As time goes on, the methods and ideas of a storyteller can change. The concepts and themes told by a twentysomething are not necessarily the same as those told by a storyteller in their 50s. The same can also be said of a production company. A fresh independent film company can take risks and chances that perhaps it cannot once it grows into a firmly-established powerhouse. Such is the case with Disney, and a property of theirs known as Fantasia. The first film, simply known as Fantasia, was released back in 1940. It was Walt Disney’s third animated feature film, a rather daring experiment in featuring a collection of animated shorts set to classical music. While the film was not a success during its original theatrical run, it has since gained a following thanks to its bold animation and use of music. Sixty years later, Walt Disney Pictures would release a sequel, fittingly called Fantasia 2000. Considering Walt Disney himself had originally envisioned Fantasia as a project that could be in theaters regularly and constantly updated with new segments, this is a case where a sequel makes a lot of sense. However, most tend to look upon Fantasia 2000 as a weak entry in comparison to the first. Is it really deserving of such a view, or does it stand on its own merits? I suggest we look a bit at the elements first.
When it comes to the segments themselves, it is worth noting that there are three styles of music used in these films. First, there is music which is designed to tell a story. Second, there is music which designed to evoke a mood or certain image. Finally, there is music which is designed solely for its own sake. Though both films use a variety of musical pieces, Fantasia tends to put more of an emphasis on showcasing this selection of styles. For instance, “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” sets its ominous and dramatic tones against abstract animation of varying shapes and design to showcase a piece serving solely for its own listening pleasure. Meanwhile, “Rite of Spring” is used in conjunction with imagery of Earth’s long distant past and the savagery of dinosaurs, a fitting choice to go along with the aggressive mood which the piece carries and conveys. Of course, narrative pieces are definitely remembered with sequences like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, which tells the tale of Mickey Mouse bringing a broom to life with unforeseen consequences. Fantasia 2000, on the other hand, features a narrative of some sort in every one of its pieces. There is much less of the sort of experimental animation that was on display in the first film. Of course, it is not only the choice of segments that shows the difference between these two films.
The methods chosen for these films highlight the differences between them as well. With Fantasia, the colors possess a more natural hue to them. They are lovely and striking, but in a realistic fashion. Fantasia 2000, on the other hand, features bright colors made to pop and grab your attention. Likewise, there is also the nature of hosts. Both films feature live-action segments, featuring a host who talks a little about each piece before it begins. With Fantasia, music critic Deems Taylor served as the master of ceremonies over the course of the whole film. Fantasia 2000 chooses to feature a variety of celebrity hosts, including the likes of Steve Martin, James Earl Jones, and Angela Lansbury. Even the run times between both movies show a world of change, with Fantasia clocking in at 126 minutes while Fantasia 2000 is a quick 75 minutes. So, what could prompt such change? For me, I would say the state of the company is a major factor.
The Walt Disney Studios that released Fantasia was a young company, one that had shook the world in 1937 with the first full-length animated feature in the form of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was a fresh face in the film world, one that could dare to take a risk on a motion picture like Fantasia. In the meantime, the Walt Disney Studios that released Fantasia 2000 was an entertainment juggernaut. It had grown into a powerhouse that released animated and live-action features along with television programming, owned several television channels, had theme parks under its banner. It had grown into a giant. Coming with all of that power, however, were shareholders and the public’s expectations. There are chains, limitations to what they could do. Those are the circumstances from which Fantasia 2000 arose, faced with trying to maintain an experimental nature while creating something that can be made accessible to the general public. With all of this talk of conditions and changes aside, does this movie work? I think it occasionally stumbles, but ultimately accomplishes what it sets out to showcase.
Now, of the two films, I do personally prefer Fantasia a little more, mostly because I feel that it better conveys a concert feel in its presentation. However, Fantasia 2000 still has a lot that does work in it. Just as its predecessor features plenty of classic sequences, there are some great musical pieces paired with lovely animation. For example, “Firebird Suite – 1919 Version” is a lovely piece that pairs Igor Stravinksy’s iconic music with an animated tale of a forest sprite who accidentally awakens a primal force of destruction known as the Firebird. In fact, the stand out piece in the whole film is “Rhapsody in Blue”. The sequence pairs up Ira Gershwin’s sweeping jazz music with a story of four people living in 1930s New York City, with the sequence drawn to resemble the famous caricature artwork of Al Hirschfeld. It is a striking sequence, one that showcases a masterful mixture of animation and music. That, to me, is the heart of the Fantasia property: bringing music and animation together in a fashion that can heighten both.
Even if there are a few sequences that are weaker and it perhaps could have benefited from sticking to one host, it is clear that Fantasia 2000 still has its heart in the right place. That much is certain, even as times and methods have changed since Fantasia.