ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.7 - OCTOBER 1999

A New Life For Fantasia
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Compare and Contrast
Certainly the new edition strives for the same variety that characterized the original: it brings together such varied fare as an abstract opening to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, an illustration of "Pomp and Circumstance" which somehow inserts Donald Duck into the story of Noah's Ark, and a surreal journey by airborne whales to Respighi's "Pines of Rome." The finale of Saint-Saëns' "Carnival of the Animals" is illustrated by a cartoon concept supplied by Joe Grant, the brilliant story artist who contributed so much to the original Fantasia. Roy Disney feels that the new segment based on Stravinsky's "The Firebird" packs an emotional punch similar to that of the "Night on Bald Mountain"/"Ave Maria" segment in the original film. "We were very hard put to find something that musically, in the right amount of time, covered that kind of emotional ground, and it really works for us just beautifully."

Interestingly, personality animation -- usually conceded as the Disney studio's leading concern during the golden 1930s -- seemed to take a back seat in the original Fantasia. Some of Disney's best earlier films had been built entirely around the delineation of character, a discipline which had served the studio well in Snow White and Pinocchio. Fantasia takes a different tack, concentrating on rich visual experimentation and its connection with the music. But it is a multifaceted work, and nuggets of character animation are woven throughout. It's a revealing experience to watch Fantasia with an audience; invariably there is an audible, enthused reaction to the appearances of the baby Pegasus in the "Pastoral" and the Chinese mushrooms in the "Nutcracker Suite."

Roy Disney avers that the production team was careful to build strong personalities into the new film as well. "I think we've probably got more of those memorable moments packed into this one than were there before," he says. "There are personalities within each of the pieces, even the Beethoven, the opening piece which is very abstract, there are characters in it. And they have an arc to them, they go somewhere."

One major difference between the two films is that all the segments in the original Fantasia were controlled by a central authority: the personal vision of Walt Disney. Roy Disney has exercised a nominal control over Fantasia 2000, but has assembled creative input from diverse sources. At its best, the film will apparently combine the best of both contemporary animation worlds: the independence of individual artists backed by the resources of a major studio. A case in point is Eric and Sue Goldberg's segment based on Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," a stylized fantasy depicting the stories of four disparate characters in 1930s New York, rendered in the style of Al Hirschfeld. Eric Goldberg originally tackled the segment as an independent project. "We looked at a rough version of `Rhapsody' with Eric, who was just making it to be making it, and the truth was nobody knew quite where it was going to go at first," Disney recalls. "I just leaned over, he was sitting right in front of me, and I said, `This belongs in Fantasia, Eric.'"

At one time Fantasia 2000 was planned to include three segments from the original Fantasia; but only "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (above) remains in the finished feature.

Another Chance
Strictly speaking, little of the original Fantasia will be on view in the new edition. At one time it was planned to include three of the original segments; of the three, only "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" will survive in the finished feature. "The Dance of the Hours" was replaced by "Rhapsody in Blue." "The Nutcracker Suite" was dropped from the lineup just within the last few months, a casualty of preview screenings which revealed it as an unintentional lull in the context of the new pieces. Disney theorizes that the leisurely pace of "Nutcracker," combined with audience familiarity, worked against it. "In that mix," he says ruefully, "it was the signal to go to the bathroom. I worked like hell trying to keep some of the old stuff in because I love it so much. But we had a couple of runnings with an audience, and both times it was just -- you knew you had to take it out." The lovely segment created in the early 1940s to Debussy's "Clair de lune" (the animation later recycled for "Blue Bayou" in Make Mine Music) has been restored, and seems an obvious candidate for Fantasia 2000. Disney acknowledges that it was considered, but rejected because "it's pretty boring."

In light of the history behind Fantasia, an obvious question presents itself: is this truly a continuation of the original film -- that is, an open-ended venture with more segments planned for the future -- or another fixed entity? The answer is still unknown. Roy Disney says that he and all the artists concerned would love to continue the process indefinitely ("I hated to stop"), but acknowledges that in 2000, as in 1940, the studio is dependent on the boxoffice. Apathetic audience reaction forced Walt Disney to abandon his vision of an ever-changing film; time and the audience may yet affirm that it was only temporarily postponed.

J.B. Kaufman is an independent film historian who has written extensively on early Disney animation. He is co-author, with Russell Merritt, of Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney, and the two are completing a second book on the Silly Symphonies.

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