A spectacular fusion of sight and sound, Fantasia used classical music as the basis for imagery which radically changed how audiences perceived animated films. No longer constricted by the cutesy Disney style, the animators’ imaginations roamed free, resulting in startling compositions of free-floating color and images which effortlessly morph from realistic to fantastical.
But apparently, Fantasia wasn’t meant to be forever fixed. Walt Disney envisioned its format (a series of unrelated shorts) as flexible enough to be revised each time the film was rereleased. But that hasn’t happened until now.
Fantasia/2000, comprised of seven new sequences, along with "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" from the 1940 original, offers a striking example of the state of animation today. So why did Mickey Mouse make the cut and not, say, the dancing hippos? Because like "Sorcerer’s Apprentice," the emphasis of the new pieces is fast-paced action and a strong storyline. Even the abstract butterflies which open the film, skirting across the screen to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, have a very specific tale to tell.
The music of Dmitri Shostakovich, Camille Saint-Saëns, Igor Stravinsky, Edward Elgar, Ottorino Respighi and George Gershwin (played with verve by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) is freely interpreted by the various animation teams, and, once again, it’s the convergence of the two elements that makes Fantasia/2000 so thrilling. Seven different directors push the envelope visually while creating self-contained stories.
In one sequence, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," toys sprung from the pages of a gloriously illustrated children’s book are unexpectedly flung into a white-knuckle adventure. Most pieces are comedic — a rogue flamingo wields a yo-yo; Donald and Daisy Duck lead the parade of animals onto Noah’s Ark; the disparate lives of Depression-era New Yorkers miraculously intersect — but the more serious sequences best showcase the animators’ art.
Stravinsky’s 1919 "Firebird Suite" accompanies an undefeatable nature sprite who resurrects a forest after a devastating volcanic eruption, and a herd of whales breaks the barrier between sea and sky to Respighi’s "Pines of Rome." It’s these whales which demonstrate just how far the medium has come. Rendered nearly life-size on the massive IMAX screen, they are startlingly three-dimensional and their ascension to the heavens is truly divine.
The numerous celebrity introductions are well-done, but not really necessary. In Fantasia/2000, the images more than speak for themselves.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].