Monday, November 18, 2013

Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray Special Edition

Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray Special EditionThis movie is a worthy successor to the original Fantasia movie. The artwork in all the pieces was superb (although, you could tell the art from "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is old). This movie, as with the original, gave me a greater appreciation of classical music, while entertaining me with impressive visual imagery.

The pieces are as follows:

Beethoven, Symphony #5. A classical piece of music (who can't identify it upon hearing it?) portrayed as a good vs. evil contest.

Respighi, Pines of Rome. Flying whales!! A great piece of music which builds to a fantastic finish. Has some cute moments with a baby whale.

Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue. Easily the best (and longest) piece in the movie. Done in the drawing style of Al Hirschfeld, a magical tale is told of four people in Depression-era New York. A heartwarming, moving piece.

Shostakovich, Piano Concerto # 2 Allegro Opus 102. A charming piece of music, used to tell the story of the Steadfast Tin Solder. Some of the scenes in this piece may be scary for little kids.

Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals, Finale. A (very) short, but very funny piece which answers the age old question: "What happens when you give a flamingo a yo-yo?" I was laughing out loud at this one.

Dukas, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. This is the same piece as from the original 1940 movie. Still worth watching after all these years.

Elgar, Pomp and Circumstance. Donald and Daisy Duck star in this reinactment of the story of Noah's Ark. Fun to watch and enjoyable.

Stravinsky, Firebird Suite. A wonderful story about life, death and rebirth. The piece builds to a wonderful ending, both in the story and in the music. Some of the younger children may be scared by some of the scenes in this piece as well.

Overall, this movie is a wonderful addition to any home video library.

The original "Fantasia" was extremely experimental animation that attempted to broaden the appeal of animation at a time when animation primarily appealed to children. Walt Disney intended that the original "Fantasia," according to Roy Disney's commentary on the DVD, be a continuously changing work of art that would be different, and yet familiar, every time you watched it. "Fantasia 2000" is an attempt to be true to that vision.

There are eight vignettes captured in the 74 minutes of this all-too-short DVD, with introductions for each of the vignettes by a host of familiar names such as Steve Martin, James Earl Jones, Penn and Teller, and Angela Lansbury, among others. I think that some of the vignettes work as well or better than those in the original, and others are okay but barely match the original.

The two vignettes that I enjoyed the best are "Pines of Rome" and "Firebird Suit 1919 Version." In the former we see a fantastic vision of whales that is wonderfully surrealistic and beautiful. The only flaw in the wonderful vision is that the vision ended all too soon. There is a lot in the vision that the animators could have been explored in much more depth. The "Firebird Suite 1919 Version" includes a phenomenally-animated nymph. This nymph combined a flavor of Japanese Manga with traditional Disney animation to create a character style that is wondrous and beautiful. I longed for this segment to last longer.

Disney animators once again created a new classic short in "Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102," which provides the music for "The Steadfast Tin Soldier." The story-telling is quite taut and well organized. However, just as with the "Pines of Rome" story, Disney animators could have expanded this vignette significantly.

The remaining vignettes vary in quality and length. There is a cute new Donald Duck story with Noah's Ark as the backdrop, set to the music of "Pomp and Circumstance." There is a clever story set in New York City set to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." There is pure silliness involving a group of flamingos and a yo-yo in "Carnival of the Animals, Finale." The one vignette remaining from the original is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" starring Mickey Mouse, a classic for all times and ages.

In addition to the film there are two musically-based animated shorts, "Melody" and "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom." Both are clever and have made appearances on one of the original "Worlds of Disney" weekly shows and on The Disney Channel. There are also extensive commentaries and making of features that are okay if you are into the reasoning behind making of the movie and the process by which the music and concept for each of the features was selected, but much of it was pretty dry.

On the down side, this DVD does feel like it should have been part of the original "Fantasia" to create a single work of adequate length and scope. I suspect that one day Disney will re-release both works on a single DVD, and I'll likely have to have that one too to keep my collection complete. On the up side, all of the animation is equal to or better than traditional Disney animation, and two particular works I thought were extremely good. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra provided the excellent music throughout, and makes this DVD and the original an easy way to introduce anyone to classic works of music. While the DVD is too short, the quality is excellent and well worth having in any collection of Disney animation, especially if you liked the original "Fantasia."

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(2008 HOLIDAY TEAM)I was fortunate enough to see this at an IMAX theater. It was an amazing experience, to be surrounded by such wondrous music and imagery. The animation is of the highest quality, seamlessly blending modern and older styles. It will be interesting to see how the film plays out on a more intimate screen.

Although some of the pieces stand out more than others, they all had charm. " The Pines of Rome" is the most popular segment, featuring lush computer animation of blue whales soaring through the arctic ice until they take off into the sky. Disney really did a job on this one, with just enough of a story to balance out the imagery. Clearly borrowing from the art of Charles Vess, "Firebird Suite" is a pretty fairy piece with a bit of fire and danger. "Rhapsody in Blue" is as close to perfect as you need to get, blending a great Gershwin tune with Al Hersfield's familiar style. And of course, one can never get enough yo-yoing flamingos.

My personal favorite is "Pomp and Circumstance," as it made me hear a piece of music, and not just the background track to graduation ceremonies. It really took me by surprise, and this is always a good thing. I also really enjoyed the participation of Donald Duck, who is usually my least favorite Disney character. It is a very heart warming segment.

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Who would have believed it? It really is a worthy successor to Fantasia.

Everyone's already said that it's excellent music and excellent animation which is true.

What's been left out is that it's an incredible overview of all the best of what Disney animation has to offer. Even the introduction uses animation techniques impossible a few short years ago. It offers a proper tribute to the original while setting the stage (literally) for a whole new series of wonders.

Beethoven's Fifth is stylized abstract animation -just a glorious celebration of color, shapes and music, with a complexity impossible without modern computer enhancing techniques.

Pines of Rome adds new dimensions to CGI animation. The whales are quite realistic, and their movements are serene and joyful.

The Rhapsody in Blue segment combines a distinctive Anerican music style (Gershwin) to an equally distinctive American art style (Hirschfeld). Its stylized story-telling is delightful (and I would never have believed that a segment of Fantasia would ever be set in New York City). Don't recognize the name Hirschfeld? Well, neither did I but I recognized that style of caricature instantly. And so will you.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier is an excellent example of adapting a traditional fairy tale to modern animation. It's classic Disney story-telling with modern techniques, and the movement and art styles of the three main characters make them visually distinctive as well as helping the characterizations.

The Carnival of the Animals is zany cartooning at its frenetic and silly best.

Mickey in the Sorcerer's Apprentice is as good an example of Classic Disney as you could hope for.

You can almost see the storyboard developing in Pomp and Circumstance. "The music is associated now primarily with graduation processions, so let's attach it to a traditional procession the animals entering the Ark. We want some humor, so let's use Donald. We'll put him in charge of the animals that will allow a lot of slapstick. Now, Walt always said for every laugh there must be a tear. How do we generate tears for Donald? He's lost Daisy, of course." It's a symbiotic whole of silliness, pomp, traditional story-telling, animated animals, sadness, joy, and love.

The Phoenix is a natural tale of death and rebirth, using animal, plant, and volcanic movements that are precise, beautiful, incredibly realistic, and compellingly moving.

The movie as a whole is incredible for animation fans, compelling for music fans, fascinating for artists, and satisfying for those (like me) for whom the original Fantasia is one of the best movies ever made.

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The original `Fantasia', released in 1940, was meant to be the first in a series of similar movies; collections of animated shorts set to classical music. It's a format I can identify withas a kid, I habitually made up stories while listening to orchestral recordings. Here, animators have done the same thing in visual form.

`Fantasia 2000' was formatted to be shown in Imax theaters. Unfortunately, Imaxes being so few and far apart, I never got a chance to see it on the Really Big Screen, and I know I've missed something. I can only advise fellow video-viewers to watch this one on the largest available TV.

Another alteration; rather than featuring a single anonymous narrator, `2000' uses on-screen celebrities. I'm not sure this is any improvement , but at least some of them (Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones) have done previous Disney voice work, a couple (Quincy Jones, Itzhak Perlman) have bona-fide musical credentials, and one (Steve Martin) manages to be genuinely funny. Still, there's no doubt that the music and pictures are the real Stars of this flick.

Following the pattern of it's illustrious predecessor, the opening pieceset to the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphonyis semi-abstract. A conflict between hordes of black and pastel-colored butterflies is involved, but the real points of interest are the variant lighting effects.

Next comes Ottorino Respighi's `Pines of Rome', accompanied by images straight off a New Age calendar. A nova appears in the sky above the Arctic Ocean, inexplicitly giving the power of flight to a large pod of humpback whales. No plot to speak of; it's just an excuse to present hundreds of whales frolicking among storm clouds. Which is certainly good enough for me!

In contrast, the following set is completely concerned with story-telling. Al Hirschfeld, acknowledged master of the affectionate caricature, provides the line-drawing style to accompany George Gershwin's `Rhapsody In Blue.' A day in the life of four variant New Yorkers, each of whom longs for something, and achieves it (at least temporarily) by the piece's end. Strikingly apt in it's depiction of a uniquely Manhattan mood, it also includes an unprecedented Disney acknowledgement of racismat one point, an African-American construction worker is repeatedly ignored by the taxis he's trying to flag down.

Shostakovich's `Piano Concerto #2' provides the soundtrack for Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" (or rather a version of that taleper usual for Disney, Andersen's sad ending has been perked up.) This is the only section of the movie done entirely with computer-generated animation, which seems appropriate; it *is* a toy story.

Next: a brief, highly energetic cartoon. One member of a flamingo flock acquires a yo-yo, entanglements ensue, to the sounds of Saint-Saens' `Carnival of the Animals' finale. Easily the most amusingly silly segment.

Then comes a transplant from the original `Fantasia'; Mickey Mouse in Dukas' `The Sorcerer's Apprentice.' Nothing more to say about that.

Apparently somebody at Disney thought Donald Duck deserved a similar showcase, for he has a comparable role in the next piece. Donald and Daisy are Noah's assistants in the story of the Ark, set to Edward William Elgar's `Pomp and Circumstance' (the first time I've heard that work played in it's entirety.) Donald without his voice is definitely more diminished than a mute Mickey, but the duck manages some funny bits without itI loved his double-take after directing a pair of mallards aboard. And there's some genuine pathos when Donald and Daisy, separated in a loading mix-up, are both led to believe the other missed the boat. These two Disney love-birds have never been more sympathetic.

They saved the best for last. Igor Stravinsky's powerful `Firebird' frames a dramatic account of the Mount Saint Helen's eruption, with some mythical entities added. A verdant-tressed sprite represents life and renewal, while a truly frightening Firebird symbolizes the destructive power of the volcano. Their's is a primordial clash, but it's inevitable which one will finally win, and Stravinsky's score makes that triumph nearly as moving as the real-life events.

Overall, I'd say this video is not *quite* as good as the first `Fantasia', but as the original is among my all-time favorite movies, that's hardly criticism. Certainly `2000' is a very fine effort, well worthy of a sequel.

Here's hoping the gap between this and the next Fantasia will be somewhat shorter than sixty years.

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