Fantasia/2000

. 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

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San Francisco, CA
Mr. Lazere founded culturevulture.net in 1998 and worked tirelessly to promote its potential as a means for communicating a distinctly personal yet wide-ranging selection of arts reviews. Under his leadership, the site grew in esteem as well as in “circulation", and is well-regarded nationally and internationally as a source for up-to-date, well-written criticism. Arthur passed away on September 30, 2006.