Read Laura Schiff's description of the delights that are awaiting us in the new year as she outlines the sequences, actors and artistic talent behind Fantasia 2000.
When Disney's Fantasia 2000 makes its world-wide debut at IMAX theaters on January 1, 2000, it will become the first theatrical feature-length film ever released in the large-screen 70mm format. Acclaimed conductor James Levineleads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra through some of the greatest classical music ever written, with seven exciting new animated segments and one returning favorite, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." The IMAX version will run throughout April, then take a short hiatus. A 35mm version goes into wide release in summer 2000. Fantasia 2000 begins with an homage: images from the 1940 Fantasia float through the cosmos as snippets of the original music swell and recede. The images drift away, revealing several Disney artists seated beside an orchestra. The musicians tune their instruments and the artists sharpen their pencils in anticipation. Conductor James Levine approaches the podium, raises his baton, and launches us into the familiar strains of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5."
Director Pixote Hunt (The Rescuers Down Under, The Pagemaster) uses abstract imagery and pastel palette in this `good vs. evil' scenario. Says supervising director Hendel Butoy, "There are some triangular shapes that mimic butterfly motions, colorful shapes that are good or sympathetic. And then you have the antagonistic shapes, which are dark and come out of these cracks in the ground." The two groups battle for control as traditional hand-drawn animation meets innovative CG graphics in a dazzling display of color and texture.
Like the first Fantasia, Fantasia 2000 begins with an abstract sequence, Ludvig Van Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5." All images © Disney Enterprises, Inc. A pod of whales takes flight when a supernova explodes in "Pines of Rome."
Actor Steve Martin then welcomes us to Fantasia 2000 with a brief history of Walt Disney's original vision for the film. Martin introduces the great violinist Itzhak Perlman, who then leads us into the next segment, composer Ottorino Respighi's "Pines of Rome." Says director Butoy, whose previous credits include The Fox And The Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver & Company: "I like to describe this segment as a fantastic journey. When I first heard the music, the very first notion that I had, right off the bat, was a sense of flight." From this was sparked a whimsical vision of flying whales and exploding stars. "We combined computer-generated imagery of the whales and water with traditional background painting and traditional effects. We had to write our own computer code to make those things happen. I still haven't seen anyone else do what we've done."
Next, film and music producer Quincy Jones introduces Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," with Bruce Broughton conducting an orchestra of top studio musicians. Veteran Pocahontas director Eric Goldberg pays tribute to the style of legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfeld in this story set during the Jazz Age. "Eric wanted to depict a day in the life of four people in New York who have hopes and dreams that get fulfilled because of their interaction with each other," explains Butoy. "I would call it a character piece, in the sense that you get to know and feel emotion for these characters. Eric based the whole `Rhapsody in Blue' on traditional flat line work. It begins with just one line that starts to draw the whole cityscape of New York, and then from there we begin to come into the characters' lives."
Actress Bette Midler presents Shostakovich's "Piano Concerto #2, Allegro, Opus 102," with animation based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, "The Steadfast Tin Soldier." Hendel Butoy again directs. He explains, "`Tin Soldier' was actually a piece that the Disney artists had boarded and were intending to do fifty years ago, but they ended up shelving the idea. Somebody found those sketches in the archives here at Disney," and Butoy gave them new life. Computer-generated imagery blends seamlessly with traditional hand-drawn animation to tell the story of a one-legged tin soldier who battles a Jack-in-the-box for the love of a ballerina. Says Butoy, "It's a little bit of a love story, and a little bit of a story about circumstances that go your way if you stand steadfast and firm."
Director Eric Goldberg makes a cameo appearance with James Earl Jones to introduce the next segment, Camille Saint-Saëns' "Carnival Of The Animals." This light-hearted piece, with its vibrant watercolor style, celebrates the wonderful things that can happen when one dares to stand apart from the crowd. The witty, traditionally-drawn interlude begs the question, "What would happen if you gave a yo-yo to a flock of flamingoes?" It features an oddball yo-yo-toting flamingo who gets the better of his feathered friends. "Very funny and entertaining," says Butoy.
"Carnival Of The Animals" tells the story of a yo-yo-playing flamingo. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" returns from the original Fantasia, digitally re-stored.
World-famous magicians Penn and Teller are given the honor of introducing "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," the only segment that remains from the original 1940 film. Each frame of the soggy Mickey Mouse adventure, directed by James Algar, was digitally cleaned, making for the crispest possible visuals. The sound track -- with music composed by Paul Dukas, performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, and conducted by Leopold Stokowski -- was also cleaned up to eliminate pops and hissing. At the end, Mickey shakes hands with maestros Stokowski and Levine, symbolically ushering in a new era. Levine then introduces the next segment, "Pomp and Circumstance, Marches #1,2,3,4," composed by Sir Edward Elgar.
In this piece, the always-temperamental Donald Duck plays Noah's assistant, herding the world's animals 2-by-2 onto the ark. Through a series of misunderstandings, he is separated from Daisy Duck, his own better half. The ill-fated water fowl both believe the other has drowned in the great Flood. "The piece continues," says Butoy, "with them kind of missing each other and just remembering each other. They see the other animals as couples and they wish they had the other there." In the end, of course, the two love birds are reunited beneath a fabulous rainbow. The segment, directed by first-timer Francis Glebas, features rich classic style animation. Previously, Glebas was a story artist on Pocahontas, Aladdin and Hercules.
Ill-tempered Donald Duck is Noah's assistant in "Pomp and Circumstance, Marches #1,2,3,4." "The Firebird Suite," which explores death and rebirth in Nature, is the film's climax.
Venerated actress Angela Lansbury brings things to a close with Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird Suite." Long considered to be one of the most dramatic finales in all of classical music, this powerful piece provides a spectacular finish to Fantasia 2000. Recalls Butoy, "We approached Paul and Gaetan Brizzi to direct, who were, at that time, working as story artists on The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the Disney studio in Paris. Their style has a grandeur and an epic quality to it. They draw big, and the themes that they choose are these big, grand shots, so we thought they would be perfect for this piece because the music itself is huge and epic." The story they created symbolically depicts the death and rebirth of a forest following a volcanic eruption and subsequent fire, with Nature personified in three characters: a sprite, an elk and a firebird. A special "particle system" was implemented for the first time in this sequence to allow for spectacular character movement and effects.
Ultimately, Fantasia 2000 ends much as it began. As we watch the artists and musicians packing up their gear in the orchestra pit, images and music float across the screen and fade away, mimicking the style of the overture. This time, however, the scenes and sounds are from Fantasia 2000 and not the Fantasia of 1940. The torch has indeed been passed to a new generation of Disney fans.
Special thanks to Howard Green and Zelda Wong.
Prior to becoming a freelance journalist and screenwriter, Laura Schiff sold animation art for Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. Her work has been published in Animefantastique, Creative Screenwriting, People, Mademoiselle and Seventeen.