FANTASIA 2000 (1999) – Worthy of the 1940 original

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Roy E. Disney, Walt Disney’s nephew, has said that the original Fantasia is “a wondrous sampler. This one’s a cherry cream, and that one’s a chocolate-covered nut.” Roy Disney was executive producer of Fantasia 2000, which is the complete dessert tray. The movie is an unabashed slice of joy that zips along at 75 minutes.

Ignore any trepidations you might have about the movie, such as “Is the sequel a rip-off of the original?” After you’ve been bathed in its imagery for about five minutes, all anxiety will cease.

I hesitate to give an in-depth description of the movie’s seven new segments, because I don’t want to turn this review into a lengthy summary, and I don’t want to give away the movie’s many surprises. Suffice to say, there’s not a loser in the bunch. The new segments include:

download* An impressionistic segment set to the opening of “Beethoven’s 5th Symphony,” which looks like a kid’s cardboard cut-outs come wildly to life.

download (1)* A surreal segment of humpback whales taking flight, to the strains of Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.”

download (2)* A New York interpretation of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” done in the style of caricature artist Al Hirschfeld (who is credited as artistic consultant).

download* Hans Christian Andersen’s story of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” set to Shostakovich’s “Piano Concerto #2.”

download (1)* Saint-Saens’ finale to “Carnival of the Animals” backing a hilarious story of a flock of flamingos and a yo-yo (Don’t ask, just watch).

download (2)* My personal favorite: Donald Duck serving as assistant to Noah (of ark fame), backed by Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.”

download* A Bambi-like take on nature and re-birth, set to Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.”

Ironically, the movie’s weakest segment is the only one retained from the original Fantasia: Mickey Mouse’s take on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” It’s still fun to watch, but compared to the state-of-the-art animation that bookends it, it looks grainy and dated. It’s a pity that the Disney tinkerers couldn’t find a way to expand or update the segment for the new movie.

In lieu of Taylor Deems’ somewhat stuffy narration in the original movie, each segment here is “hosted” by celebrities including Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn & Teller, and Angela Lansbury, all of whom are delightful.

In an age where any animation that earns a profit gets shoveled onto a movie screen, the Disney studio with Toy Story 2 and Fantasia 2000 (two sequels, yet) demonstrated in 1999 how truly great animation doesn’t need a kid in tow to make it enjoyable for any age group. Fantasia 2000 is simply a knockout.