Richard’s Year of Movies — Fantasia 2000

A structural note:  I’ve gone back and renamed previous entries in this series with the title of the movie rather than the date.  It’ll be easier to find specific things that way.  I’m sure you’re all relieved.

The larval stage of my trying to write stories was me listening to music and picturing stories to go along with what I was hearing.  It probably started with the Star Wars soundtrack; not that I had any problems with the actual story that went along with the music, but, with the giant 70s-style headphones clamped down on my head, my mind would conjure up all sorts of alternate adventures to be had with those themes as a backdrop.  And it’s actually not a bad tool.  It teaches you about pacing, about rising and falling action, about building to a climax, and about economy — when the track’s only four minutes long, you don’t have a lot of time to waste.

So it’s not surprising that I’m drawn to Disney’s Fantasia films, since that’s the very essence of what those movies are about — taking something that already exists and re-imagining it into something else entirely.  Now, thanks to Disney’s warped idea that nobody will buy their movies unless they’ve been kept waiting seven years to do so, I don’t own the original Fantasia on DVD (and honestly, I’d wait for the Blu-ray even if the DVD was available), but I do own Fantasia 2000.  And DVD is a great format for that film, since it allows you to skip past the pretty awful host segments and get right to the good stuff.

Granted, it’s almost worth it to hear James Earl Jones say, “What would happen if you gave a yo-yo to a flamingo,” but it’s the music and animation that should be the stars here, not Steve Martin’s shameless hamming.  The original Fantasia did just fun with a disembodied Deems Taylor and a silhouetted Leopold Stokowski; do we really need Bette Midler and Penn and Teller?  But I guess Disney figured people wouldn’t show up if there wasn’t some star power, and like I said, happiness is a SKIP button away.

As for the pieces, the Donald Duck one feels a bit like it’s trying too hard to give Donald a role to match Mickey’s in the original film, which I guess makes a twisted kind of sense given the dynamic between the two characters.  Having it come right after the restored “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” only makes the newer sequence pale in comparison though.   But I really like the rest of the vignettes, especially “The Pines of Rome” and its gliding space whales (who have a remarkably real sense of weight and mass), “Rhapsody in Blue” with its loving Al Hirschfeld tribute, and “The Firebird”, despite the heavy debt it seems to owe to both “Night on Bald Mountain” and Princess Mononoke.  The rest of the pieces aren’t bad, but I really think they pale in comparison to those three, and mostly because the music they’re based on feels much stronger to me, and more easily lend themselves to a visual interpretation.

It’s too bad Disney never got to fulfill his vision of Fantasia as a continually evolving concert feature, switching out old parts for new occasionally.  Seeing the way the Disney house style evolved over the years, it would have been interesting to see those various styles possibly represented side-by-side in a fifth or sixth or tenth version of the film.  Then again, as amazing as the newer pieces are with their digital animation techniques, it’s still “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” that manages to be the most charming, and feel the most artistic.  Perhaps it’s best the original film remained as it was.

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