Combustible Celluloid
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With: Steve Martin, Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn Jillette, Teller, Angela Lansbury, James Levine, Kathleen Battle
Written by: Oliver Thomas, Joe Ranft, Elena Driskill, Brenda Chapman, Carl Fallberg, Joe Grant, Irene Mecchi, Perce Pearce, David Reynolds, Tom Sito
Directed by: James Algar, Gaetan Brizzi, Paul Brizzi, Hendel Butoy, Francis Glebas, Eric Goldberg, Don Hahn, Pixote Hunt
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 75
Date: 12/17/1999

Fantasia/2000 (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Silly Symphonies

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Walt Disney's Fantasia/2000 premiered in December of 1999, and opened wide on New Year's Day, 2000 at IMAX theaters all over the country. It's a continuation of the original Fantasia (1940), following Disney's original plan to re-release the feature every few years with some old segments and some new. This new Fantasia corrects some of the flaws of the old movie, but generates some new flaws of its own. In spite of that, I love both movies, and I heartily recommend the new movie to all ages.

The original Fantasia ran 120 minutes and contained seven segments. Some of them ran up to 20 minutes and were deadly boring. (I'm thinking of "The Rite of Spring" segment with the dinosaurs.) The new Fantasia clocks in at about 80 minutes and contains eight segments -- more bang for your buck, as it were. The only original segment that made it into the new version is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" with Mickey Mouse. ("The Dance of the Hours" with the tutu-wearing hippopotamus would have made a good candidate as well.)

The first new segment is Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, done in an "abstract" style, similar to the opening segment of the original. The segments that follow are refreshingly different from each other, and each is breathtaking in its own way. Everyone will have their favorites and least favorites, but a few bugged me. "Pines of Rome" features a story of CGI animated whales that looked too stiff and manufactured. The "Firebird Suite" is inspired by Japanese animae and looks great, but offers little else. A new segment with Donald Duck based on Noah's Ark is fun and clever, but is set to "Pomp and Circumstance" of all things.

The best segments are Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," drawn in the style of the great caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, and the very short and funny "Carnival of the Animals" which deals with a flamingo and a yo-yo.

The Disney company was most likely aware that the old Fantasia didn't play well to kids, who squirmed in their seats. So they overcorrected and dumbed down the new version. The inbetweens look like a fifth-grade science film, using celebrities like Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury, Penn & Teller, Bette Midler, and Quincy Jones to introduce the segments to us. I found this slightly insulting and it certainly broke the flow of the film for me.

Nonetheless, seeing the new film on the IMAX screen is a treat. Only "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" seems a bit grainy, but overall the movie is overwhelmingly lovely. I had a wonderful time and am looking forward to seeing it again.

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