Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Fantasia/2000

By Marjorie Baumgarten

JUNE 26, 2000: 

D: Pixote Hunt, Hendel Butoy, Eric Goldberg, James Algar, Francis Glebas, Gaetan Brizzi, Paul Brizzi; with Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Quincy Jones, Penn & Teller. (G, 75 min.)

Disney would have us believe that their new Fantasia/2000 is the greatest thing since sliced white bread, or at least since the opening of Disney World or the original 1940 Fantasia. In bigger-than-life fashion, Fantasia/2000 played a limited run this winter in Imax theatres around the world, premiering on New Year's Eve to usher in the millennium. Now, in the spring of the new Disney era, the Mouse House has downsized the film from its giant format and released it in regular-sized proportions for another four-week theatrical run. Seven new episodes have been created for Fantasia/2000 and one ­ the ever-popular "Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence ­ was borrowed from the original and placed in this new version. The overall result is better in theory than in practice. Much is made of the idea that Disney's original intention for Fantasia was for it to be an ongoing work, pairing animation and classical music to create something called a "concert film." Despite the loftiness of these oft-stated aspirations, the strategy seems a tactical ploy to upgrade the culturally lowbrow status of animation by its association with highbrow music, kind of a Classic Comics approach to the Great Books, the end result being a product desired by kids and grown-ups alike. Yet several things have changed in the intervening 60 years between the two Fantasias. Animation has grown up. Hardly a month goes by without a major theatrical release of an animated feature film. Kids are all-too-familiar with its techniques, and adults write learned books and dissertations on the subject. Music videos have also invaded our lives, altogether eliminating the novelty of the technological coupling of music and images. Additionally, by focusing solely on classical music (the most recent piece in Fantasia/2000 is by George Gershwin), there emerges an unspoken subtext that implies that "important" or "serious" music only consists of orchestral works by dead composers. The live interstitial segments featuring popular performers such as Bette Midler, Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury, and Penn & Teller ­ all dressed in formal wear ­ further encourage the idea that this is the kind of presentation for which black tie is expected. Nevertheless, despite my gripes,Fantasia/2000 is a lovely work, probably best appreciated by baby boomers and their parents rather than their children. The first two sequences in Fantasia/2000 highlight near-abstract images darting about to music. Okay, the sequence with the dolphins dancing about in a lovely water ballet isn't exactly abstract, just rather "uneventful." Other sequences boast different animation styles and provide a nice survey of the state of the art. The music is conducted by James Levine and performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who, like conductor Leopold Stokowski in the original, also get into the act. Fantasia/2000 will no doubt become a Disney perennial, but that does not by definition make it a classic.

3 Stars

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