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Fantasia/2000

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 14 January 2000

Directed by Pixote Hunt, 
Hendel Butoy, Eric Goldberg, 
James Algar, Francis Glebas, 
GaŽtan Brizzi and Paul Brizzi, 
and
Don Hahn.

Starring Steve Martin, 
Bette Midler, James Levine, 
Itzhak Perlman, James Earl Jones, 
Angela Lansbury, Quincy Jones 
and
Penn & Teller.

Back in 1941 Walt Disney announced his overreaching intention to make a new version of Fantasia every year. But the critical and commercial drubbing that film received when released at the beginning of World War II brought the quick realization that, while impressive in scope, it was not a project initially accepted by the masses. Only decades after the film was rediscovered by acid-dropping hippies and eventually became a successful home video staple has nephew Roy Edward Disney brought forth a hypnotic sequel, again blending eye-popping animation and classical music, conducted by James Levine, that so endeared his visionary uncleís original.

The enterprising update does have some striking imagery and like rainbow Jello, it goes down easily and is hard not to like. Basically a widely divergent collection of eight cartoon shorts (retaining Mickey Mouse and broomstick buddies in The Sorcererís Apprentice from the first edition) strung together by director Don Hahn of mostly hammy live-action links (see talent above) of less than a minute each, the film is a eye-opening, audiophileís delight. Yes itís a great family excursion, but with an equally big caveat. Fantasia/2000 is the first theatrical full-length animated feature to be formatted in the REALLY BIG IMAX format for the most part not playing at a theater near you. Here in the suburbs of the nationís capital you have to head north to Baltimoreís Maryland Science Center and plop down $12 for adult admission to just the film, or $15 to see the museum too. Kids can come along cheaper (3 and younger are free). While seeing the colorful images on screens at least five stories tall is an experience in and of itself, youíll have to weigh traipsing yourself (and possibly the wife and the kids) half-way across town or through a few states to pay the big bucks to see a 75-minute movie. Of course, if you have travel plans already, you might want to find the time. If I was a paying customer (I like to think Iím watching out for my ticket-buying readers, whoever you are), itís a 70-30 chance youíd entertain the entire family.

Definite losers are all the other big & wide screen producers shut out of the limited IMAX marketplace. This Mouse Factory movie is showing exclusively at 54 IMAX theaters here in the United States (and another 21 elsewhere) under strongly structured terms. Each venue can only show this film--and no other IMAX productions--for a four-month run. So the initial winner appears to be Disney (earning over $2.2 million in its opening New Yearís weekend), which will pile up an impressive gross before the film is released to regular neighborhood theaters later this spring.

With the advances in animation techniques over the last 60 years, the film is generally a dazzling amalgam of flying shapes, bold fantasies, and imaginative stories set to some well-known and some not-so-familiar classics.

The weakest of the lot is the first episode, Ludwig Van Beethovenís Symphony No. 5, Allegro Con Brio (directed by Pixote Hunt), is a pastel explosion of Origami-style triangular shapes fluttering about the screen in no discernable manner. Ho-hum.

But itís all uphill from there, Ottorino Respighiís Pines of Rome (Hendel Butoy) is the backdrop for the stunning tale of a pod of whales who take exhilarating flight in the sun-drenched clouds over a flotilla of icebergs. A perfect big-screen, jaw-dropping exercise.

Legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfeld (the ďNinaĒ guy from the Sunday New York Times) receives fitting homage by director Eric ďPocahontasĒ Goldberg for a Jazz Age Manhattan tale of the interwoven lives in the big city set to George Gershwinís Rhapsody in Blue.

Director Butoy also tackles Dmitri Shostakovichís Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102 as the musical backdrop for a ballet-inspired retelling of Hans Christian Andersenís fable The Steadfast Tin Soldier, blending classic hand drawn animation with computer generated images.

Camille Saint-SaŽns Carnival of the Animals (Eric Goldberg) is one of the funnier and briefest segments, a two-minute caprice involving yo-yos and flamingos, in an idea thought up by 91-year-old Joe Grant, the head of story on Fantasia and still active with the Disney studio.

James Algarís direction of Mickey Mouse in Paul Dukasí The Sorcererís Apprentice continues to be as enjoyable a short subject as ever, albeit a little grainy and darker when expanded for the giant screen.

Sir Edward Elgar Pomp and Circumstances--Marches 1, 2, 3, and 4 (Francis Glebas) brings back old favorites Donald and Daisy Duck as lovers misguided and lost from each other aboard Noahís Ark. Forty days and forty nights are mightily compressed into this six-minute comedy-tinged tale.

Segment director and identical twins GaŽtan and Paul Brizzi bring a dramatic conclusion to Fantasia/2000 with their spectacular interpretation for Igor Stavinskyís Firebird Suite featuring a heavenly Sprite and a magnificent elk. Life, death, and rebirth are big themes recycled here against a forest devastated by volcanic fire.

Daring in concept and inspirational for young and old alike, this is truly a near rapturous adventure -- a unique, yet expensive, audience pleaser.


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