The box office failure of the original Fantasia (1940) caused Walt Disney to give up his dream of constantly reissuing the movie with new segments. The success of subsequent re-releases and the eventual video release, allowed nephew Roy E. Disney to finally shepherd through at least a version of Uncle Walt's vision: a new Fantasia for a new century.
It can be argued that this is a more populist version of The Concert Feature, with more familiar music (Beethoven's Fifth and Pomp & Circumstance!), not only a reprise of the Micky Mouse "Sorcerer's Apprentice", but Donald Duck in his own vignette, and a version of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" (which the studio has been making noises about making forever)... Piffle! Stuff and nonsense! This movie is magical!
There are also a lot of computers hard at work in this version, whereas the animation in the original was (of course) accomplished by strength of hand and sweat of brow. While I'm a purist in a lot of ways, I do not despise computer animation as do others - it's not like one presses a button and the animation just magically happens. There are a lot of different forms of animation on display here, much of it breathtaking. A personal favorite, this time out, is a version of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" fronted by characters based on the caricatures of Al Hirschfeld. Like "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", this was intended to be released as a stand-alone short, but it fits beautifully into a Fantasia setting.
The live-action interstitials are back, too, this time fronted by a variety of celebrities, including Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, and Penn & Teller. These I find largely dispensable, but they do serve as a sort of palette cleanser, a decompression period between animation sequences.
This disc is being ballyhooed as a prime demo disc for a home theater system, and chances are it truly is in the top ten. The picture quality is superb, and the sound magnificent. Crank it up! Rock out with Beethoven! Everybody say "Ho! Get down Stravinsky!"
Fantasia 2000 is a little more generous than its predecessor with its extras (it can afford to be, as it weighs in at a mere hour and fifteen minutes). There are two commentary tracks: the first features Roy E. Disney, conductor James Levine, and Producer Don Ernst, and dwells mainly on the inspirations and process of selecting the music and brainstorming the visuals. The second track is more satisfying, as each segment's directors talk about the actual nuts and bolts of animation and its challenges.
That approach might seem a tad difficult to accomplish in the case of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (the only segment returning from the original feature), but Roy Disney fills in, and in a cute touch, Mickey Mouse himself drops by to reminisce about the making of the piece ("So how did they make that book float, Mickey?" "I'll tell you, Roy, it's actually made of cork. Look here, in the reverse shot? You can see it doesn't have any writing on it." "Well, I'll be...").
"The Making of Fantasia 2000", like its companion piece on the Fantasia DVD, is a well-produced and informative little documentary. There is also a "Showcase Program" with highlights from the movie, which appears to be the clip reel you saw played ad infinitum on the screens at The Disney Store and Best Buy. Of more use are the only two shorts in the Adventures in Musicseries; "Melody", previously only shown at the Disney Theme Parks, and "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom",which is about the four basic types of musical instruments, and deservedly won an Academy Award.
The box (and other ad copy) also promises a "Special Commemorative Booklet". My copy, however, had a festive anti-theft device enclosed instead.
My wife stunned me when she revealed that she didn't much care for this movie; whilst I, in contrast, several times had to wipe a tear away from my curmudgeonly eye. That's the sort of reaction that can only be achieved by a canny connection between sight and sound. When drawings can make you cry, that's a sure sign that somebody is doing something right; and "somebody is doing something right" is pale praise indeed for much of Fantasia 2000.
Dr. Freex, 2/19/2001