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Fantasia 2000

A Fantastic Journey

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

Featuring music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Ottorino Respighi, George Gershwin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Camille Saint-SaÎns, Paul Dukas, Edward Elgar, Igor Stravinsky

Opens in cinemas on June 16th

The usual way I rate a movie is guided by how much I enjoyed it. This method doesn’t really do justice to Fantasia 2000. Yes, I consider it a three-star movie, but it is also a must-see film, nobly continuing a grand tradition (of which it is only a second installment, but we can consider the precedent set).

Fulfilling Walt Disney’s sixty-year old plan, Fantasia 2000 does precisely what the first Fantasia set out to do: take a handful of classical music and provide animation to go along with it. The segments range from employing nearly abstract visuals to straightforwardly narrative pieces, with just about everything in between. It does not make much sense to speak about this movie as a whole, although it is much more kid-friendly than the first one. It is a film analog of a concert, with pretty much no connections between the pieces, and the only way I can conceive of reviewing it would be merely to critique each piece. The original Fantasia was a great film, but it didn’t flow together very well, great numbers being interspersed with mediocre ones. In contrast, Fantasia 2000 is organized very simply: each segment is better than the preceding one.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony #5, First Movement

The opening is a piece of almost abstract animation -- butterfly-shaped triangles swarming to the disappointingly abridged version of Beethoven’s piece. In contrast to the Bach’s prelude and fugue segment in original Fantasia, this one is more laughable than laudable. The sight of black triangles fluttering about doesn’t rhyme visually with the “fate motif”, and frankly speaking looks perfectly silly. A couple of instances of comic relief are jarring as well.

Ottorino Respighi: The Pines of Rome

Computer animation certainly improved greatly in the past few years, so this segment, the work for which started five years ago, looks positively dated. The scenes of soaring whales are, at first, impressive just because of their grandeur, but very soon they wear out their welcome and start to feel fake. The ending works because of the glorious music, but I was bothered by the subtext: the animation strives for the ethereal, but it feels like I’m simply watching a bunch of dead whales.

George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue

This is certainly the most unusual segment of the whole movie, possessing a distinct look borrowed from illustrator Al Hirschfeld. The conceit of interweaving stories of depressed denizens of New York City is fun; each story by itself is quite simplistic but, overall, the segment manages to capture some of the bustling spirit of Gershwin and of the Big Apple.

Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Concerto #2

As Pixar has proven, computer animation has a perfect subject in toys, with their smooth geometrical surfaces -- and here Fantasia 2000 adapts Hans Christian Andersen’s “Steadfast Tin Soldier” story. Amazingly enough, piano concerto Shostakovich is a perfect match. The ending is much more happy than Andersen’s, but the piece overall works, and the scenes in the sewers are an eye-full.

Camille Saint-SaÎns: Carnival of Animals

By far the shortest segment, and by far the funniest one, featuring warring flamingoes. Hard to say anything about it: I laughed for all of its three minutes.

Paul Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

This is a re-used segment from the first Fantasia: it is nice, of course, but feels like the Disney people tried to pad the running length of the sequel. It is very impressive and complex on the big screen, the only problem being that it is not very well restored (some frames look extremely grainy). It is also, surprisingly enough, the most intense segment of this movie.

Edward Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance medley

The idea of a Noah’s Ark story with Donald Duck playing Noah’s bumbling assistant doesn’t sound like a noteworthy concept, but it sure works here, mostly because it is consistently funny. The opening is stolen from the opening of “The Lion King,” but the ending, with the swelling chorus added to Elgar’s music by arranger Peter Schickele (the eminent P.D.Q. Bach scholar) is undeniably stirring. Also, Daisy Duck is a hottie.

Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird

Stravinsky’s music inspired one of the best segments in the original (the one with the dinosaurs), and here it serves as a basis for a truly remarkable piece of riveting and stunning animation.. Even though this segment is not original (the three characters here -- the spirit of creation, the demon of destruction, and the regal elk -- are all borrowed from Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke, and so is the animation style), it is incredibly powerful. I don’t even know how long it is; all I know is that I hyperventilated for all of it.

So here you go: if I rate this film as an average of its parts, it does get a respectable three stars -- but the best parts of it are strongly recommended to everyone, being at least as good as anything in the classic Fantasia.