All of Fantasia 2000 was created over the course of nine years, the first animated piece completed in 1995 (“Pines of Rome”), and the startling variations not just in style but techniques cause wild disruptions in the flow of the entire piece. The original was done all at once, ending up a focused, beautifully flowing two hours of cinematic and animation art. 2000, for all of its own genuine emotion, color, and effort, can’t come close.
To be fair, it’s impressive they came close at all, the original certainly a masterpiece of the form, any follow-up regardless of intentions a difficult, demanding task. 2000 is meant to be commercial, the selection of various stars to handle the narration between pieces feel out of place, Steve Martin’s humorous quips failing to set the right tone or mood as we move into the animation. It’s more in-line with some cheap award show than a serious attempt at recapturing the magic of one of the grandest animation pieces of all time.
This sequel doesn’t have the scale or the enormity of the original, feeling rushed with shorter pieces like “Carnival of the Animals,” a wonderful bit of animation involving a yo-yo playing flamingo rejected by his peers. The whole thing feels stunted, with unfound potential as the film tries to push forward to the next piece in order to keep everyone’s attention, not just the animation aficionado.
Worse, someone made the decision to insert the whole of “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” again radically clashing with the jazzed up computer generated imagery, and knocking other new pieces out of contention. Mentions are in the piece itself about “Ride of the Valkyries,” and what we’re given is rehashed, beloved or not. The idea was to honor Walt’s original vision, mixing new and old, but given the sparse running time, it feels more like being cheated.
It’s hard to criticize the efforts of everyone involved, the imagination of the flying whales in “Pines in Rome,” or the appropriate update to “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” the Donald Duck starring role in “Pop and Circumstance,” a wonderful take on Noah’s Ark. The animation itself, in every regard, is stunning. “Firebird Suite,” with its tale of mother nature rebuilding after disaster, could sit in the original film for its majesty, power, and the richness of the tale. Crammed in here with pieces that don’t gel like they should and hosts that are wildly unnecessary, it feels sadly diluted.
With the mixture of digital and large-scale film formats, Fantasia 2000 is breathtaking on Blu-ray, at least in some manner matching the original. Everything about this transfer is pure and almost completely flawless, presenting these pieces with enormous levels of detail and definition. The giant ice walls in “Pines of Rome” carry discernible textures, the fine lines of “Firebird Suite” are never riddled with any technical faults, and the purity of “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” matches that of the original.
One thing 2000 does is overload the screen with objects or motion, from the mass of expressionistic butterflies and bats in “Symphony No. 5,” to the dancing flamingos of “Carnival of the Animals.” It presents a unique challenge for this AVC encode, and it handles it wonderfully. The only fault comes in the final piece, “Firebird Suite” again overloading the screen with butterflies at 1:07:38, where some digital artifacting and break-up is every so briefly visible to the discerning videophile. Amidst all of this action and movement, that’s still a feat that it holds up that long.
The color variances throughout are dramatic, some focused on more depressed blues, others enveloping the frame with vibrant riches hues and saturation. Much of “Pop and Circumstance” is a feast for the eyes, every shade leaping from the screen, no visible banding or other anomaly to mar the experience. “Piano Concerto No. 2” also deserves some merit, the wealth of intense, blocked colors producing no unsightly artifacts against the strict outlines of its characters.
The bits of live action scattered around, despite the intensity of the color and depth of the blacks, are not as pure. Their distinctly digital feel is in contrast with the purity and overall definition of the animated sequences. It’s a minor fault, these interludes passing by with hardly a care in the world as you await the visual superiority of the material yet to come.
Disney again creates an audio mix worthy of a 7.1 treatment, an effort that wastes little time in showcasing its raw power. The low-end presence in “Pines of Rome,” around 12:48, is one of the cleanest, purest, and more breathtaking pieces of low-end work to date. It’s completely natural to the mix, not overwhelming the plethora of instruments elsewhere, but justified in establishing the enormity of the event as the whales burst from the water.
The separation between channels is precise, and the surround bleed creating a wrap-around effect that is genuine. Those looking for something to show off aside from the music itself can pan over to 52:18 as Mickey takes off around the stage in search of Donald, his calls and footsteps panning through each channel. If you were somehow unaware of how well every channel was being utilized prior, consider this to be the wake-up call needed to better appreciate how fabulous this mix is.
The clarity of it all is stunning, although maybe in a technical sense not quite as impressive as the original. There was likely little to be done, if almost anything, to bring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s work into the modern day given its age, and the same couldn’t be said for <em>Fantasia</em> given the 1940’s origin. Still, that in no way takes away from the audio, the fidelity pure and the distinction between the elements startling. Nothing feels overshadowed or under represented, the precision depth of the audio reproducing this material as finely as could be imagined.
There are two commentaries available, the first with Roy Disney, conductor James Levine, and producer Don Ernst. The second is pulled from the DVD, with each director and art director of the specific pieces offering their thoughts. Musicana is an insightful look into an unfinished project that seems like a far better attempt at recapturing the original Fantasia than 2000, but it was sadly canceled.
Dali & Disney is 112-minute piece on the weird, unexpected collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali, followed by the finally completed piece that resulted from that relationship, the short Destino. It is as bizarre, weird, and as impressive as you could imagine.
Finally, there is the Virtual Vault, utilizing the online capabilities of Blu-ray in a semi-positive way, and with the potential for expansion in the future (but will likely never happen). Both films are represented, each piece given a variety of archival material to sift through in the form of introductions and vintage featurettes. It is at times glitchy, but the content itself is worth the effort and time. However, it was previously available on disc (DVD), and there’s no telling when the servers hosting all of this content will go offline (and they will).