My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
The Plot: A series of animated segments set to classical music, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conducted by James Levine.
The Segments: Symphony No. 5 in C minor-I, Allegro con brio (Ludwig van Beethoven), Pines Of Rome (Ottorino Respighi), Rhapsody In Blue (George Gershwin), Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major-I, Allegro (Dmitri Shostakovich, based on The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen), The Carnival Of The Animals, Finale (Camille Saint-Saëns), The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Paul Dukas), Pomp And Circumstance - Marches 1, 2, 3 and 4 (Edward Elgar), Firebird Suite - 1919 Version (Igor Stravinsky)
A Little History: Walt Disney originally planned to release a new version of Fantasia once a year, with newly animated segments replacing the older ones. The film's dismal performance at the box office, however, prevented this from happening. Nephew Roy Disney pitched his ideas for a sequel as early as 1974, but Fantasia/2000 (then titled Fantasia Continued) didn't officially enter production until September 1991, when Roy and conductor James Levine began selecting new compositions for the film. (Only The Sorcerer's Apprentice, starring Mickey Mouse, makes the transition from the original.) Each segment was ultimately handed over to a different director: Pixote Hunt took two years to complete work on Beethoven's Symphony No. 5; Hendel Butoy completed his directorial duties on Pines Of Rome in 1995; Eric Goldberg was asked to direct Rhapsody In Blue so the producers could include work from an American composer; for Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2, Butoy took fifty-year-old sketches of The Steadfast Tin Soldier (discovered in the Disney archives) and set them to computer-generated animation; Goldberg animated the entire Carnival Of The Animals segment himself, and worked actual yo-yo tricks into the narrative; Francis Glebas says here that Elgar's Pomp And Circumstance replaced Gioachino Rossini's The Barber Of Seville early in production; and Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi took a more thematic approach to Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, following a research trip to Mount St. Helens. Over 1,200 artists and animators worked on the film. The producers hired Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn and Teller, Quincy Jones, and Angela Lansbury for the film's live-action interstitial sequences, to help audience members "cleanse their emotional palate." Fantasia/2000 premiered in New York City on December 17, 1999, as part of a five-city concert tour (which also included London, Paris, Tokyo and California). The film opened in selected theaters on January 2, 2000, and grossed over $64 million by the end of its four-month IMAX engagement; to date, Fantasia/2000 has grossed $91 million worldwide.
How It Broke New Ground: Disney's first use of computer-animated leading characters (for Pines Of Rome and The Steadfast Tin Soldier, completed before Pixar's landmark Toy Story hit theaters in 1995). Also the first full-length animated feature to open in IMAX format. (Many IMAX venues, however, refused to accept Disney's terms and conditions for playing the film, which included a limited four- month engagement and fifty percent of the box office profits.)
How It Holds Up Today: Has there ever been an animated feature as divisive as Walt Disney's 1940 Fantasia? Lauded by critics at the time of its release, the film failed to find favor with the public (earning back its $2.2 million budget only during subsequent re-releases), and resigned itself to cinema history fodder in the interim. Now comes the sequel, sixty years later, and the results are pretty much the same: pompous, ambitious, with an odd mix of animation styles, and it probably won't appeal to non-Disneyphiles. That one-hour, fifteen- minute runtime is a blessing, though (the better to suit high-end IMAX venues), and sonically it's a treat. Highlights include Gershwin's rhapsodic Rhapsody In Blue, drawn in the style of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld; the computer-generated sheen of The Steadfast Tin Soldier, scored to Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2; and the water-colored wonders of Saint-Saëns' Carnival Of The Animals. Others, like Stravinsky's robustly-orchestrated Firebird Suite, or Pines Of Rome, with its soaring, space-traveling humpbacked whales (don't ask), are technically impressive but suffer from self-importance (and those live-action celebrity host segments certainly don't help).
Hang on, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox And The Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan. Please comment! Let me know what you think!