney was the first to bring it up and Michael Eisner was a big supporter of the project, even though Jeffrey Katzenberg was not. Because of Katzenberg’s lack of interest, he was largely ignored during it, many of the team reporting directly to Eisner. It strikes me that actions like this might have helped lead to Katzenberg’s eventual leaving of the studio.
Production began in 1997 on a project called Fantasia Continued, which then became Fantasia 1999, and then finally Fantasia 2000, as it was realized that was when it would actually release to the public theaters. Many ideas were picked up and then dropped and then replaced before the final line up was put together but it was Pines of Rome and Beethoven’s 5th which interested conductor James Levine in the project. This was also the very first animated film to be done in the IMAX format.
Symphony No. 5 by Ludwig Van Beethoven
Originally planned as an abstract segment, much like the opening of Fantasia, it was decided late on to do something with a bit of story as the directors felt that getting abstract images set to music had become not as exciting thank to visualizers on computers. In order to get the movements of the little paper like creatures, the animators studied butterflies and the slow motion flights of bats. Because of the way these images were painted, they could only be scanned into a computer once as afterwards, the colors on the drawing would be skewed and not as originally intended.
While many have complained about the shortening of certain pieces, this one included, I like the faster pace of this short and the fact that it jumps us right into the action. I also like that so many shorts in this film deal with this similar idea of good versus evil. The colors here are vibrant and I like that, while abstract, the ‘characters’ as well as the protagonist and villain are instantly recognizable. It really is a great way to start off a film which is almost entirely about the power of animation alone.
Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi
This segment began production as early as 1993. It was the first segment ever pitched for the film and the first one that was actually developed. The first third of the segment was hand animated and then scanned into computers as computer animation was still very early in development. However, when this was done, it was discovered that the whales did not move correctly so the drawings had to be altered. A program was used to handle all of the whales movements so that they moved together, but independently, while not running into each other. Coincidentally, this was the same program used in The Lion King during the stampede of the wildebeasts.
This is a fantastic segment. It is gorgeous and the final third involving the whales flying into the sky is very epic and amazing to watch. I also particularly like the sketched look of the whales close up as it gives the whole thing a bit personality. The baby whale is quite cute and I like this idea of “What do Whales do when we’re not watching?” The music itself is not one of my favorite pieces but I love that the animation elevates it and really makes a song that I might not have been so interested in before, into something truly breathtaking. Did I mention that the whales were life size in IMax???
Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin
This was the first Fantasia piece to ever be developed that had an American composer. The animation took the artwork of Al Hirschfeld, a famous caricaturist, and set it to the famous song by George Gershwin in a vast array of colors and a bunch of folks living in New York City and not getting what they want. This segment was actually already in production and when Disney saw it, and only then did they ask to include it in Fantasia 2000.
This one is really great. It has a lot of style and a really fun jazzy beat, something we haven’t seen in Fantasia yet. It also tells a great story about the American dream and how one man’s trash might just be another man’s treasure. The characters are all clearly thought out and I find myself really wanting all of them to get what they’re after in the end. This also portrays New York City life in a very fun and often surprisingly correct way, particularly scenes involving the subway rides. When the finale comes, I love watching all of the stories get wrapped up as they all intertwine together. It’s fun and bold and is a huge stand out in the film.
Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102 by Dmitri Shostakovich
We talked a while back about how Walt had always wanted to adapt several Hans Christian Anderson stories into animation, but never got the chance. That was the birthplace of this segment. Pixar was originally asked to animate the CGI portions, but the director was convinced to do everything in house with Disney. Originally, the mice in the drain were meant to be friendly and funny, but when it didn’t match the feel of the rest of the piece, they were changed to the evil wood eating monsters they are now. The rain used in this segment was actually the result of rain from Bambi being scanned into caps and then computer animated.
I like this piece a lot. I think the music by itself is one of my favorite pieces as it has a very good rhythm and never really slows down. I also love the Tin Soldier who is so charming and how he proves once again that you don’t have to be the strongest to be the bravest. I love the moment where he goes for the ballerina, seeing that she has only one leg, only to find out that she does indeed have two legs, only to have her like him for being so kind to her.
The Carnival of the Animals, Finale by Camille Saint-Saens
Originally, the flamingos were meant to be the ostriches from the first Fantasia. When the team decided that they didn’t want old characters, they were changed to flamingos, a very colorful bird. Director, Eric Goldberg got a lot of ideas about the yo-yo’s by watching his former directing partner, Mike Gabriel, play with a yo-yo on his breaks when working on Pocahontas. For this outing, Goldberg chose to direct with his wife Susan.
I’ll just come right out and say it. This has always been my favorite of the segments. It’s quick, short and hilarious. I like that every second has a joke or a gag and the flamingos are just so adorable. Everything about it pops and even if this were not in Fantasia 2000, I would still love it as a short.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas
I’ve already talked about this segment so I’ll just mention that it was digitally restored for this re-release and it still holds up as a great short. Mickey is adorable as always and it’s great to see a tie to the original Fantasia.
Pomp and Circumstance – Marches 1, 2, 3 and 4 by Edward Elgar
Eisner originally wanted this piece to showcase several Disney villains and heroes at a wedding procession with their children. However, when the animation was deemed “appalling,” the idea was scrapped until Francis Glebas came up with the comedic version of Donald in Noah’s arc.
I love Donald so this was an instant sell for me. I think that the song probably could have been something different though as this is the only piece where the music just doesn’t feel like as much of the show. Often times, movements or bigger moments don’t even really match up to the music and it seems to just be there as background to the story which takes front seat. I don’t mind this but I do wonder if maybe there was a better song choice out there for this one. That being said, Donald and Daisy are adorable and wonderful and I love watching them together on screen.
Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky
Disney intentionally went into this one hoping to match the emotional heights and feelings of Night on Bald Mountain from the original Fantasia. Over half a dozen different ideas were tried and thrown out before the Firebird was chosen. The piece was meant to show the ideas of life, death and resurrection. Interestingly, the elk was hand animated but his antlers were CGI’d atop his head, making him the most high tech elk in this film.
I love love love this piece. It is such a great finale, epicly beautiful and incredibly moving. It feels like the culmination of so many years of animation and really strikes a chord after watching all of these films. The Firebird is dazzlingly scary but even more amazing is the regrowth of the world after its death. It is a more serious piece but as we leave this film, we feel a great sense of hope because of this one.
Fantasia 2000 is excellent and great road marker for how far animation has come. Every piece is brimming with personality, and much like a Beyonce album, there’s not a bad one in the bunch. From comical to deeply moving, this is a groundbreaking film that may not have a sweeping story, but makes up for it in being more of an experience. We’re now into the next millennium and animation is about to see all kinds of new tricks with the rise of CGI and Pixar. Who knows where we’ll go next? Well, I do, and it involves my favorite animal: ALL THE DINOSAURS!!!
Next Up: Dinosaur
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NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head overHERE and check it out!