When the original Fantasia released in 1940, critics pretty much universally praised it, yet it didn’t perform that well in theatres. That’s partly because World War 2 completely cut off the European market, but also because most people didn’t know what to make of it. Over the years it earned a huge fan following, and when it first released on home video in 1991 and sold extremely well, it convinced Roy E. Disney (Walt Disney’s nephew and Disney Studio’s senior executive at the time) to go ahead and finally make a follow up. Fantasia 2000 released at exactly midnight, January 1 2000, to become the very first film released in our current millennium. It also released in IMAX – the first ever animated film to do so.
That’s all the background I care to get into for this one. I’ll also keep this post relatively short.
Like the original Fantasia, Fantasia 2000 is a collection of famous classical music with the artists interpreting it in their own way. The style of animation this time is a bit different, with more CGI than hand drawn animation at times. The music is also generally more energetic and upbeat than the more varied music in the original. That in itself is by no means a bad thing.
The biggest difference between this and the original Fantasia is that here, most of the segments try to tell a story, whereas the first is a lot more abstract. Some of these stories are fantastically told, like an entirely CGI retelling of the fairy tale “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, just with a happy ending to match the optimistic tune. It makes great use of facial and body language to tell a love story between two toys. There’s a segment taking place in 1930’s New York that tells the story of four people who want better lives, and it’s purely hand drawn. It’s a very creative segment where each character unknowingly intertwines with the others. There’s a Noah’s Ark segment with Donald Duck that’s kind of fun as well.
The real highlights are two of the new segments, the second one and the finale. The second shows a large family of humpback whales who learned to fly. A calf is separated from his family and you follow his adventure as he tries to return to them. As the music builds, the visuals get more and more ambitious. It’s good enough to be Fantasia 2000’s finale. The actual finale is just as impressive, with an art style never used before in Disney movies. It’s about a forest spirit that accidentally awakens the firebird. There’s a great mix of environmental destruction and rebirth, with a mix of an anime-style look and a mix of hand drawn and CGI visuals. Although the whale segment looks grander, I think the finale looks prettier and is probably the more technically impressive of the two. Either way, they’re almost worth watching Fantasia 2000 for alone.
Unfortunately, Fantasia 2000 isn’t without some serious problems. While most of the segments range from good to fantastic, there’s one that’s just a flamingo flinging a yo-yo around, annoying his flock. It feels like something that belongs to a Warner Brothers cartoon, not something that’s supposed to be dignified like Fantasia. But that’s the only weak segment in this new feature. It does however also include the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the original. They seriously couldn’t come up with one more segment instead? And Donald Duck’s Noah’s Ark segment gives the movie the same kind of lighter tone, as does the flamingo segment. If I want to see the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I’ll watch the original Fantasia.
But one weak segment and one repeat are small potatoes compared to Fantasia 2000’s biggest flaw. The original features one single narrator bridging the segments together, introducing each classical work and describing the idea behind the images. It gives Fantasia a consistent feel and a sense of dignity. This time round, there are a bunch of celebrity guests, each introducing one segment. Some of them are alright, like James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury, who are both sophisticated here. Most of the others self-congratulate Fantasia 2000 in ways that harm the movie’s dignity. But the worst offenders are Steve Martin and Penn & Teller, throwing in failed comedy routines. Steve Martin is usually really funny, but he’s painful here. Penn & Teller aren’t quite painful, but they’re not funny either. Part of what made Fantasia feel so special is that you don’t really see the narrator’s face. You only see his silhouette. Here, you see the celebrities, completely removing the feel of mystery from the original.
The result is a very uneven movie. Fantasia is a pure work of art that’s made more for adults than it is for kids. It’s got a great mix of visual storytelling and creative abstract visuals that match the music perfectly. In Fantasia 2000, some of the visually narrated stories feel like they’re forced on the music. Kids may like the new one better than the original, but the total lack of dignity and the uneven quality will likely disappoint fans of the original.
I was warned about this movie’s flaws going in though, so I can’t say I’m too disappointed. Fantasia 2000 ended up earning just over $90 million on a budget somewhere between $80 and $85 million. It wasn’t as well-received as the original, with critics like Roger Ebert and the British film magazine, Empire, pointing out its mixed quality. That’s not to say Fantasia 2000 isn’t worth watching. If you enjoyed the original, you’ll still likely enjoy the better segments here. But with the exception of the whale segment and the finale, nothing here quite matches the brilliance of the original classic.
Next up is Dinosaur, followed by The Emperor’s New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Disney’s second Dark Age is coming up fast, and I’m getting worried.