Ranking the Disney Canon – 21: Fantasia 2000

” Walt Disney described the art of animation as a voyage of discovery, into the realms of color, sound, and motion. The music from Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “The Firebird” inspires such a voyage. And so we conclude this version of “Fantasia” with a mythical story of life, death, and renewal.” – Angela Lansbury

Fantasia 2000 is one of the few films in the Disney Canon to be considered a sequel, following 1940’s Fantasia exactly 60 years later. Walt Disney originally intended for Fantasia to be constantly updated and re-released throughout the years, with some segments being kept and others being replaced by new segments. The initial financial failure of Fantasia and the outbreak of World War II shut this idea down, but the dream was finally realized with Fantasia 2000’s release. Fantasia 2000 was actually a decade in the making. Artists would work on Fantasia 2000 segments in between films, and the CG segments of the film were some of the main CG training Disney did. In fact, the Pines of Rome segment was Disney’s first ever entirely CG animation, and was completed before Pixar had completed Toy Story.

Fantasia 2000 features 8 segments, with only one segment returning from the original Fantasia. The songs are Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, which is the film’s abstract opening, Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi, telling the tale of migrating (and flying) Humpback Whales, Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, animated in the style of Al Herschfeld’s signature caricatures and telling the connected story of people living in the 1930s depression, Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major by Dmitri Shostakovich, an adaptation of Hans Christen Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Camille Saint Saens’s The Carnival of the Animals, Finale, which deals with a Flamingo finding a Yo-Yo, The Sorcerer’s Appprentice by Paul Dukas, the classic Mickey Mouse segment from Fantasia, Pomp and Circumstance by Edward Elgar, a retelling of Noah’s Ark with Donald Duck at the helm, and finally The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky, a story of life, death and rebirth.

STRENGTHS

This is weird, because I don’t really want to get into all of what makes the Fantasia films great until we get to the original Fantasia, which I’ll tell you right now comes much, much later on this list. I’ll just say at this point that Fantasia 2000 retains many of the elements that made the original Fantasia an all time classic. It is a worthy successor to Walt’s original film. It remains in the spirit of the original, while still feeling fresh, in a sense. It’s always been amazing to be how the stories and images that the Fantasia films create feel like they’ve always been attached to the music they are connected to.

Fantasia 2000 features 2 fantastic segments that are right up there with anything the original film had to offer. The first of these segments is Rhapsody in Blue. The art style matches up with the music so well, and Rhapsody in Blue is certainly one of the best songs in the film. Eric Goldberg, the director of the segment, creates memorable characters, humorous gags, and actually creates emotion for these characters and moments. It is everything a Fantasia segment should be. Each story is given enough time to have clear goals for its protagonists, and it gives each character their moment to shine. And again, the fantastic choice of art style adds to the engaging nature of the segment.

My favorite segment from the film, and one that certainly contends with the best of the best from Fantasia, is the film’s final segment, The Firebird Suite. First of all, this segment is so gosh darn beautiful. The Mt. St. Helens inspired backdrop is the perfect setting and is wonderfully drawn. But the real draw to this segment is the Spring Sprite, the main character of the piece. She is as perfect of a character that a Fantasia film can produce. Her animation and emotion is clear and wonderful, and instantly makes you engage in the character. And all this before her classic encounter with the Firebird himself, in one of the great moments in modern Disney Animation. The segment ends with the sweeping triumph of rebirth and regrowth. It really is the perfect Fantasia segment.

Outside of these two standout sequences, Fantasia 2000 is full of great and memorable segments. Pomp and Circumstance is probably one of the most recognizable tunes in the film, and Donald Duck makes for a great protagonist in the film’s interesting new take on the classic tale of Noah’s Ark. It is able to be both a classic Donald Duck short and a great romance at the same time, something I’m sure was easier said than done. Carnival of the Animals is the shortest segment in Fantasia history, and was animated entirely by one man (the aforementioned Eric Goldberg, who animated it in 6 months), yet is hilarious and manages to be memorable in its own right. The opening segment, Symphony No. 5, also has its moments, and is a great abstract piece.

And for the returning segment, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was the correct choice. It is THE classic segment from the original Fantasia, and remains one of the all-time classic pieces of animation. I’ll touch on it more in my Fantasia post, but know it remains a classic even today.

WEAKNESSES

It is no coincidence that the two fantastic segments from the film are also two of the film’s longest segments. One of the issues I have with Fantasia 2000 is its length, both in individual segments and with the film as a whole. Part of what made the original Fantasia a classic, in my opinion, was its length. There was no segment under ten minutes, and when you watched the film, it felt like you were watching high art, like you were watching an event. Fantasia 2000 lacks this on both counts. The film is only 75 minutes compared to Fantasia’s 120 minute run time. I don’t know if the Fantasia concept works as well with the shorter runtime.

I mentioned three great segments above, but they couple have been classic segments if they had been given more time. Granted, I’m not so familiar with these songs to the point where I know where and if parts of these songs were cut, but just the short nature of the songs do hurt the segments overall. Carnival of the Animals and Symphony No. 5 are 2 minutes long and 3 minutes long respectively, and are entertaining enough, but they leave you wanting more. Pomp and Circumstance borders on the Fantastic line, but it feels like something is missing from the middle. Again, I’m not entirely sure if it would be possible to extend them, but I’d have been nice if they could.

If they couldn’t, then one thing that would’ve helped would be to insert more 10 minute segments to give it that grand feel and to counteract the shorter segments. One way this could have been dealt with would be to have taken another segment from the original Fantasia (The Nutcracker Suite and Dance of the Hours were originally planned) and place it into the film. That alone would have helped an already great film.

Fantasia 200 is also home to the two weakest segments from either Fantasia film. They are both good segments, and they do have a huge legacy to go against, but they still are the weakest in the franchise. I will admit that Piano Concerto No. 2 has grown on me the many times I’ve watched this film, and really, any adaptation of a Hans Christen Andersen story is better than the original, but I still feel it is the absolute weakest song in all of Fantasia lore, and it never felt grand enough to be included. Meanwhile, I’ve actually started to dislike Pines of Rome more and more every time I watch this great film. The best Fantasia segments have either a memorable story or memorable characters to go along with the music. Pines of Rome has neither, and only reaches its potential in its final minutes.

Finally, I am not a fan of the celebrity lead ins in Fantasia 2000. Much of the time these intros are over the top, and lack the majesty and subtlety that Deems Taylor’s original introductions had. In fact, the best introductions of Fantasia 2000 are Rhapsody in Blue and The Firebird Suite because they do lack the over the top introductions that Steadfast Tin Solider and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice have.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

As mentioned above, there are two distinctly amazing segments in Fantasia 2000. I’m putting Best Scene as The Firebird Suite because of its great emotional feeling and it’s perfect placing as the end of the film.

Best Song goes to Rhapsody in Blue. The music really does lend itself to the story at hand, and it is a great listen and visual experience.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I love the Fantasia films as a whole, and they are personal favorite watches for me. Though I do feel that Fantasia 2000 is weaker than the original classic, it still, in my mind, captures the spirit of the original and creates some moving and amazing entertainment. Here’s hoping that someday the Fantasia legacy will continue.

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One thought on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 21: Fantasia 2000

  1. Fantasia 2000 may not have been as noteworthy as the film before this was many years ago, but for what it was I still enjoyed the animation the studio would provide while listening to some ear pleasing music. Of all my favorite segments from the original ‘Fantasia’, ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ is a classic that reminds me of why ‘Fantasia’ is as it should be: A musical masterpiece that gives off great storytelling with unforgettable characters (And proving that talking isn’t necessary to tell a story). While I admit most of the segments in this movie could’ve been easily expanded, there are still a few that I do enjoy from this movie. Though I will agree out of all of them, I find that ‘The Firebird Suite’ and ‘Pomp & Circumstance’ are among one of my favorites for it’s visuals and it’s music that made their source so famous. It will hardly be as ‘Fantasia’ was sixty years ago, but it is worth a watch at least once in a person’s lifetime (Though it would’ve done well without all the guest hosts, despite my respect for many of them).

    All this makes me look forward to what you think of ‘Fantasia’ and I anxiously await for that review in the near future.

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