Dreaded Purple Master

Fantasia 2000

It sold out it's opening day shows by 1pm. But then, it’s only playing at one theater in the southeast: The Mall of Georgia Regal IMAX.

The only reason we got in is that Bill Ritch (the de facto leader of our little siege) appealed to the manager's heart -- and Sarah is cute. (It's the "extra ice-cream" syndrome again.) Call ahead, buy tickets in advance if you plan to go. Don't count on being able to get tickets when you get there.

It ranked #12 in box office receipts for the weekend, pretty good when you consider it's only playing on 54 screens. (#11, The World is Not Enough, is playing on 1712 screens: #13, Sleepy Hollow, on 1492.) This thing is going to break the scale when it goes into wide release, at this rate.

The reviews are lukewarm at best. Eleanor Ringel Gillespie at the AJC, in particular, hated it.

I actually liked it, but I would have liked it better in a conventional theater. IMAX makes the flaws as big as a house. And the world really isn't ready for a four-story-tall Penn and Teller (who introduce the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment, the only holdover from the earlier version). In fact, overall I could have done without the celebrity introductions. I'm sure Disney thought they were making the film more commercially accessible by including Steve Martin, Bette Midler, etc. I felt like I was sitting in Angela Lansbury's lap. (Although to be fair, we were sitting two rows from the screen. If you go, sit in the back.)
It's strongly reminiscent of numerous other works. This in itself isn't a flaw, just that by definition "Fantasia 2000" can't be utterly unlike anything that has ever come before. It is, after all, a sequel: It is no longer possible for this to be done for the first time. But it stands very well on its own merits.

According to the various press reports, they were tinkering with the composition up to the last possible minute, with some outlets reporting that "Nutcracker" and "Dance of the Hours" remain (they're gone).

Here's what's in it:

Fifth Symphony - Beethoven

You know, “dit dit dit DAAAH”. Abstract shapes reminiscent of butterflies, meant to evoke memories of the "Toccata and Fugue" from 1940.

Pines of Rome - Respighi

Icebergs and flying whales – complete with the li’l tyke whale who gets into trouble. Sort of a cross between “Little Toot” and “Bambi”. It’s hard to tell what’s meant by this odd mix of ultra-real and surreal. The combination of computer-generated whales with conventionally animated facial expressions flatly does not work. Compared with Toy Story 2, the whales seem lifeless. Not as bad as I'm describing it, but too long. The music is interesting, though.

Rhapsody in Blue - Gershwin

Just when you’re thinking the new Fantasia is going to be stiff, ponderous and lifeless, along comes this gem. The Rhapsody has enough pure joy and exuberance, enough life, to overcome the stiffness of the film thus far and then some. It's a day in the life of several New Yorkers in the 1920s (even Gershwin himself has a cameo appearance): a construction worker who dreams of being a jazz musician; a discouraged unemployed man who just wants a job somewhere; a childlike husband forever dominated by his humorless wife; a little girl being shuttled from lesson to lesson who just wants to spend some time with her parents. The animation style is strongly reminiscent of "All The Cats Join In", deliberately abstracted yet flowing. THE standout piece of the show. (It was a last-minute substitution for "Nutcracker".) Adapted from the art style of Al Hirschfeld. If I were to say everything I wanted to say about this charming, moving, perfect piece, you would find me tiresome indeed, but you must see this if you love animation. If there were any justice in the world, this segment would win an academy award.

Piano Concerto No. 2 - Shostakovich

Tells the story of "The Steadfast Soldier" by Hans Christian Andersen. Again, almost entirely computer generated, but strongly reminiscent of many "toys come to life after the toymaker leaves the shop" cartoons. This one works (except for one whopper of a coincidence in the story, but I'm told it's in the original). The ballerina toy is surprisingly lifelike.

Carnival of the Animals - Saint-Saens

Obviously meant to replace the “Dance of the Hours” (but much shorter), it (as the intro says) answers the age old question, "What would happen if you gave a yo-yo to a flock of flamingos?" A bright watercolor transition, with no higher aspiration than to make you laugh. And it does.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Really suffers from being blown up to IMAX size. And you'll probably find yourself preferring the painstakingly-animated water in this sequence to the photo-realistic CGI water in "Pines of Rome."

Note: Do not miss the transition from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” to “Pomp and Circumstance”. And prepare to be astounded as you hear Mickey Mouse completely circle the audience looking for a missing Donald Duck.

Pomp and Circumstance - Sir Edward Elgar

The story of Noah's Ark, with Donald Duck as Noah's assistant. Parts of it are wildly funny, parts of it are surprisingly heartrending.

Firebird Suite - Stravinsky

Disney downplays any comparisons between this and "Night on Bald Mountain", but I don’t think it suffers too much. However, you may find yourself yelling "Princess Mononoke!" It's about a mountain spirit, awakened by an old elk to herald the spring, that awakens a volcano (a phoenixlike effect, a real showstopper). Spectacular work.

Overall: Fantasia 2000 is uneven, and leans too heavily on CGI, but they get the worst they have to offer out of the way first, and leave you with vivid images from Gershwin and Stravinsky. Probably overpriced at IMAX theaters – but do see it in a stereo surround auditorium.


Daniel Taylor: Saturday, January 15, 2000