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Fantasia 2000

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Fantasia 2000

Starring: Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury
Director: Gaetan Brizzi
Rated: G
RunTime: 75 Minutes
Release Date: December 1999
Genres: Animation, Kids, Music

*Also starring: Teller, Penn Jillette, James Earl Jones

Review by MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

Stunning. Breathtaking. Spectacular. These are but three adjectives that will certainly be used to describe _Fantasia/2000_, Disney's long-in-the-works update of its 1940 classical-music-set-to-animation "work-in-progress," _Fantasia_. However, one word you won't hear in association with _F/2K_--unlike the original--is "classic."

Don't get me wrong--there are a number of stunning bits of new animation that will stand the test of time, particularly in the film's first three segments. Taking a cue from the original, which began with an abstract rendering of an abstract musical piece, _F/2K_ opens with an extremely trippy interpretation of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5, " directed by Pixote Hunt. A relentlessly kinetic sequence with triangles up, down, around, and every which way multiplying with every "da da da daah," the segment is made even more dizzying by the IMAX giant screen format (one can only imagine how much more so it would have been had the film been in IMAX 3D).

Things are decidedly less hyper in the next segment, but the product is even more breathtaking. To accompany Ottorino Respighi's "Pines of Rome," director Hendel Butoy has come up with a spectacular vision of whales whose aquatic acrobatics take them to the sky in the wake of a cosmic explosion. The concept could not be farther from a piece of music titled for trees in an Italian city, but this is _F/2K_'s most seamless and inspired melding of music and imagery. The gorgeous, inspiring melodies and the amazing three-dimensional computer animation make for an experience that can only described as awesome.

The in-your-face visuals of the first two segments make way for the simplistic, two-dimensional Al Hirschfeld-inspired line drawing style of Eric Goldberg's take on "Rhapsody in Blue," composed by George Gershwin. While it features the least flashy art and animation of the new segments, "Rhapsody"--which follows a cross-section of sad Manhattanites in the 1930s--is perhaps the most aesthetically ambitious of them, staying strictly within its very specific art style and employing a limited palette of primarily blue-based tones. The heavily stylized approach makes for the segment with the most personality, and one of the highlights of the film.

Unfortunately, that's the last big triumph in _Fantasia/2000_, for the work is more uneven from there. The film hits rock bottom with the next segment, an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen short story "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," set to Dmitri Shostakovich's "Piano Concerto #2, Allegro, Opus 102." The segment is about as exciting as that title. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this story of a tin soldier who battles with an evil jack-in-the-box over the affections of a music box ballerina; the animation is clean, especially the 3-D CGI used for the main trio of characters. It's just that among a group of shorts that bear at least one distinctive feature, this one comes up emptyhanded. I guess director Hendel Butoy exhausted all of his ideas on the whale segment.

Holding slightly more interest is another segment by Eric Goldberg, "Carnival of the Animals (Le Carnival des Animaux), Finale," which uses Camille Saint-SaŽns' familiar tune as a musical backdrop for a vignette involving a flock of flamingos and a yo-yo. The only flat-out comic piece of the _F/2K_ puzzle, it is a vibrantly colored (the brightest of the whole set) and fast-paced amusement. The problem is, it's so short and weightless--in style and subject--that it evaporates from the memory about as quickly as it zips by on the screen.

After a glorious reappearance of the only returning segment from the 1940 _Fantasia_, the Mickey Mouse-starring favorite "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," comes a sequence starring another classic Disney character, Donald Duck. This segment, set to Sir Edward Elgar's familiar "Pomp and Circumstance" and casting Donald as an assistant to Noah before and during the flood, is not without its cutesy charm. But it's a mess; the Biblical theme, Donald, and a romantic subplot where he and Daisy Duck keep on missing each other are mixed uneasily by director Francis Glebas. The disjointed result doesn't quite feel of a piece with the others, and, unlike "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," it feels less like an expression of the music than an excuse to shoehorn in a popular character.

A similar sense of blatant pandering to the masses hovers over interstitial segments, where celebrities introduce each sequence. Only lightly amusing at best (Steve Martin and Bette Midler, who have been funnier) and excruciating (Penn and Teller) at worst, these bits are the big reason why _F/2K_'s long-term shelf life won't come close to that of the original film: they date the film as being a project of the here and now--and not because these are celebrities of contemporary times, but that it highlights the commercialist mentality of the era (not to mention that of Disney, perhaps the biggest perpetrator of all). The interstitials are obviously a device to make more mainstream-palatable what is essentially an animated art film for an especially rarefied crowd. While a bit on the stuffy side, Deems Taylor, the host of the 1940 _Fantasia_, was a much more suitable host. His earnest demeanor not only lent a certain timeless quality, he made it that much easier to take the film seriously as a serious concert film, not a cartoon show for the kiddies. With all the jokey celeb cameos, the latter is more the case with _F/2K_.

Thankfully, _Fantasia/2000_ ends on a note more befitting of the former, with an ambitious segment set to Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite - 1919 Version." It is a beautifully animated tale of death and rebirth, with a forest's natural splendor ravaged by a volcano and then replenished by a magical sprite. Directors GaŽtan and Paul Brizzi's work is lovely, blending state-of-the-art computer techniques with the organic hand-drawn style of Japanese animť. While I do admire this segment, I am far less enthusiastic about it than the opening three; perhaps I would have enjoyed the segment even more if it Hayao Miyazaki's _Princess_Mononoke_ weren't so fresh in the memory, for this segment's storyline bears more than a passing resemblance to the finale of that film.

While I did have a few problems with _Fantasia/2000_, overall it is a worthy extension of the idea conceived by Walt Disney nearly 60 years ago; and, after _Tarzan_, it's another important step forward into riskier, more ambitious artistic territory for the Mouse's animation house. In some points of execution, there is fault; but in terms of grand spectacle, it's as close to perfect as anything out there now--which makes it all the more important that it is seen in its intended IMAX form, not on a regular multiplex screen, where _F/2K_ will play after a four-month exclusive run on IMAX.

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