[Last Films I Watch] Fantasia (1940) and Fantasia/2000 (1999)

Fantasia poster

Title: Fantasia
Year: 1940
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy
Norman Ferguson, James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe Jr., Jim Handley,
T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield
Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, Lee Blair, Elmer Plummer, Phil Dike, Sylvia Moberly-Holland,
Norman Wright, Albert Heath, Bianca Majolie, Graham Heid, Perce Pearce, Carl Fallberg,
William Martin, Leo Thiele, Robert Sterner, John McLeish, Otto Englander, Webb Smith,
Erdman Penner, Joseph Sabo, Bill Peet, Vernon Stallings, Campbell Grant, Arthur Heinemann, Phil Dike
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Deems Taylor
Leopold Stokowski
Rating: 7.9/10

Fantasia 2000 poster

Title: Fantasia/2000
Year: 1999
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy
James Algar, Gaëtan Brizzi, Paul Brizzi, Hendel Butoy,
Francis Glebas, Eric Goldberg, Don Hahn, Pixote Hunt
Eric Goldberg, Hans Christian Andersen, Joe Grant, Perce Pearce, Carl Fallberg,
Gaëtan Brizzi, Paul Brizzi, Don Hahn, David Reynolds, Irene Mecchi, Elena Driskill
Cinematography: Tim Suhrstedt
Steve Martin
Quincy Jones
Bette Midler
James Earl Jones
Angela Lansbury
Penn Jillette
Rating: 6.7/10

Double bill time, FANTASIA is an experimental and groundbreaking high-brow entertainment from Disney, seamlessly harmonises two disparate art forms: animation shorts with iconic classical pieces, most of them flout the family-friendly narratives, thus instantly elevate the demography from its common wheelhouse, and creates an unorthodox experience, a combination of cinema and concert, but obviously not such an attraction for kids.

The original 1940 version is an ambitious brainchild of Walt Disney honed by sterling expertise from the virtuoso conductor Leopold Stokowski (shot in silhouette behind with lofty glamour and a baton in hand). But it was a fiasco in its original theatre release, widely considered too avant-garde for family audience then, only later revival from re-runs rescues its reputation and gives justice to the talents involved, each piece differs in its visual technique, in retrospective, they are rudimentary 2D prototypes, but in the core, it is their unbridled imagination that stuns us,

The seven programs (in total eight pieces whereas Mussorgsky’s NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN and Schubert’s AVE MARIA are fused into one), visually run the full gamut from the abstract patterns (Bach’s TOCCATA AND FUGUE IN D MINOR); follows by a seasonal alteration with ballet dances based on Tchaikovsky’s NUTCRACKER SUITE; then a mesmerising lesson learnt by Mickey Mouse in Paul Dukas’ THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE; next one is the awe-inspiring chronicle from Earth’s beginnings to the extinction of dinosaurs (Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRING), which includes a battle sequence of a T-Rex slaughtering a stegosaur, quite candid with brutality in the animal world, which is my personal pick in the miscellany; after the intermission, in Beethoven’s THE PASTORAL SYMPHONY, we are ushering to explore the mythological world of centaurs, fauns, cupids and Gods like Bacchus and Zeus himself; next in line is an upbeat ballet (Ponchielli’s DANCE OF THE HOURS), four groups of animals, ostriches, hippos, elephants and alligators represent four different time of a day, eventually gyrate together in ludicrous jolliness; the final chapter is the said NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN and AVE MARIA combination, the darkest, scariest one, with Chernabog summoning evil spirits from graves to a night of revelry, only retreated by the church bell in the dusk when a congregation of monks march towards a ruined cathedral, wraps up a two-hour optic and aural feast in solemn peace and tranquility.

A belated sequel comes almost 60 years later, which self-betrays the concerns of its commercial prospect from the executive level, the 1999 version runs in a succinct 75 minutes (against the original’s 120 running length), comprised of eight segments (seven new pieces plus the original THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE), where each is presented by well-known celebrities, unfortunately it bombed in the box-office too, so clearly the running length is not the crux, what one might find lacking is the innovation, since Disney has reached its creative height in the 1990s after BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991), ALADDIN (1992), THE LION KING (1994), etc., the updated FANTASIA is enchanting for sure, my favourite is George Gershwin’s RHAPSODE IN BLUE, where a caricature of different characters in NYC in the 1930s is given simplistic beauty and ingenuity, but paralleled with the 1940 version, the leap-of -progress of six decades is not so perceivable, as THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE can comfortably hide its age with the new additions, the traditional way of technique prevails, as excellent as each episode is, exuding their different vibrancy in coherence with the orchestration, it simply cannot overshadow its aged predecessor’s glory, although both Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck are heading a piece in this picture, and narratives are strong in this version (at least 4 out 8 depicts a story with suspense).

Will there ever be a third venture into this unique format? I do hope so, it has its unrivalled advantage to instil an early education of classic music for children, despite the innate shortcoming as a compilation, it can allow more visionary experiments based on the ocean of music notes, both in storyline and its methodology. So, 15 years has passed, hope we don’t have to wait for another 45 years for a sequel, also to those who have the knowledge, are these two pictures breaking the record of the longest time between an original and its successor? 59 years seems difficult to beat.


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