Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fantasia 2000

I’ve never reviewed an older film before, but I felt I had something to say about this movie and damn it, I’m gonna say it.

Let me turn back the clock. It’s the mid-90s, and I own a VHS copy of Fantsia, one that I watch ad infinitum. It is my favourite movie as a kid and when I found out there was going to be a sequel I was ecstatic. I saw it at the iMax downtown… and the disappointed still shakes me to this day.

So let’s break this down to the segments and the presenters and why this movie blows mouse balls.

Symphony no. 5

Ah, Beethoven. Would Fantasia be complete without it? Of course not, he’s the one composer to make it into both films, and rightfully so. However this intro to the movie sums up nicely what is wrong with the entire movie. To begin with, it’s three minutes long. This entire film cripples itself by keeping all its sequences to about three (or less) minutes. There are only two exceptions to this, I’ll get to those later. One can argue that our attention span has decreased over the years, but I’m gonna stop you there and disagree.

Let me reiterate. Fantasy was my favourite movie as a kid. I watched it over and over and over again. The sequences in that film were about 10 minutes or more each and they never had any trouble keeping my attention. Even the opening of Fantasia, my least favourite part, was far more griping than this shlock. With the first movie the opening actually has music being transformed into image, here we just see… I dunno, butterflies. Are those supposed to be notes? This is so hack it’s painful.

Pines of Rome

This sequence would have and should have been incredible… if it weren’t for the fact that it’s mostly CGI. I remember this sequence being in the trailer and being really excited to see it in IMAX, and let me try to explain why. Even as a kid I could tell that the animation in Fantasia was better than any other animation I had ever seen. I thought I would witness CGI getting pushed beyond anything I had ever seen before… and who knows, maybe on a technical level it was, however to my eye all I could see was lazy animators using CGI instead of showing off the traditional hand-drawn animation it hints at but doesn’t exploit.

CGI truly is the bane of this film, especially after you learn just how innovative the original Fantasia was.

Rhapsody in Blue

This one is actually brilliant and wonderful and by far the best thing about Fantasia 2000. So of course they shove it 15 minutes into the movie, thus making it forgettable and somewhat obsolete in the eyes of the producers. I just don’t understand why they’ve buried this one, this is the only sequence that manages to truly translate music into image and dares to run longer than 10 minutes. It’s funny and full of heart and I could watch it as many times as I watched the original Fantasia without getting bored.

I actually get angry by how good this sequence is compared to the rest of the film because it makes me realize that the filmmakers were fully capable of recreating the magic of Fantasia and yet for some reason they just didn’t.

Bette Midler

… Really???

The Tin Soldier

Here we have another sequence butchered by CGI. I just can’t tell you how much I dislike mixing CGI with traditional hand-drawn animation. I think both are valid forms of art, don’t get me wrong, but I firmly believe that using CGI in a traditionally animated film is nothing but a crutch – especially when you have films like Fantasia and Pinocchio and Snow White to look at and see the amazing things you can do without CGI and photocopiers and all that bullshit.

Also, this story just kind of bores me. Our hero, the Tin Solider, doesn’t do anything. He just goes along for the ride and ends up back and home. Where’s the conflict? Where’s the tension? This sequence has more McGuffins than that Due South episode that actually labels all the McGuffins!

Mind you, I did like the rats.

James Earl Jones

My favourite intro of the film, firstly because James Early Jones is made of rainbows and awesome and secondly because he asks what everyone watching had been thinking for about 40 minutes: “Who wrote this?”

Carnival of the Animals

I would like this a lot more if it didn’t last less than three minutes. The animation here is incredible. This is the CGI-less animation I crave from Fantasia and it’s great… but again the producers think we’re cats and cut to Penn and Teller as fast as they can.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

I was pissed off when I realized what was happening 11 years ago and I’m pissed off now. They reused The Sorcerer’s Apprentice… THEY REUSED THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. It’s bad enough that this film is half the runtime of the original, but when you realize that it’s not even all-new footage you come to the startling realization that this film is barely 60 minutes long, about 50 minutes of which is actual animation.

This is the only other sequence that dares to hit that 10 minutes mark. We are essentially watching an hour-long TV animation. And this is the point of the film where you realize just what an uninspired money-grab Fantasia 2000 is. It also doesn’t help that this is one of the sequences from the original I never really liked (probably because there are no women present). Listening to the commentary you come to realize that the producers couldn’t picture Fantasia without this sequence, and I have a hard time figuring out why. Fantasia is supposed to be about visualizing music, watch half an hour of the original Fantasia and you’ll understand that tenfold, and yet the people who made this film thought Fantasia was about a cutesy story involving a mouse.

Now, let’s step back a moment, Walt Disney actually envisioned Fantasia as being a movie constantly being rereleased with a mixture of old and new sequences, so it was essentially a quilt of animation and music… but c’mon guys, that idea clearly got thrown out the wayside around 1940, so don’t try to give that as an explanation. The Disney studios called in this film, and reusing this sequence is ample evidence of that.

Pomp and Circumstance (Noah’s Ark)

I thought I would hate this sequence, this mostly stems from the fact that it’s a bible story and the original Fantasia is so wonderfully secular, but honestly it’s my second favourite sequence. This captures more of the spirit of the classic Disney short than any other part of this damn film. The humour and slapstick here is so subtle and it’s damn near perfect. It still feels a little rushed, like all of this film does, but I feel that mostly because I enjoyed this segment so much I wish it had been longer.

The bad part about this segment is that this is the point where I finally get into the movie and think: “You know what, maybe the rest won’t be so bad.” Then I am immediately told that there’s only one segment left.

So much rage!

Firebird (A.K.A. Ferngully)

This is supposed to be their ode to the final sequence of Fantasia… and you can tell, because it kinda rips it off, utterly and completely. At least this piece has character and, despite the blatant CGI, has incredibly beautiful animation. Here we have CGI used properly in animation, where it helps but does not completely overtake the hand-drawn animation.

The Elk is probably my favourite character in this whole film. Whoever animated that Elk should have won an academy award. Bambi, step aside, this Elk’s eyes show more emotion than you ever did while you were calling for your dead mother.

In Conclusion

Walt Disney set out to make the greatest animated film of all time when he made Fantasia, and he did. Roy Disney set out to make the greatest money grab of all time, and he failed.

Is Fantasia 2000 is completely waste of celluloid? No, Rhapsody in Blue is incredible and Noah’s Ark is cute and Firebird is quite beautiful and worthy of ending the film, but it bothers me how hack this film is and how little the creators cared about what they were creating. They had a chance to continue the greatest animated film of all time… and they called it in.

What makes this movie worse is watching the documentary that comes on the DVD about Musicana, a sequel to Fantasia that nearly began production in the 80s. Just seeing the concept from that film was more riveting than watching Fantasia 2000.

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