"Fantasia" is one of the most deservedly beloved classics of the cinematic canon, a rite of passage that nearly every film fan can remember experiencing for the first time. Which makes it all the more gratifying to report that "Fantasia 2000," which opens today at the Maryland Science Center, does the name proud.
Traditionalists who blanched at the thought of Disney's releasing an updated "Fantasia" -- with new animated sequences and new musical selections -- can be of good cheer. Not only is the 1940 film well served by this iteration, but it also seems that Walt Disney's original intent for the movie has begun to be realized, albeit 60 years late.
It had always been Disney's wish that new versions of "Fantasia" would be released every year, making the film a constantly evolving project rather than the icon it eventually became.
Budget limitations dashed Disney's hopes, but finally his studio has seen fit to produce a second installment. The result is every bit as colorful, enchanting, funny and captivating as the first "Fantasia," raising hope that more installments may be on the way.
From its very first frames, wherein a flock of origami butterflies flutter hither and thither to the strains of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, "Fantasia 2000" realizes the original promise of the franchise, which was to introduce young audiences to great classical music as well as to showcase the most innovative and expressive animation of the day.
That's about as abstract as it gets in a program that makes some invigorating matches of music and story.
The title of Ottorino Respighi's "Pines of Rome" may suggest a trip down the Appian Way, but sequence director Hendel Butoy instead uses it to accompany a spectacular -- and touching -- story involving a pod of magnificently breaching whales.
Butoy works magic again with Dmitri Shostakovich's "Piano Concerto No. 2," marrying the piece with Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," and Eric Goldberg uses Camille Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" to show off some nifty yo-yo tricks on the part of an iconoclastic flamingo.
Disney aficionados will be pleased to see the return of some of their heroes.
Mickey Mouse stars in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (the only sequence from the original "Fantasia" to be included here), and Donald Duck uses his leadership skills to help Noah stock the Ark in "Pomp and Circumstance" (the withering look he gives a couple of "real" ducks is priceless).
Throughout "Fantasia 2000," executive producer Roy Disney has made sure to preserve the light tone of the original, enlisting the likes of Steve Martin, Bette Midler and Penn & Teller to provide interstitial comic asides.
There are quibbles.
Goldberg, who pays homage to the cartoonist Al Hirschfeld set to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," mars an otherwise delightfully Thurberesque sequence with his rendering of a black character, whose lips and eyes are exaggeratedly drawn.
And it's difficult to see what advantage "Fantasia 2000" gets from projection in an IMAX theater, whose huge screen makes it difficult to focus on the image as a whole (a muddy-looking "Sorcerer's Apprentice" especially suffers from being blown up).
But Baltimore can be grateful that it gets a head start on "Fantasia 2000," which will open in regular theaters next summer. It doesn't matter where they see it; it's thrilling to think of a brand new generation being initiated into a lifelong love affair, whether it's with classical music, film or Mickey Mouse. Kids, you can do a whole lot worse.
Starring Steve Martin, Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn & Teller, Angela Lansbury
Directed by Pixote Hunt, Hendel Butoy, Eric Goldberg, James Algar, Francis Glebas, Gaetan Brizzi, Paul Brizzi
Running time 75 minutes
Released by Walt Disney Pictures
Sun score ***