Posted January 11, 2011 by editor in Retrospectives

Disney: Fantasia 2000

The dawn of a new millennia struck Disney as the perfect time to round off the end of an old one with Walt Disney’s long awaited, long planned sequel to the 1940 music/animation extravaganza, Fantasia. Fantasia 2000 was intended to carry on where Fantasia left off, only better. The extraordinary development in animation technology in only sixty short years (a small time period when you consider it took thousands of years to get round to inventing the wheel!) was hugely promising when it came to updating this visual treat and it was hoped that it would match the grandeur and imagination of its 1940 counterpart.

Sadly the result didn’t quite meet the mark. Undeniably the segments are still hugely imaginative and stunningly depicted, but it doesn’t have the spectacle and wonder of the original Fantasia… basically, it’s nothing that by 2000, audiences haven’t already seen before in abundance, and rather than just taking the same format of the original, the creative team behind it really needed to rework the old idea into something modern and with equal ‘wow factor’ as the original would have had to a 1940s audience.

Also, far too much of the film is given over to name dropping in the form of celebrity introductions to each segment. The likes of Bette Midler, Steve Martin (for some reason), James Earl Jones and Quincy Jones amongst others all say their frankly kitsch [and some reviewers used that term to describe the original… they don’t know the meaning of the word!] and unnaturally over-rehearsed little spiel as a lead up to the often equally kitsch, too, too slick featurettes, many of which are obviously based on numbers from the 1940 version.

The first section is, of course, set to a Beethoven number and, to quote Wikipedia [sorry!] shows ‘abstract patterns resembling butterflies and bats’. This is exactly what I mean when I say that Fantasia 2000 is just a repeat of Fantasia 1940, except not as good: for ‘abstract butterflies’ read ‘delicate fairies’ and the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ should spring to mind. There is absolutely nothing to be gained through downgrading fairies into triangles. Triangles are less impressive. And even the segments which take a stab at a new idea, such as The Steadfast Tin Soldier set to Shostakovich seem to fall really flat. In fact, this one in particular is pretty lame by today’s standards, even with children who will be used to the epic wonder of The Lion King or Tarzan, and the Tin Soldier, no matter how steadfast, falls flat on his face in comparison.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a firm advocate of youthful innocence and simplicity but after forty years of trying, I expect something a little more spectacular than a flying whale. Yes, a flying whale. Ought to be beautiful, but for some reason it is just bizarre and with all the will in the world, I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why it doesn’t work, although it could have something to do with the fact that there is no point during the flying whale sequence when the audience can really identify with it and that is absolutely not because of its surreal concept. But, as we all know from Changing Rooms, every concept must have a focal point, whether a fireplace or point of identification, and the flying whales possess neither.

The only section which is something to be really proud of is the snap-shot of New York set to George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ a jazz classic and finally something new from this film which we haven’t seen done to a higher standard forty years ago! The 1940s were a time of traditionalism, before Elvis, before the Beatles and before an acceptance of ‘African American’ culture, including Jazz. It’s really the least Disney can do, forty years down the line, to provide its audience with something of its time which was unavailable when the original idea was conceived. The result is the most memorable segment from the film. It has the’ relatability’ factor in that it’s New York but more whimsical and jazzed up, but most importantly it has a completely different attitude from anything else we’ve seen from Fantasia, and a fresh animation style which perfectly encapsulates its subject. At long last! It was a good move putting this mid-way through the film; at least it serves as something of a peak because the rest really isn’t much to speak of. Donald Duck as Noah and a destructive volcano to The Firebird Suite are all well and good but again do little to ensnare the imagination receptors.

If you haven’t made up one for yourself by now, there is a very clear statement which sums up Fantasia 2000: old news. It is barely more than a cheap remake when as a concept, Fantasia has the potential to be revolutionary and ever-evolving with technology. There could be one for every significant cultural era, but instead the idea has been stamped on before it even got going by an imagination failure and an unexpected lack of creativity from this usually highly creative studio. The first Fantasia holds true forty years down the line, whilst Fantasia 2000 had run out of steam by 2001. A poor effort from Disney, and I just hope that it won’t sully the reputation of the original by association.

Dani Singer