Cartoon Animation’s Last Hurrah: Fantasia 2000 Movie Review

screenshot from Fantasia 2000

Looking back, the feature film Fantasia 2000 signals the end of an era at Disney. The studio had made a number of fine cartoon films in the 90s, including three instant classics: Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin. The 90s also brought us the masterpiece Toy Story, and all of a sudden, “out of the sky comes this little punk in a rocket,” to quote Randy Newman from the film’s soundtrack. It seemed kids were only interested in this new thing, CGI, and the old cartoonists would have to adjust. In a sense, Toy Story was the Buzz Lightyear of movies. Fantasia 2000, as I see it, was the Disney animator’s way of showing the world that cartooning could still dazzle and amuse, but unfortunately, it was too little, too late.

Fantasia 2000 is a collection of animated vignettes set to different pieces of classical music, each drawn and directed in a different style. It was inspired by the magnificent 1940 film Fantasia. The movie though is a mixed bag of sorts. Some of the short films were awe-inspiring, and some had me pressing the fast forward button.

To bring the medium of the cartoon into the 21st century, it seems Disney’s idea was to combine old school animation with computer generated images, which they do in a handful of the films here. Unfortunately, as Titan A.E. proved, cartoon and computer animation rarely fit in well together (one rare example of the two combining to a positive effect would be the anime classic Metropolis). One of the early portions of the film features a group of computerized whales swimming against a hand-drawn backdrop. In this scene, the end effect is actually quite impressive, and this is a part of the movie kids are bound to enjoy. Later on though, there’s a few instances of computer animation that are kind of embarassing.

screenshot from the sequence inspired by Al Hirschfeld

The highlight of Fantasia 2000 is definitely Disney’s homage to Al Hirschfeld set to the music of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Al Hirschfeld is one of my absolute favorite artists and is the main reason for me renting Fantasia 2000. He was employed by The New Yorker for decades, drawing his signature cartoony caricatures that never cease to amuse me. Cartoon animation and Disney in particular owe a huge debt to the artistic style Al Hirschfeld pioneered, so it’s great to see them give him his due.

I would recommend watching Fantasia 2000 for the Hirschfeld segment alone. It can also be viewed on youtube for free (see below).

I kept wishing throughout much of Fantasia 2000 that the film was strictly hand-drawn.  Afterwards, Disney would continue to experiment with CGI and cartoons, but the end product was never quite great (see, for example, Treasure Planet). Disney made a series of mostly forgettable cartoon feature films after Fantasia 2000 before throwing in the towel for a few years. I was glad to see cartoons return in a big way in 2009 with The Princess and the Frog, and can only hope Disney returns to what they do best: drawing cartoons. Leave CGI to Pixar.

If you’re looking for a hand-drawn cartoon from recent years, check out The Secret of Kells.

If you’ve seen Fantasia 2000, what was your opinion of it?

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