Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fantasia 2000


I still feel very full of manic energy. I barely slept a wink last night, even after retooling all the holiday decorations on the grounds of Chateau Maine. I spent this morning on the phone with my manager, Joseph, and my publicist, Madame Rose, discussing new ways in which the world of Mrs. Norman Maine can be brought to the unenlightened masses. Madame Rose has suggested a major media campaign using the Rosie O'Donnell show, Entertainment Tonight, and a stint as a guest decorator on 'Home and Garden Television' as a means to really bring the all American messages of my new kabuki musical to a public dying for quality entertainment. 

She may be right, my new musical, Bridget Over Troubled Waters, a kabuki adaptation of the film The Last Seduction, is not just a simple tale of a girl from the city done in by the evil forces of a bucolic small town. It's a metaphor for this American life. It has important things to say to all my fellow countrymen and women. I've just sent a memo to the designers that all the costumes and sets need to be junked for a new color scheme in red, white and blue which will embrace the spirit of the times. I've also asked our talented author, Barry Manilow, to pen a new haiku tune for a special patriotic guest star to sing in the first act. We're trying to get Lynne Cheney for opening week and then rotate the spot to other fabulous Americans who have been so nobly upholding the founding principles of this country. People like John Ashcroft and Tom DeLay. 

I was so bursting with ideas that I absolutely had to take myself off to the home theater with a cup of tea to calm back down again. I once again felt the need for a full dose of color and music and so I inserted the DVD of Disney's Fantasia 2000 into the machine. Walt Disney, when he conceived the original Fantasia in the late 1930s had had grandiose ideas about animating additional classical pieces over the years and preliminary work was started on some of them, but the financial failure of the first film in its initial release squashed those plans. 

In the mid 1980s, Disney Studios were in a creative slump. The animation department was dependent on trite formulas and there was some talk, early in the Eisner regime, of jettisoning the division entirely. At that point, Walt's nephew, Roy Disney, took charge of the animation group and, with an infusion of new blood and new ideas, brought it roaring back to life with new classics such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. In the mid 90s, with animation firmly on top once again, Roy turned to Walt's long neglected dream of Fantasia as a continuing concert experience. Work was begun on new sequences. James Levine of the Metropolitan Opera was brought in to conduct and oversee the music and the original concept was to release a film that incorporated some of the original segments and some new segments. 

As the project developed, more and more of the older material was deleted for the new segments until only The Sorcerer's Apprentice remained of the original film. In order to make the film the same sort of event the original was, Disney decided to make the film an IMAX release, rather than a standard film. This marketing strategy piqued interest, but also kept the film to just over an hour. IMAX theaters tend to play features no longer than 70 minutes so they can schedule a new show every 90 minutes as they tend to be part of other attractions of limited hours. The new material included Beethoven's Symphony #5, Respighi's The Pines of Rome, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Shostakovich's Piano Concerto #2, Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals, Elgar's Marches and Stravinsky's The Firebird. 

As in the original, all are tied together with interstitial sequences featuring the orchestra and narration. Unlike the dignified Deems Taylor, the studio went with film personalities with minimal ties to classical music. Instead of dignity, we get Better Midler and Steve Martin jokes. The interstitials are best fast-forwarded through. The set design for the interstitials is lovely but the people are irritating. 

Symphony #5 
Like the original, this first piece is designed to set the mood through a series of abstractions. Unlike the billowing colors of Bach's Toccata and Fuge in D Minor, here there are great fountains and splashes of color in brilliant hues and a bit of a visual story involving butterfly shapes. the music sounds exquisite, but Beethoven's famous symphony has been reduced to about three minutes in length. They should have called it 'Highlights from Symphony #5'. 

The Pines of Rome 
Resphigi's piece is a story piece about the Roman legions and Rome as the center of the world. In this version, we have happy whales who seem to have escaped from all the kitschy art pieces for sale in tropical resort boutiques. They fly through the air with the greatest of ease and splash in extra-dimensional seas. I didn't particularly care for it but Patrick Flanagan, my cat, loved it. Perhaps it reminded him of tuna. 

Rhapsody in Blue 
This piece was actually developed as an independent short seperate from the Fantasia 2000 project and incorporated later. It's a tale of a mythical 1930s New York City, drawn in the style of the great theater artist Al Hirschfeld. The marriage of Hirschfeld's strong line, Gershwin's jazzy symphonic music, and the urban setting are perfect. It's a minor masterpiece. 

The Sorcerer's Apprentice 
The original segment has been cleaned up and the score rerecorded with modern technology. It shows just how good the classic Disney animators were as it holds up as being as good as the modern segments, without the benefit of all the modern technology. Mickey has never been better. 

Piano Concerto #2 
Hans Christian Andersen's tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, once considered for a Disney feature, is told here. The style is the computer animation favored by the Pixar division. The music and story hold together well, and there are some great moments, but the need to wrap things up quickly leads to some short cuts and Andersen's bittersweet ending has been replaced, as Disney usually does, with something happier. 

Carnival of the Animals 
An inspired little piece of lunacy - what would happen if a group of flamingos got hold of a yo-yo? The original thought was to bring back the ostriches from Dance of the Hours but changed to flamingos to allow for more experimentation with color. 

Donald Duck is allowed equal time with Mickey as Noah's assistant needing to help him load the ark and take care of the animals. Daisy also appears as a Sleepless in Seattle type love interest who keeps missing her man. The most famous of the Elgar marches, best known as 'Pomp and Circumstance' from graduation ceremonies, is used for the parade of the animals two by two and is glorious. The rest is not a great fit of music and image. 

The Firebird 
In an attempt to echo the sacred/profane dichotomy of the original's finale, the last segment is a meditation on the destruction and regeneration of nature. Using Mount Saint Helens as inspiration, the animators create a firebird of enormous power from an erupting volcano, countered by a green sprite who brings life back from the ashes. The animation is magical, especially in the stunning finale. 

The shorter length, hokey interstitials, and a couple of weak segments, make this a lesser film than the original, but still a worthwhile rent or addition to the collection. It remains a good way to introduce the young to the power of music and image. 

The DVD contains the film in its original proportions in a fine transfer. The soundtrack is marvelous in Dolby 5.1. There is a special on the creation of the film and a commentary track featuring James Levine and Roy Disney that is awfully self congratulatory. 

Outer space orchestra set. Black butterfly things. trapped baby whale. Ice skating New Yorkers. Disobedient brooms. Evil jack-in-the-box. Flamingo in log. Precious locket. Majestic elk. 

No comments:

Post a Comment