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Saturday, 25 December, 1999, 10:11 GMT
Fantasia's millennium makeover
Quackers: Donald Duck as Noah's lovestruck assistant
By BBC News Online's Gareth Herincx

Walt Disney always wanted his ambitious epic Fantasia to be an evolving project and talked of making a new version every year.

Tin soldiers: A fairytale ending
He said: "Fantasia is timeless. It may run 10, 20 or 30 years. It may run after I am gone."

Six decades after his animation landmark first appeared, his dream has come true with the release of Fantasia 2000.

Opening around the world on 1 January, it includes the Mickey Mouse Sorcerer's Apprentice segment from the 1940 original, plus seven new animated episodes set to sweeping classical music.

The visually-stunning new version will run in giant-screen Imax cinemas for four months, before going on general release.

Childhood fascination

Abstract images recall the 1940 original
The idea for Fantasia 2000 was initiated and spearheaded by Roy E Disney, vice-chairman of The Walt Disney Company and its head of animation.

The idea had been in his mind since he was 12 when his father - Walt's brother and studio co-founder - told him about the original concept for the film.

The dream started to become a reality in the mid-1980s when Roy gained the support of Disney chairman Michael Eisner, who told him that Fantasia was his favourite film.

The astonishing success of the home video release of Fantasia in 1991 persuaded the company to finally bankroll the idea.

Movie landmark

Fantasia made motion picture history in 1940 when it became the first film to be recorded and released in stereo sound.

Sorceror's apprentice: Mickey has stood the test of time
A fusion of classical music and often abstract animation, it featured some of the most memorable scenes ever created.

There was Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite danced by fairies and mushrooms and Mickey Mouse setting his magical broom to work in Paul Dukas's Sorceror's Apprentice.

The film received two special Oscars - one for the progress it made with cinematic sound - the other for its groundbreaking animation.

Yet, Fantasia was a critical and box-office flop, Disney's first. Audiences who were pleased to watch the whimsical segments were not so impressed with the more highbrow elements.

However, in the late 1960s it was reissued and became a favourite with drugged-up hippies.

Classic appeal

In Fantasia 2000, Disney has made use of all the latest technology, including computer-generated animation and digital surround sound.

Fantasia's playlist
Beethoven's Symphony No 5
Respighi's Pines of Rome
Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue
Shostakovich's Piano Concerto #2
Saint-Saens's Carnival of the Animals
Dukas's The Sorceror's Apprentice
Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance
Stravinsky's Firebird Suite

This time the celebrated conductor, James Levine, takes over the baton from the legendary Leopold Stokowski.

Jazz, world music, The Beatles and Andrew Lloyd Webber songs were among those discussed, but Disney finally stuck with the classics.

The verdict

There's no doubt that Fantasia 2000 is visually stunning. After all, the Imax image is 10 times larger than a conventional 35mm frame.

The producers were also wise to bring in celebrity introductions for each work, notably Steve Martin, Quincy Jones, Bette Midler and James Earl Jones.

Whale of a time: Computer-generated masterpiece
The new segments are varied - ranging from the abstract splish-splashes of Beethoven's Fifth to hi-tech, computer-animated, whales in Respighi's Pines Of Rome.

For the most part, the stories seem better defined than those of the original, while The Sorceror's Apprentice has stood the test of time.

Highlights include the lush splendour of Hans Christian Anderson's magical tale, The Steadfast Toy Soldier, set to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich.

While Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance is the unlikely accompaniment to a cute re-working of Noah's Ark starring Donald Duck, and flamingos with yo-yos feature in a comic masterpiece set to Saint Saens's Carnival of the Animals.

Disney classics
1937 - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
1940 - Pinocchio
1941 - Dumbo
1942 - Bambi
1955 - Lady and the Tramp
1961 -101 Dalmations
1967 - Jungle Book
1991 - Beauty and the Best
1994 - The Lion King
1995 -Toy Story
1999 - Tarzan
2000 - Fantasia/2000
Other parts fail to work their magic with me - particularly the abstract shapes featured in Beethoven's Fifth, which hark back to the worst of the original film's excesses.

My major gripe is that Disney decided not to fully exploit the potential of Imax. Other Imax films, such as T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous and Into the Deep, are in full 3D. And although cinemagoers have to wear a special headset, it's an in-your-face, perception-challenging experience.

Fantasia 2000 will be an exclusive release at two London venues - the BFI Imax at Waterloo and the Pepsi Imax at the Trocadero - and other Imax cinemas around the world until 30 April 2000.

See also:

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02 Nov 99 | The Economy
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