"'Fantasia', to me is a whole new opportunity. For my medium, it opens up unlimited possibilities." That's a quote Walt Disney said regarding "Fantasia" back in 1940, the ambitious animated musical anthology film that was the third film from Walt Disney Animation Studios and one of their very finest films. It's a film that's truly an experience that is a lively marriage of classical music and animation that creates one of the most amazing film spectacles ever put on the silver screen. It was an ambitious film and Walt had plans to keep it going like a regular concert hall swapping out segments in the film and putting in new animated pieces just like an orchestra would when picking their new pieces. Alas, that never came to fruition as Disney's then distributor RKO Radio Pictures hated the film and only allowed it as a roadshow film which made it lose money not to mention that the Second World War was starting to brew throughout the world. It took sixty years for a continuation to Disney's achievement which we finally got sixty years later with "Fantasia 2000", a film that I'd say is a worthy sequel to its predecessor. The first film might have set the bar quite too high for any follow-up to grasp it, but this film does soar quite highly resulting in another divine animated experience.
There are eight musical segments in this film. The first is set to Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5" in which the music is set to abstract animation consisting of triangles that are made to resemble butterflies. The second is Respighi's "Pines of Rome" showcasing a family of humpback whales who gain the power to fly out of the ocean and into the sky. The third is to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" which follows four individuals in 1930s New York City stuck with where they are who wish for something better. The fourth, Shostakovich's "Piano Concerto No. 2" which is an animated retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier." The fifth is the finale of "Carnival of the Animals by Saint Saëns showcasing what would happen if a yoyo was given to a flock of flamingos. The sixth returning from the original "Fantasia" is Duke's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" which is of course a retelling of the apprentice putting a magic spell on a broomstick to carry water to a cauldron featuring Mickey Mouse. The seventh one is Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" which shows a goofy retelling of Noah's ark starring Donald Duck. And the eighth and final segment is Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" which follows a forest sprite waking a firebird inside a volcano.
This film was a passion project that Walt's nephew Roy E. Disney wanted to make for a very long time as a tribute to his uncle and I could tell that this was something he wanted to make. Like I said at the beginning of the review, the original film is a very hard film to top and while I don't think this film fully captures the magic and power the first film posses as it does feel a bit more mainstream than its predecessor and is shorter, it does come very close. I think this film is a perfect example of showcasing and putting to the test the amazing talent that the new generation of artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios possessed and you can see their work thrive in all of these segments. It's a glorious spectacle that riveted me from beginning to end. To break down what works and what doesn't work about the film, I'll talk about how I feel about each segment individually starting with the first which is a fine introduction to the film. The backgrounds and colors are particularly staggering and work nicely with the strong and often sweet music composed by Beethoven. With that said, I'm not sure it fully captures the abstract nature that it wants to go for. The segment obviously wants to be like how the first film was by showcasing abstract shapes complementing the music like the "Toccata and Fuge" segment, but I do feel it loses that somewhat by having a story somewhat placed and the triangle shapes meaning to represent butterflies. It's still a lovely segment though and it's a great introduction to the film. The second segment really benefits from amazing backgrounds and effects animation and benefits from the great size and scale of the humpback whales. You can feel the weight and power this segment has watching the whales dance in the sky and play in the clouds which is an image I'll never forget. I also do admire the use of computer animation for the whales and I do think that they mostly hold up though I did find their eyes being hand drawn onto the CG models coming across a little awkwardly at times not to mention that a few of the wide shots of the whales showing their age. The "Rhapsody in Blue" segment is easily my favorite of the bunch as it's a gorgeous tribute to Al Hirschfeld and one where Eric Goldberg really gets the chance to shine and showcase his love for making artistic tributes. Goldberg had always idolized Hirschfeld as you can really see his influence in characters he's animated like the Genie in "Aladdin" and here is where he really gets to show his love for the artist. The segment uses limited color palettes similar to what Hirschfeld would use and the character designs have such exquisite lifework. Oh, it's gorgeous and my oh my does it work wondrously with Gershwin's music. The fourth segment is a cute little take on Andersen's classic fairy tale that was rescued from the Disney vaults and I think it really captures the look that Bianca Majolie was striving for back in the 40s. I also think the CG models of the toys in the segment have aged all beautifully though I do wish the segment stuck with the original ending that Andersen wrote for the story. I know they were intending to do so but changed their minds as they thought the ending of the musical piece was too uplifting, but I think the sad ending contrasting the happy music would've been a bold choice.
"The Carnival of the Animals" segment gives Eric Goldberg another chance to shine this time playing to his great use of cartoony character animation. It's a short and simple segment that was animated by Goldberg himself and it's pretty funny and gorgeously animated. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" returns from the original film and it's still a classic segment like usual though I'm not sure bringing it back was a wise choice. I understand that it was to illustrate "Fantasia" is a film of revolving segments with some of them coming back, but I do wish there was another segment in the film that was different since I did feel the film was a bit too short. The seventh segment with Donald Duck is sadly the weakest of the bunch. I do think it's a funny short seeing Donald being an assistant to Noah and him being separated from Daisy, but I don't think the music goes well with it at all. "Pomp and Circumstance" is a segment that's commonly associated with graduation and that's all I could think of when watching this segment. It was a bit obvious that it was added only at the request of Michael Eisner and I do wish the artists asked him to select a different piece. However, the film ends on a triumphant note with "The Firebird Suite" which was made to showcase nature's effect and was inspired by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Hellens. This is where the effects and character animation truly get to shine with the details of the forest sprite grass-like moments and the firebird glowing of molten lava transfixes the viewer as it builds to a triumphant finish complimenting Stravinsky's music so tremendously. I should also mention that I'm not a fan of some of the celebrity introductions to the segments. I love Steve Martin, Bette Midler, and Penn and Teller, but I do think their goofy nature in introducing the segments was a little too much. Still, this film is too breathtaking that I can overlook it.
"Fantasia 2000" is a gorgeous follow-up to its predecessor. While some of the segments don't always work and I do think that it is a bit too short, the high points of this film are very high as it showcases just how talented the artists of Walt Disney Animation Studios are. It's a gorgeous animated film and I do highly recommend watching it. Be sure to see it on a great screen with great sound. It's a film that I can describe simply as fantastic.