Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Fantasia 2000

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly peek at one of the many, many DVDs in my collection.  Today, we finish off what we started last week.  We cap off Disney's Fantasia franchise with Fantasia 2000.  This entry is originally dated September 2, 2012.  

Well, it's a grey, rainy day.  Can't do much outside, so may as well stay warm and snuggly inside.  Let's finish off the box set I started last night and move on to Fantasia 2000

Now, as was widely reported when Fantasia 2000 hit theatres, Walt Disney originally intended for Fantasia to be a perpetual work in progress.  Every few years, it would be returned to theatres with some segments removed and some new ones put in.  But, with Fantasia being a bit of a box office bomb when it first hit theatres in 1940, followed by World War II breaking out and Disney, like all American companies, putting their focus on the war effort, the plan fell by the wayside.  Over the years, there'd be a half-hearted attempt to continue that vision, and there'd be some development work on new segments, but again, things never came to be.

Roy E. Disney, Walt's nephew, and a very public face of the Walt Disney Company in the 1980s and 90s, always held true to Walt's vision for Fantasia.  When that era that animation historians now refer to as "the Disney Renaissance" came around, continuing with Fantasia became Roy's pet project.  The success of the 1990 theatrical re-release and its subsequent home video release convinced the Disney brass that there might be a market for this.  Fantasia Continued (as was its working titled) was given the greenlight.

Fantasia 2000 was made pretty much throughout the 1990s.  It was worked on by whatever animators were available in their downtime between feature films.  They also pushed the technological limits by making the decision to release it in IMAX...the first for a major Hollywood film.  It hit theatres on January 1, 2000, and played exclusively in IMAX theatres unill April 30, when it moved into regular theatres. 

As we all know, Disney animation ruled the 1990s, with a new blockbuster every summer.  So, I was making the effort to go see every animated film that hit theatres.  Of course, in January of 2000, I was there to see Fantasia 2000 in the IMAX at West Edmonton Mall.  It was the first film I'd seen in that particular IMAX theatre.  I went with my parents.  Mom has always been a bit of a classical music buff, and Dad got outvoted.  I remember thinking that it was pretty neat seeing it in IMAX.

So, for the introductory segments for each piece, this time around, Disney contacted a bunch of celebrities to do it.  The first one is...Deems Taylor, host of the first Fantasia, using archival recordings.

Beethoven's 5th - We all know this one.  DA DA DA DUH.  They decided to kick things off with a very famous piece of music.  And, harkening back to the original, this is made up of abstract images floating in space....triangles flying around like butterflies.  It's cute.

The next intro is from Steve Martin, who explains that "constantly changing line-up" concept for Fantasia, and indulges in some typical Steve Martin schtick.  He then hands it off to legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman, who introduces....

Pines of Rome - I remember hearing Roy Disney on the running commentary saying that he insisted this piece of music be in Fantasia 2000.  He heard it in a music appreciation class he took in college, and it stuck with him ever since.  This segment has humpback whales frolicking in the Arctic Ocean, before taking flight and frolicking in the stars.  This is a little weird.  The whales are done with computer animation, but it was felt their eyes weren't expressive enough, so their eyes were done with traditional cel animation.  It's an effect that works for the most part, but now in 2012, with the computer animation showing its age, the blend is a little off putting.

Legendary musician Quincy Jones then appears to introduce

Rhapsody in Blue - Just about everyone I talk to says this is their favourite segment.  I think it's mine, too.  It really stands out, with artwork based on the designs of legendary illustrator and caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.  We're treated to four very classic New York stories, as four people dream of a better life.  As the story goes, this was not originally going to be a Fantasia 2000 segment.  Director Eric Goldberg was already working on it as an individual short film.  But, when Roy Disney saw a rough version, he turned to Goldberg and said, "This isn't a short film anymore.  It's going in the new Fantasia."  Disney later elaborated, saying they were looking for an American composer to be represented in the film, and this bit of animation, all set to the music of George Gershwin, was right there, under their noses, the whole time.
Bette Midler is out next celebrity, giving us a recap on some of those abandoned ideas over the years, before we get to...

Piano Concerto #2 in F Major/The Steadfast Tin Soldier - The Hans Christen Andersen tale is set to this piano concerto.  It's heavily computer animated, and I remember some online trolls at the time sarcastically called it Toy Story 3.  The Andersen tale of a one-legged tin soldier who falls in love with a ballerina doll and the evil jack-in-the-box who seeks to break them up.  This is a very good segment.  It's got a very nice love story to it.   This is why I like DVD bonus features.  As they show in the bonus features, the animators did consider going with Andersen's original ending and even storyboarded it.  In this tale, the jack-in-the-box falls into a fire, burns to death, and the soldier and the ballerina live happily ever after.  In the original ending as Andersen wrote, it's the toy soldier and the ballerina who fall into the fire, and these two tin toys melt together into a solid gold heart.  Should have gone with that original ending...would have caught people off guard. 

Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) then comes on the scene to set-up....

Carnival of the Animals: Finale - A flamingo playing with a yo-yo.  Fun trivia fact:  this was Disney's first bit of animation to have hand-painted cels since The Little Mermaid.  (After The Little Mermaid, Disney switched to a new computer system that handled all that by computer)  This actually was a segment considered for an earlier Fantasia follow-up.  In the original concept, it wasn't flamingos, but the ballet-dancing ostriches from the first Fantasia that were playing with it.  The concept was come up with by one of the animators on the original Fantasia.  Dude was in his 90s, and Disney got him out of retirement to come consult on this segment and make sure it stayed true to his idea.  That's respect man.

Penn and Teller come in and do their thing to set up....

The Sorcerer's Apprentice - The only one from the original Fantasia that made it to this version, adhering to Walt Disney's original concept that classic segments be included as well.  Apparently, the original concept for Fantasia 2000 was that a lot more segments from the original Fantasia were to be included, but when the decision was made to release it in IMAX, all but The Sorcerer's Apprentice were cut to get it down to IMAX-length.  Due to the technological limitations of the late-1990s, IMAX films could only be a maximum of 90 minutes long.  So if you're only going to go with one, go with the most famous.

For our next intro, the film's conductor, James Levine, stalls for time while Mickey goes looking for Donald Duck.  Now this is the best intro segment, especially when you see it in IMAX.   Thanks to the bazillion speakers that an IMAX sound system uses, you get to hear Mickey Mouse rooting around through the whole theatre looking for Donald.  They do their best to replicate it on my basic 5.1 home surround sound system.  But in the IMAX sound system, it sounded incredible. 

Pomp and Circumstance - If the original had a segment with Mickey Mouse, then it's only logical that the next Fantasia have a segment with Donald Duck.  The bit here is Donald is Noah's assistant, and he's tasked with getting all the animals on the ark.  Pomp and Circumstance is, of course, the graduation music, so when the animals march onto the ark, we here the graduation march.  Apparently, Disney CEO Michael Eisner insisted on this piece of music.  Eisner's concept would it would contain every animated character the Walt Disney Company ever created, and it would the kindergarten graduation of their Disney-baby-kids.  Yeah...that idea was nixed.

Angela Lansbury concludes our evening by setting up....

The Firebird Suite - This is truly spectacular.  We have this Mother Nature-type deity who's doing her work at the base of a volcano.  The volcano erupts, and the lava takes on the form of this enormous firebird that destroys all of Mother Nature's work and eventually hunts her down.  A great stag (probably one of Bambi's descendants as the Great King of the Forest) eventually finds Mother Nature in the ashes, and hoists her up on his antlers.  She weeps at how her beautiful forest is destroyed, but she sees new life spring up from her teardrops.  This re-energizes her, and she goes back to work, bringing new life to the wasteland. 

And that's Fantasia 2000.  It's definitely a lot more slick than the first one...no doubt having more to do with 1990s production techniques as opposed to the 1940s techniques of the original.  I'm not so sure that it'll be the timeless classic that the first one is, but then, the first one did have a 60 year head start.  Time will tell.

And sadly, it looks like the "revised every few years" concept is once again dead.  After Fantasia 2000 hit theatres, there was talk of doing a third one with new segments to come out in around 2010 or so.  But, Disney making their foolish decision in 2005 that traditional animation was dead and shutting down their traditional animation department kind of killed it.  A few segments actually were in production and were finished and released as short films.  The 2003 short Destino (the much-hyped collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvadore Dali) was one of them, and the 2006 short The Little Matchgirl is another.

But who knows?  Maybe, someday, Walt Disney's vision will be realized again. 

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