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FANTASIA/2000 (2000) (***1/2)

While in many ways FANTASIA/2000 tries to catch lightning in a bottle and doesn't catch a full bolt, but it does catch a great deal of sparks. The film works as an homage to the 1940 masterpiece rather than a companion. Many of the sequences seem to be a reflection of one from the original. While it doesn't feel as revolutionary as FANTASIA, the follow-up touches on the same animation magic.

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While in many ways FANTASIA/2000 tries to catch lightning in a bottle and doesn't catch a full bolt, but it does catch a great deal of sparks. The film works as an homage to the 1940 masterpiece rather than a companion. Many of the sequences seem to be a reflection of one from the original. While it doesn't feel as revolutionary as FANTASIA, the follow-up touches on the same animation magic.

Like the original, this film begins with an abstract piece; this time set to Ludwig van Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5 in C minor-I. Allegro con brio." Shapes similar to butterflies and bats represent the battle between light and dark or good versus evil. The lofty themes are presented in a complexly animated way.

Next finds humpback whales receiving the ability of flight set to Ottorino Respighi's "Pines of Rome." It's the weakest sequence, because it seems stretched out to fit the music. Like many Disney shorts from the past, the film features cutesy interaction between a young whale and his parents as he gets separated behind an iceberg. On a positive note, the film ends strongly with an aerial migration of the whales and a rousing sky/water ballet as an exclamation point.

But the best sequence comes next. Set to George Gershwin's infectious "Rhapsody in Blue," the Depression-era set tale follows several characters during their day. An African-American riveter races to get to work. A laid off man walks the streets looking for a job. An Eloise-like little girl gets thrust into various activities when all she wants is to play with a ball. A kind portly red-headed man is dragged around NYC paying the bills for his wife's shopping spree. The style pays tribute to Al Hirschfeld's cartoon caricatures. Even Gershwin makes a cameo. Disney animation legend Eric Goldberg directed the sequence, perfectly timing the action and story with the music. Now whenever I hear the song I think of this sequence.

Dmitri Shostakovich's "Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major-I. Allegro" serves as the musical base to an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER. A dramatic fairy tale is something familiar to Disney. The story follows a one-legged tin soldier battling an evil jester-in-the-box over a music box ballerina. The blend of 2D and CG animation holds up better than in "Pines of Rome," creating a real emotional draw. And in another Disney tradition, the original downer ending is changed to a happier one.

Set to Camille Saint-Saëns' "The Carnival of the Animals, Finale," a flock of flamingos slide across the screen in unison and are disrupted by a goofy flamingo that wants to play with a yo-yo. It reminded me of the Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours" sequence in the original where a himpo danced with an alligator. Directed by Goldberg, the sequence again shows off the veteran animator's amazing sense of timing and humor. He is clearly responsible for the freshest sequences in the production.

The film directly connects the original and the follow-up next with the inclusion of the original "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence, starring Mickey Mouse and some troublesome moving brooms. This sequence seems to have influenced the next original piece, which stars Disney icon Donald Duck. Set to Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance - Marches 1, 2, 3 and 4," Donald plays Noah who tries to round up the animals, while getting separated from his beloved Daisy. The music works well with the story, but it's hard not to imagine the animals donning graduation caps. The 2D animation is slick and epic, fitting the material. I did find it curious that in 1940, FANTASIA included a sequence about the evolutionary creation of the planet, and in 2000, it features a religious tale.

The film ends strong with Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite - 1919 Version," which harkens back to the original's epic "Night at Bald Mountain” ending. After a long winter, the spring sprite awakes the green of the forest, but also awakes the firebird in a volcano that sets out to destroy everything in its path. An elk fights to survive and inspires the sprite to bring the forest back from destruction. The character design of the sprite is elegant, the elk majestic and the firebird powerful. It's a beautiful and dramatic sequence and perfectly fits as a powerful closing note.

Some of the complaints of the original were that the live-action introductions to the sequences were stiff and humorless. Director/producer Don Hahn remedies this problem with lighter introductions that still retain sophistication. They also bring the film some star wattage with the likes of Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn and Teller, Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones and Angela Lansbury.

The original FANTASIA showed of the best in animation and special effects of its day. While FANTASIA/2000 doesn't innovate like the original, it still represents the best in animation for its era. Each sequence is cleanly produced with great fanfare. The designs are beautiful and grand. If FANTASIA is like watching classic art dance across the screen, the follow-up is like watching pop art dancing across the screen. Each represent their age in that way. FANTASIA/2000 reminds us how animation can create unique screen magic.

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