Fantasia/2000 [1999]

More ambitious in scope than any of its other animated films (before or to come), Disney's 1940 Fantasia was a dizzying, magical, and highly enjoyable marriage of classical music and animated images. Fantasia 2000 features some breathtaking animation and storytelling, and in a few spots soars to wonderful high points, but it still more often than not has the feel of walking in its predecessor's footsteps as opposed to creating its own path. A family of whales swimming and soaring to Respighi's The Pines of Rome is magical to watch, but ends all too soon; a forest sprite's dance of life, death, and rebirth to Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring too clearly echoes the original Fantasia's Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria sequence. But when it's on target, Fantasia 2000 is glorious enough to make you giddy. Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" is a perfect narrative set to Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2, and Donald Duck's guest appearance as the assistant to Noah (of ark fame) set to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance marches is a welcome companion piece (though not an equal) to The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the one original Fantasia piece included here. The high point of Fantasia 2000, though, is a fantastic day-in-the-life sequence of 1930s New York City set to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and animated in the style of cartoonist Al Hirschfeld; it's a perfect melding of music, story, and animation. Let's hope future Fantasias (reportedly in the works) take a cue from the best of this compilation. The music is provided by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Levine, interspersed with negligible intros by Steve Martin, Bette Midler, Itzhak Perlman, James Earl Jones, and others. --Mark Englehart

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