Fantasia 2000 (2000)

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It’s taken a while, but we’ve finally reached our current millennium with these Disney film reviews.  We ring in the new millennium with Fantasia 2000, a sweeping epic meant to emulate the film’s predecessor, Fantasia.  Released sixty years after the original, Fantasia 2000 is a sweeping epic designed to showcase the improvements in animation over the previous half-century, telling new stories and creating immersive visual and auditory experiences…or at least, that’s what they seem to have been going for. Unfortunately, this “sequel” of sorts falls a little flat on the delivery.

The structure of the film is very similar to the first: short stories or vignettes set to music, with occasional introductions from the conductor.  With Fantasia 2000 they stepped it up a notch, using a host of various celebrities including Steve Martin, Bette Midler, and Angela Lansbury to provide a bit of background on the piece we’re about to watch. All are decked out in formal attire, adding a sense of elegance and sophistication to the affair.  Yes, the celebrities crack a few jokes, but it’s clear that this is not meant to be a casual experience. There’s an air of false maturity about it, something akin to what I feel when I watch the Oscars or any other fancy awards show; it may not be true to life, but people are expected to show a certain amount of dignity and grace during it.

Why focus so much on these minute-long introductions? Simply put, because they are in such sharp contrast to the stories we are subsequently shown.  Whereas the introductions have a sense of maturity very much akin to the stories told in the first Fantasia film, the animations here are incredibly juvenile in nature.  One of the most childish numbers focuses on a flamingo playing with a yo-yo.

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While many vignettes in the original film are memorable, this one (and others) are utterly forgettable.  They are so incredibly basic and flat that they might as well appear as shorts on the Disney Channel in between morning cartoons.  Yes, there were moments of levity and silliness in the original film (hippos doing ballet in tutus is not exactly the height of culture, I know) but at least those scenes had a sense of class and maturity about them.  Yes, it’s a hippo in a tutu, but the hippo is performing ballet.  The silliness mixed with maturity is what made Fantasia so accesible for such a wide audience.  We loved it as kids, but there was something there for even the stodgiest of adults to appreciate.  Not only are these newer animations downright dull for adults, I can’t imagine they’re anywhere near as captivating for children as the stories presented in the earlier film.

That being said, the entire movie is not bad.  A handful of numbers are actually quite good.  My favorite closes out the film, and the film itself notes, deals with the concept of life, death, and rebirth.  Set to “The Firebird Suite”, this animation tells the story of a mother-nature style character helping heal and rebuild a forest after it’s destroyed by a volcanic eruption.

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Visually it’s the most striking piece in the film, as well as being the most thought-provoking.  I appreciate when kids films, especially animated ones, don’t pander to their audience, and instead are able to approach concepts of life and death in a way that are accessible for their audience (and don’t scar them in the process).  The emphasis here is on the destruction of a forest, so while death is implied, there are no scenes showing dead animals or any other brutal imagery that might upset children (and certain 20-somethings who just really don’t like seeing sad little animals in movies).

While there are a few numbers I enjoyed from this film, it just doesn’t have the consistency of the original. I can watch Fantasia on any day of the week, completely enraptured from start to finish.  While watching Fantasia 2000, I found myself hoping certain sequences would be over quickly.  Although I applaud Disney’s attempt to showcase all that they can do with animation, the stories they chose just didn’t have the depth of imagination I would have expected.  I like some of these segments perfectly fine, but I would still pick the original Fantasia over this version.  You just can’t compare the two.

-Jess

 

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