Fantasia Review

Fantasia

Disney’s third animated feature film, Fantasia, was never intended to be a film at all. After production costs for a new Mickey Mouse short, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, went much higher than expected, it was decided to be added to a compilation of animated shorts accompanying classical music. This compilation was also not intended to be a definitive film, but instead a showcase of different animated shorts that would be replaced and reissued with more musical shorts through the years.

In the end though, Fantasia greatly benefitted for remaining its own film. Though it was initially met with a mixed reception, the decades since its 1940 release have proven it to be a classic in the Disney canon, and it’s most certainly the most artistically ambitious film the studio made during Walt Disney’s lifetime.

FantasiaFantasia is a much different film than most other Disney offerings. It’s a lot more like a concert than it is a movie. It features a “master of ceremonies” in Deems Taylor, who introduces each animated segment during live-action intermissions. We get to see the orchestra, and conductor Leopold Stokowski, prepare the instruments and music before each of the film’s eight animated shorts (with the live-action bits being displayed in half-light-half-shadow, further playing into the film’s visual mystique).

Deems Taylor informs the audience from the get-go that Fantasia is comprised of three types of segments: those that tell a definitive story, those that have definitive images but don’t follow a direct narrative, and those that are simply abstract visuals, with no narrative whatsoever. These differing styles help give each segment a distinct personality and tone, not to mention variety.

It goes without saying that the music is great. With featured compositions from the likes of Beethoven and Bach, it really couldn’t go wrong. Each piece is accompanied by some rather glorious animation, which remain some of the best and most imaginative in the Disney canon.

Each segment has a visual distinction from the others in both style and character designs, and it’s actually surprising how well the visuals compliment the classical music. If any of the Disney features from the studio’s early years showcased the talent they had to offer at the time, surely it’s this one. A number of the segments even come across as dreamlike, thanks to the often haunting visuals.

Unfortunately, not all is perfect with Fantasia. With so many different and distinct segments, it only makes sense that not all of them are equals. Despite the great Beethoven composition and the fun Greek mythology visuals, the Pastoral Symphony segment feels like it drags on a bit, and the “Meet the Soundtrack” segment that plays after the intermission seems to just kind of be there. But when Fantasia is great, it’s really great. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice remains one of the best Mickey Mouse shorts (and oddly, it remains Mickey’s only real role in a feature film from the studio), and the Rite of Spring short, which displays “the first billions of years of Earth’s history” is a definite highlight in both the visuals and how they coexist with the music.

FantasiaFantasia is also wise to save it’s best segment for last. Night on Bald Mountain, which sees the demonic creature Chernabog summoning monsters and ghouls for his own amusement, still provides some of the most powerful and darkest imagery in Disney’s history.

Fantasia remains a Disney classic for its unique approach to filmmaking. It goes without saying that music and animation go hand-in-hand with each other, and Disney’s decision to marry the two mediums into one entity is as striking now as it was in its day. It’s true, Fantasia does drag a little bit at times, and if you’re looking for a more “fun” Disney movie, it’s probably not the best choice. But Fantasia remains a unique entity unto itself. Even its 60-years later sequel couldn’t match up to it.

More of a cinematic concert than a traditional Disney film, Fantasia is, if nothing else, a delight of sights and sounds.

 

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Fantasia 2000 Review

Fantasia 2000

Fantasia 2000 is, as its title suggests, the 2000 sequel to Disney’s classic musical experience film, Fantasia. The original Fantasia was never intended to be a singular film, as its segments were meant to be replaced and rearranged during different runs. Audiences could see some new material as well as returning favorites, making Fantasia a different experience every time. Luckily, that plan fell through, so Fantasia was allowed to endure as a more definitive classic in the Disney canon.

This would, of course, eventually lead Disney to produce an all-out sequel instead. It would end up being delayed a bit, as Fantasia 2000 was released six decades after the original.

Fantasia 2000 continues the same setup as the original film, with various animated segments bringing classical pieces of music to life. Pines of Rome, for example, is expressed through flying whales in the arctic, while Rhapsody in Blue depicts the lives of various citizens of New York City as 1930s cartoons.

Fantasia 2000Most of the animated segments work just fine, and they are all lovingly animated. Though some lack the extra oomph of others, with The Carnival of Animals, Finale (which depicts a flamingo troubling his flock with a yo-yo) feeling lackluster with its brief running time and unfulfilling of its fun premise.

An overall downside to the movie is that it is nearly a full hour shorter than the original Fantasia, but it has just as many animated segments, and the live-action introductions in between feel longer than those in the 1940 original. By making this sequel shorter but including more filler, it makes the entire “Fantasia experience” feel diluted.

It also doesn’t help that this “filler” mainly consists of celebrity cameos, as opposed to the conductors introducing the segments like the original movie. Some of these introductions – like those of Steve Martin and Penn & Teller – are entertaining in their own right, but something about all the cameos makes it feel like Disney was just showing off their budget. It feels more commercial and less earnest than the original.

Fantasia 2000In keeping with the original vision of Fantasia, one of the segments from the first film returns. Naturally, Disney decided to reuse The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, as it stars Mickey Mouse. It’s a fun segment in both films, but given the movie’s already short running time, you kind of wish Disney had cooked up an additional new segment to squeeze in the film instead.

Donald Duck gets his own portion of the film with Pomp and Circumstance, in which he plays a role in the story of Noah’s Ark. It serves to compliment Mickey’s role in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and while not one of the more powerful Fantasia segments, it nonetheless adds some extra fun to the package.

Fantasia 2000Fantasia 2000 follows suit of the original film by saving its best segment for last. In this instance the final chapter is Firebird Suite, which displays gorgeous animation and fantastic imagery of nature, destruction and rebirth. Other segments of note are the aforementioned Rhapsody in Blue and Shostakovich’s Piano Concert No. 2, which retells the story of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Steadfast Toy Soldier.

Overall, Fantasia 2000 is a solidly entertaining addition to the Disney canon that should delight most audiences, no matter their age. But it does suffer from being in the shadow of its predecessor. Fantasia 2000’s segments are less consistent than those of the original, and its short running time leaves a lot to be desired. It’s fun, but Fantasia 2000 falls short on being the same level of experience as its predecessor.

 

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