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. The original 1940 Fantasia was Walt Disney's
attempt to bring great serious music to the mass market, making it palatable by
"interpreting" it with animated images. The segment of the film that worked best
was "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," a piece of music which comes with a story
already attached, so the concept made some sense and the Disney animators tell the story
effectively with Mickey Mouse starring as the apprentice.
Fantasia 2000 cleverly retains that
successful segment, but then fails to improve on the less successful 1940 segments with
the material newly created for this film. Parts of it work reasonably well, either when
they utilize the very best of what the Disney animation studios can do or where they try
for a fresher look with new influences. In the former category, a very short segment from
Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" takes the delightful idea of bringing
flamingos and yo-yos together in a series of zany, highly comical images. The
Saint-Saens, of course, is as light and fluffy as it can be, the cartoon works, and the
marriage results in a giggly few minutes.
For a major segment doing Gershwin's
"Rhapsody in Blue," they brought in the master of theatrical caricature, Al Hirschfeld, as a consultant. His style is reflected visually in
at least some of this segment with the familiar rounded sort of Disney characters getting
a somewhat sharper edge. There is one short scene of a crowd of people in a subway train
that captures the amazing Hirschfeld line beautifully and stands out as the promise of
what might have happened in Fantasia 2000 if the Disney animators weren't bogged
down in the sort of corporate semi-imagination which renders the rest of this product
predictable, sentimental, and kitschy.
The opening piece, an excerpt from Beethoven's
"Fifth Symphony" is an attempt to reflect the grandeur of the music in
abstracted images. It's very pretty to look at, and displays the wonderful technical
virtuosity of the Disney animators, but the images pale before the greatness of the music,
so it feels like the whole point has been missed. To Respighi's "Pines of Rome"
we get the ultimate in corny silliness with a visual theme of whales who swim not
only in the sea, but through the cosmos.
The "Pomp and Circumstance" marches are
delivered up with the Noah's ark story, salvaged only by the presence of Donald and Daisy
Duck - and the memories they elicit of sharper-edged cartooning. The finale, Stravinsky's
"Firebird," is the worst of all, a Keene-eyed nymph from the deep Disney kettle
of kitsch, swirling over the earth as it goes through a cycle of destruction
(volcanos, lava, fire) into renewal, all observed by a majestic elk. It's enough to make
you give up your popcorn.
Even the good
intentions of introducing young viewers to the joys of great music seem distorted by the
Disney choice of doing mostly excerpts, rather than fewer, full-length compositions - and
perhaps some music that the kids haven't heard on Muzak already. The giant IMAX screen
(which only makes bad visuals look grotesquely worse) and the painfully overamplified
soundtrack, along with the obviousness of the musical choices, indicate that Disney
underestimates the intelligece and sophistication of young audiences.
The waste of Disney
resources is their business. The wasted opportunity to get some kids genuinely interested
in serious music is a disservice to us all.
- Arthur Lazere