Directed by James Algar, Gaetan Brizzi, Paul Brizzi, Hendel Butoy, Francis Glebas, Eric Goldberg, and Pixote Hunt
Starring: Steve Martin, Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn (Jillette) and Teller, James Levine, Angela Lansbury.
MPAA Rating: G

Review by Matt Heffernan
January 18, 2000

In 1940, Walt Disney released his third animated feature: Fantasia. It consisted of several vignettes that set animation to classical music. His original intent was to continually update Fantasia to contain new segments, and re-release the film periodically with the new cuts. Unfortunately, Fantasia was not very successful, and the project was abandoned. Popularity eventually developed for the film as it was re-released (unchanged, of course) and eventually brought to video. Now, Disney's nephew Roy E. Disney has personally revived the project.

The original Fantasia was one of the first films with stereo sound, and this new version also attempts to push the technological envelope. It is presented in the IMAX format, which uses horizontal 70mm film, which provides a much clearer picture than standard anamorphic 35mm. Also, it's generally projected on a much bigger screen than normal films. For this ostentatious presentation, Disney has created seven new segments to be edited with the original's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment, starring Mickey Mouse.

As before, the selections cover a varied range. A purely abstract vision is created for the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Gerswin's "Rhapsody in Blue" becomes a slapstick adventure for New Yorkers during the 1930's. Even Elgar's familiar "Pomp and Circumstance" gets a fresh treatment: Donald Duck directing the animals onto Noah's Ark.

If anything, Fantasia/2000 is more of a throwback to the earliest Disney animation than a new artistic direction. Even though computer graphics are extensively used, the style of the animation is very old-fashioned. Ironically, the digitized animation is a detraction with the IMAX format. With the lack of a course grain, the pixels are quite visible on the big screen. If they had gone analog all the way to printing the film, each line would have been crystal-clear. But most people won't even notice these details. Instead, they will be taken aback by the sheer majesty of the picture.

For this film, however, the picture is only half of the deal. James Levine conducts new recordings of these classic works for the soundtrack. These performances are good, but I was somewhat disappointed by the sound quality. I had hoped that the system would be more sophisticated, making it sound like a live concert. All the digital technology and subwoofers in the world will never be able to duplicate that precise sound. Again, I am asking a bit much, but the state-of-the-art should be at least a little more impressive.

Unless you really can't wait, I would suggest waiting until the 35mm print is released this summer. The pixels will fade away, and not much else will be lost. IMAX is still a format that is primarily for live action, but this is a necessary step for the technology.

A little side note: If you are just as much a nitpicker as myself, then the "Rhapsody in Blue" segment should be even more entertaining. The visual style is based on the cartoons of Al Hirschfeld, who is famous for putting his daughter's name, Nina, in all his drawings. In this film, look for "DOUG" to be in each of the backgrounds. If you are a fan of Hirschfeld, I would highly recommend seeing the documentary The Line King.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Fantasia/2000 (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
Fantasia/2000 (1999) -- VHS
Fantasia/2000 (1999) -- DVD
The Fantasia Anthology -- DVD (3-Disc Collector's Set)
Fantasia 2000: Visions of Hope, by John Culhane and Roy E. Disney -- Hardcover
Fantasia 2000: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan