Sunday, February 21, 2010

#38: Fantasia 2000 (1999)

As I mentioned in reviewing "Fantasia," which feels like a year ago at this point, Walt always had the intention that this animated concerto format would be an annual event, being reshaped and reinvented with each installment. But between the original's lackluster revenue, and World War II taking its toll on the studio, a follow-up to "Fantasia" was pretty dead in the water. Now, sixty years later, here it is, "Fantasia 2000," the second coming that Walt could only dream of. We get seven brand new segments, and one returning favorite, each with introductions by representatives of various art mediums. Speaking of, each segment is done in a different medium, some making heavy use of CG, but we'll get to that... right now.
So we've seen Disney's 2D-CG integration throughout the last few films, but here in "Fantasia 2000" we get multiple segments where it is used extensively. "Pines of Rome," featuring humpback whales that can fly for some reason, has all the whales rendered in 3D against mostly 2D environments, and while it's not seamless yet, it looks pretty damn good. At times the close-up shots of the whales almost look like cel shading. "Piano Concerto No. 2 in F-Major," telling the story of 'The Steadfast Tin Solider' has a more animated 3D look with more expressive designs with the brave solider and vengeful jack-in-the-box. Both segments are mostly CG-rendered, but feel different in their use of the medium, as dictated with the tone of the musical piece. The former is much more bombastic and epic, so there are a lot of glory shots of 360-zooms around the whales flying in the night sky; the latter is a bit more intimate, with more focus on the interactions and squabbles between the characters. 2D, 3D, whatever-D you use, the visuals must always match the music, and each one of the segments delivers in spades.
One of the standout segments is "Rhapsody in Blue," depicting the trials and tribulations of the various denizens of the Big Apple, done in the style of the caricatures of Al Hirschfeld. It's absolutely beautiful, so sophisticated in its design, and yet feels as flowing and seamless as Hirschfeld's drawings. Apart from a few decidedly Disney-looking expressions, the segment really feels like its own entity, like it belongs in its own universe; many of the others are similar in this sense, but none so much as this. "Carnival of the Animals" is just as good in its own way, featuring an outcast flamingo's yo-yo tricks. The frantic music is appropriate fodder for the outlandishly loose animation, and is probably the most amusing piece of animation I've seen out of Disney in a while. It's a wonderful call-back to when the merit of animation was that the moving drawings themselves were inherently funny.
Walt always wanted future editions of "Fantasia" to be a marriage of old and new segments, so here we get a reprise of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," which was quite a treat to watch again, and fit right in with the rest of them. Following that is "Pomp and Circumstance," set to the telling of Noah's Ark, and giving the limelight to another Disney favorite Donald Duck. While his presence and humor style tends to lean more toward Disney short territory, the sweeping music and epic surroundings keep this segment's feet firmly planted in "Fantasia" territory. It's a sweet and funny segment; Donald's always good for a laugh, and there's an incredibly brilliant moment as Donald checks animals off the list and is bewildered at the sight of two "normal" looking ducks walking by.
The final segment "The Firebird Suite" is amazing. In the same way "Night on Bald Mountain" was a showstopper in the original with its insane depictions of Satan manipulating his minions, this one is almost the polar opposite in tone, following a giddy sprite beckoning the rebirth that spring brings. Her character animation is absolutely astounding, with her flowing being always the focal point and an incredible sight to watch. Its sweeping movements through the valleys and forests is breathtaking, done in a believably spacious, but still decidedly 2D fashion I wished "Tarzan" was done in. It's a great segment, and a great capper on a great film experience.

Verdict? A triumph. If Walt could only see one Disney film done since his death, I'd probably shove this one in his undead hands. It's really the best you could hope for in a follow-up to "Fantasia," a musical extravaganza taking on different forms, tones and specialties of music and in animation style. In fact, there was work started on a "Fantasia 2006" before that was given the kill, probably due to Disney's total shift to 3D at that point. But hey, who knows, maybe one day we'll be watching "Fantasia 2060." And then we'll be old. Yeesh.

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