Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Title: Fantasia 2000
Budget: $80–$85 million
Box office: $90.9 million
Fantasia is timeless. It may run 10, 20 or 30 years. It may run after I’m gone. Fantasia is an idea in itself. I can never build another Fantasia. I can improve. I can elaborate. That’s all. —Walt Disney
In 1940, Walt Disney released Fantasia, and he planned to have the film on continual release with new segments replacing older ones. The idea of a sequel was revived shortly after Michael Eisner became chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company in 1984 when Walt’s nephew, vice chairman Roy E. Disney, suggested it to him at a lunch, something that first entered his mind ten years earlier.
After the 1990 reissue of Fantasia grossed $25 million domestically and its 1991 home video release prompted 9.25 million pre-orders, Eisner finally gave the green-light to the film in 1991. Roy Disney and Walt Disney Feature Animation president Thomas Schumacher invited Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine. Originally they were gojng to keep half of the segments from the original fulm, but ended up only keeping The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the final program as a homage to Fantasia.
Segments: Symphony No. 5 (first movement) by Ludwig van Beethoven. 1 It’s probably the most famous piece of classical music. Beethoven was in his mid-thirties during this time; his personal life was troubled by increasing deafness. The world was going through the Napoleonic Wars, and Vienna was occupied by Napoleon’s troops in 1805.
Abstract patterns and shapes that resemble butterflies in various colorful shades, tints and hues explore a world of light and darkness whilst being pursued by a swarm of black bats.
Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. 2 The piece is a suite of four movements, each depicting pine trees located in different areas in the city of Rome at different times of the day.
A family of humpback whales are able to fly.
Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. 3 Band leader Paul Whiteman asked Gershwin to contribute a concerto-like piece for an all-jazz concert he would give in Aeolian Hall in February 1924 after he had collaborated with Gershwin 4 in the Scandals of 1922.
Set in New York City in the 1930s, and designed in the style of Al Hirschfeld’s 5 known caricatures of the time, the story follows four individuals, Duke, Joe, Rachel, and John, who wish for a better life.
Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102 by Dmitri Shostakovich. 6 It was composed in 1957 for his son Maxim’s 19th birthday. Maxim premiered the piece during his graduation at the Moscow Conservatory.
“The Steadfast Tin Soldier” by Hans Christian Andersen, a broken toy soldier with one leg falls in love with a toy ballerina and protects her from an evil jack-in-the-box (this version has a happy ending).
The Carnival of the Animals (Le Carnival des Animaux), Finale by Camille Saint-Saëns. 7 Following a disastrous concert tour of Germany in 1885–86, Saint-Saëns withdrew to a small Austrian village, where he composed The Carnival of the Animals in February 1886. Each movement is a different animal, with the finale combining all of them.
A flock of flamingoes tries to force a slapstick member, who enjoys playing with a yo-yo, to engage in the flock’s “dull” routines.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas, from the original film, introduced by Penn & Teller.
Pomp and Circumstance – Marches 1, 2, 3 and 4 by Edward Elgar. 8 March No. 1 is often known simply as “Pomp and Circumstance” or as “The Graduation March” and is played as the processional tune at graduation ceremonies. It was first played at such a ceremony on 28 June 1905, at Yale University.
Based on the story of Noah’s Ark from the Book of Genesis, Donald Duck is Noah’s assistant and Daisy Duck is Donald’s wife. Donald is given the task of gathering the animals to the Ark and misses, loses, and reunites with Daisy in the process.
Firebird Suite 1919 Version by Igor Stravinsky. 9 It is from a Russian ballet, where Prince Ivan chases and captures the Firebird and is about to kill her. She begs for her life and he spares her. As a token of thanks she offers him an enchanted feather that he can use to summon her should he be in dire need.
A Sprite is awoken by her companion, an elk, and accidentally wakes the Firebird, a fiery spirit of destruction in a nearby volcano who destroys the forest and seemingly the Sprite.
Critical Reception: Roger Ebert gave the film a rating of three stars out of four. He described some of the animation, such as Firebird Suite, his favorite segment, as “powerful” though others, like the dance of the abstract triangles in Symphony No. 5, “a little pedestrian”. He admired Rhapsody in Blue and its interlocking stories, pointing out its style was reminiscent of the Madeline picture books by Ludwig Bemelmans. He thought Pines of Rome presented itself well in the IMAX format and found the Piano Concerto No. 2 played “wonderfully as a self-contained film”.
Legacy: There isn’t a lot in the parks from the films with the exception of the All-Star Movies resort, which was built around this time. The main pool is themed after The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the resort has decor featuring the tin soldier, the ballerina, the jack in the box, Donald, and Daisy.
My take: Rhapsody is my favorite piece. You all know I am a theatre guy, and growing up I would check out the Hirschfeld each week at the school library and dream of Broadway stardom. Combine that with one of my favorite composers, and you have the quintessential portait of New York City. I was living in Queens in 2000 and I felt the got the spirit of the city just right. I remember watching that piece with glee.
I get the impression that the whale sequence was done to show that they could do it, because that’s a lot of whale at the end. The computer animation works really well with artifical characters like we saw in Toy Story, and it works for the Tin soldier.
Firebird was gorgeous to took at.
Next Week: We explore the first film in this series that I haven’t seen yet: Dinosaur