Though far from flawless, Disney's Fantasia has earned the status of "classic" over the past 60 years, a quality left intact over time maybe because the franchise was never fully exploited. Fantasia was originally intended to be a constant work in progress, meant to return to the screens every few years with new sequences incorporated, but subsequent installments never materialized. Fantasia 2000 is the belated "sequel," and though the concept remains the same, Disney has changed. The company is less a paragon of family entertainment and more a paragon of international corporate marketing, its annual animated releases well-timed advertisements for companion soundtracks and toys. The pattern at least temporarily improved in 1999, however, first with the surprisingly strong (and virtually song-free) Tarzan, then with the refreshingly adult Toy Story 2, and now with Fantasia 2000, a largely faithful return to the simple pleasures of sound and vision expressed by its predecessor. Shot for IMAX (with a conventional theatrical run planned), Fantasia 2000 combines seven new animated sequences with seven new classical pieces, with the beloved "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" the sole remnant of the old Fantasia. Yet the animators seem to have taken great care to recall Disney's classic style of animation: Though Fantasia 2000 is loaded with computer imagery, the flashy stuff is nicely integrated into more conventional scenery. Gracefully rendered whales soar across the night sky to the strains of Ottorino Respighi's "Pines Of Rome," while a one-legged tin soldier defends a ballerina from a truly ghoulish Jack In The Box in a sequence set to Shostakovich and based on a Hans Christian Anderson story. Donald Duck stars as Noah's assistant, asked to gather animals to the ark while Edward Elgar's "Pomp And Circumstance" plays on, the sole bit of comic relief other than some yo-yoing flamingos goofing to Saint-Saens. Stravinsky (whose prehistoric "Rite Of Spring" sequence was an old Fantasia highlight) supplies "The Firebird," which is matched to a mesmerizing, mythic tale of nature and rebirth. The weak link is an oddly realized bit inspired by cartoonist Al Hirshfield and set to Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue"; the squiggly representation of New York doesn't fill the screen well, and the human protagonists lack the charm and wonder of their more abstract co-stars. (Angular, colorful shapes interacting to Beethoven have more character.) The same can be said for the celebrity cameos that introduce each segment: The movie stands on its own pretty well, making the commentary extraneous if not fully distracting. At 75 minutes, however, Fantasia 2000 is short enough to captivate the kids and mature enough to draw in adults, making it one of Disney's more successful recent stabs at universal entertainment.
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