Reimagining a classic

'Fantasia 2000' is true to Walt Disney's idea of marrying animation and music -- and this time around it gets the IMAX treatment

January 02, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

"Fantasia 2000" is what Walt Disney had in mind all along.

In the late 1930s, when he and maestro Leopold Stokowski began formulating plans for what would become the original "Fantasia," Disney's thought was to create a marriage of animation and music that would be updated annually, with new pieces replacing old. If nothing else, he thought, such an effort would introduce more and more of the public to more and more of the music Disney so loved.

But studio finances, public indifference and war got in the way. When it opened in 1940, "Fantasia," with its seven separate segments, featuring everything from Mickey Mouse to a Tyrannosaurus Rex to the Devil himself, was not the success Disney had hoped for. While some critics praised it, others excoriated it as a desecration, and the public seemed indifferent. (The film did not make back its $2.3 million cost until after re-releases.)

And when the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Disney turned much of his studio's efforts toward producing propaganda cartoons and film shorts for the war effort.

Now, almost 60 years later, Roy E. Disney, chairman of Disney's Feature Animation division, has returned to his uncle's original concept. "Fantasia 2000," which opened yesterday, brings back one segment from the original film -- Mickey Mouse hauling water to the tune of Paul Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" -- and introduces seven new ones.

The limited release has it playing at 75 IMAX theaters (including the Maryland Science Center) in 16 countries. By comparison, Disney's "Toy Story 2" recently opened on more than 3,000 theater screens.

But this time around should prove smoother sailing. Many critics, including Ann Hornaday of The Sun, have warmly embraced the film. (Terry Teachout, music critic for Time magazine, sniffed about the film's pedestrian musical choices, to which Disney counters, "That's sort of music critic talk, and I'm not sure I understand it.") And while booking it exclusively in IMAX theaters until the spring limits the film's potential audience, it also makes the release of "Fantasia 2000" more of an event -- one that's certain to generate excitement and publicity. "There's more box office in the IMAX theaters than people think," Disney says over the phone from New York on the afternoon of the film's Carnegie Hall premiere. " `Everest' made, I think, $85 million at IMAX theaters. Plus, IMAX theaters have such incredible sound, and I think that fits in with what we're trying to do with the film."

The sound certainly accounts for one of the film's most amusing segments, as Mickey Mouse -- fresh from his performance in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" -- goes looking for Donald Duck, who is late for his appearance. While conductor James Levine stalls for time, Mickey's voice is heard from various points around the theater, searching for Donald.

As originally conceived, "Fantasia" was to contain a similar bit. "Flight of the Bumblebee" was to be performed with the music surrounding movie audiences like a swarm of bees. Unfortunately, the segment never made it into the film.

Eric Goldberg, who directed two of the segments in "Fantasia 2000," suggests that opening in the IMAX format, with its huge screen and advanced sound systems, is in keeping with the Walt Disney spirit. "It's a logical extension of Walt's innovations for the first `Fantasia,' " Goldberg says. "He basically created an entire new sound system [dubbed Fantasound] for the film. I think IMAX is a great way to present `Fantasia 2000,' both in terms of the enhanced visuals and the enhanced sound."

Both Disney and Goldberg say that the responsibility of updating a classic -- particularly one that meant so much to Walt Disney -- was never far from their minds during production. "All of us felt the weight of the original on our shoulders," says Goldberg, whose contributions to "Fantasia 2000" are "Rhapsody In Blue," a delightful Valentine to New York City, drawn in the style of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, and "Carnival of the Animals (Le Carnival des Animaux), Finale," which gives a spirited flamingo the chance to show off his prowess with a yo-yo. "We all grew up with it, we all thought the original was absolutely wonderful. Hoping to add to that legacy is daunting, to say the least." "I kept imagining the two of them looking over my shoulder," says Disney, who served as the new film's executive producer and whose father, Roy, was Walt's brother and business partner. "I think they would like what we've done."

Although no plans exist to run the two versions of "Fantasia" on the same bill; Disney wouldn't discount the possibility. Already, a European film festival has broached the idea. (Although the original film is no longer available for purchase, there are no plans to shelve it, Disney says; expect it to return to video stores within the next few years.)

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.