Fantasia 2000 is one of the rare sequels that manages to feel like a worthy successor to the original film. Unlike the many quick cash-grab sequels that Disney became known for in the time around the creation of this film, Fantasia 2000 was a fully realized sequel that Walt Disney himself wanted to see happen.
Development & Production
When Walt Disney first conceived of the movie that became Fantasia, he had every intention of it being a fluid, ever-changing work of art. He wanted his team to continue making short films that could be integrated into the movie seamlessly, replacing old segments, and always creating new ones, ensuring that you could could go see Fantasia again and again, and you would never see the exact same film twice. Sadly, Walt’s dream was never realized, but even after his death, his nephew, Roy E. Disney kept the idea of a sequel in the back of his mind.
Roy started seriously thinking about a follow up to Fantasia all the way back in the 70’s. In the early 80’s, production began on a spiritual successor to Fantasia called Musicana, which would have taken the Fantasia format, but used jazz and other music from around the world, to tell the stories of myths, legends and other ethnic tales from a huge variety of cultures. Sadly, that project was cancelled in favor of Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
In 1984, Michael Eisner became became chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company. Roy took that opportunity to pitch him the idea for a new Fantasia, and he really liked the idea. However, it was the 80s, the middle of the Bronze Age, so funds were tight back then and the project was still a no-go. But then, at the turn of the decade, hope came back anew. In 1990, following the successful re-release of Fantasia for its 50th anniversary, Eisner saw the money-making potential of the project, and finally greenlit the film.
Production began right away under the working title of Fantasia Continued with a tentative release date scheduled for 1997. When this was pushed back, the film’s title changed to Fantasia 1999, and shortly after that, Fantasia 2000 to coincide with the new release date. These delays were likely due to the film’s changing length over the course of the development.
Originally the new film was to more closely follow Walt’s original vision for the project, keeping half the original pieces from Fantasia, with only three or four new numbers. When it became clear that this would not work, Roy decided to just keep three original segments, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Nutcracker Suite, and Dance of the Hours, and he eventually decided to cut it down even further, keeping only one, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, as a nod to Walt’s original idea.
Release & Reaction
Like the original, Fantasia 2000 pioneered technology upon its release. It first opened in IMAX theatres as the first feature-length animated film shown in the format, and a temporary 622-seat theatre costing almost $4 million even had to be built in just four weeks so it could open in Los Angeles. It set new records as the highest grossing IMAX film and set 18 other records across the world.
You can watch the trailer for this IMAX version here.
But, as this was the film that kicked off the Post-Renaissance Era, you probably already know that this film was not a success. While most critics praised the film, critical praise does not always translate into box-office numbers.
This early success did not help Fantasia find much of an audience outside the IMAX circuit. In the end, it took in a total worldwide gross of just over $90 million and, as the film had cost almost $90 million to produce, it was seen as a failure. Michael Eisner went so far as to dub the film “Roy Disney’s folly.” An unfair statement, as he was just as on board with the film in the beginning as Roy was.
Regardless of how the film did initially, it was still a hit with most critics and many fans of the original. Unlike a few other films from the Post-Renaissance Era, Fantasia 2000 has a lot more staying power as a classic to be enjoyed alongside its predecessor for many years to come.
Let’s move on to the film itself, shall we? As I did in my review of the original Fantasia, I will go over each segment in order, and give a brief outline of its story.
Symphony No. 5 in C minor – Ludwig van Beethoven
The movie opens with some familiar images from the original film, as well as some of the original Deems Taylor narration, this time repurposed to introduce this film’s abstract segment. This open is a little less abstract than that of Fantasia, as the flying colors this time all appear to be butterflies and bats. They are still abstract enough that what they actually are is definitely up for debate, but there does seem to be an attempt to form some sort of a narrative, rather than going for completely abstract.
Pines of Rome – Ottorino Respighi
This segment is introduced by Steve Martin and Itzhak Perlman. It is one of the most visually stunning works in the film, featuring a pod of humpback whales as they swim, and fly around the arctic. The story focuses mainly on the antics of a baby whale as he gets separated from his parents and must reunite with them in time to fly off into the sky to breech the clouds as a supernova explodes in space.
Rhapsody in Blue – George Gershwin
In a first for a Fantasia film, this segment, introduced by Quincy Jones, is actually a classical jazz piece. The artwork for this segment is based on the caricatures of cartoonist Al Hirschfeld, and follows a number of storylines depicting a day in the life of the residents of 1930s New York City. The artwork, while seemingly quite simple, is completely different from anything else in a Fantasia film, before or after; it is still visually interesting to watch, and the characters are all fun, and make you care about them without saying a single word.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major – Dmitri Shostakovich
This segment, introduced by Bette Midler, is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairytale The Steadfast Tin Soldier. This segment marks the first time that Disney created a film’s main characters entirely from CGI, as this short pre-dates even Dinosaur, the first full-length animated feature from Disney to have fully CGI characters. Because of this, this portion of the film also has a unique look, though not quite as visually striking as the previous segment. Like most fairytales given the Disney treatment, the ending of this story was changed to give our hero a happy ending.
The Carnival of the Animals, Finale – Camille Saint-Saëns
James Earl Jones introduces us to this segment, which is one of the shortest in the entire film. In it, we are introduced to a flock of flamingos who do water ballet. The only problem is, one of them has a yo-yo, and is disrupting their performance. This piece is fun, cute, well animated, and has great character design, but is probably one of the weakest of the movie, due to how short it is.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Paul Dukas
The iconic sequence from the first Fantasia is brought back here as a nod to Walt’s original wish to keep the original movie evolving every year, keeping old favorites, and creating new ones. This segment is introduced by magician duo Penn and Teller, and ends similarly to how it ended in the original film, with Mickey going out to congratulate Leopold Stokowski, the original conductor; but then he immediately goes to see James Levine, the conductor for this film, who is introducing the next segment.
Pomp and Circumstance – Marches 1, 2, 3 and 4 – Edward Elgar
This sequence opens with Levine’s introduction, while Mickey is in the background, running around the concert hall looking for Donald who is supposed to be onstage. Once Donald gets out of the bath, the segment begins as a reimagining of the Biblical story of Noah’s ark, with one minor twist: Donald Duck is Noah’s assistant. The segment follows him as he helps gather the animals two by two, but in the process he loses sight of his wife, Daisy. The two end up on the ark together, but it’s so huge that they each don’t know that the other is on board. They spend the entire voyage distraught over the other’s fate until the end when they are reunited in the new world.
Aside from the depressing tone of the middle of the segment, this is one of the most fun parts of the movie. The backgrounds are beautiful, the animals are extremely well realized, and there are tons of little jokes all over the place. You’ll probably see something new each time you watch it.
Firebird Suite – Igor Stravinsky
In this final segment, introduced by Angela Lansbury, we are introduced to a forest sprite and her companion, an elk. The sprite is tasked with bringing spring to the land, growing flowers, blossoming trees, and generally bringing life to the forest. However, in the process of rejuvenating the earth, she accidentally awakens the angry spirit of a volcano, a fearsome firebird made of lava.
The firebird wreaks havoc across the land, burning everything in sight, destroying all of the sprite’s hard work, and finally completely engulfing her. But the elk is still alive and he searches until he finds her, shrunken and ashy, and he picks her up, carrying her until she can regain her strength. When she is finally strong enough, she takes off to renew the land, growing new trees, new flowers, new grass, and completely obliterating any trace of the horror that the firebird had left behind.
This is probably the definitive piece of the entire film. Only The Pines of Rome segment rivals it in sheer beauty and magic. It is beautiful, frightening, exciting, and awe-inspiring. It is the perfect segment to close out this film.
Fantasia 2000 is one of my all-time favorite films and, while the original Fantasia is my favorite film hands down, this film didn’t quite reach the heights that Fantasia hit. It came close, but the inclusion of the narrators, some of whom were quite annoying (Steve Martin?), kind of dropped it down a notch for me. Plus, the number of utterly amazing segments in the original far outweighs the number of utterly amazing segments in this one. However, this does not speak for all of them.
I know it might seem sacrilegious to say but, in my opinion, The Pines of Rome and The Firebird Suite, and to a lesser extent Pomp and Circumstance, match and maybe even surpass most of the original Fantasia. I can’t tell you how much I love these pieces. If the entire movie was like these segments, it would instantly become my favorite film. The Pines of Rome and The Firebird Suite, are two of the most breathtaking and beautiful sequences in any Disney animated film, and Pomp and Circumstance is just creative and fun. While the whole film may not be quite up to par with the original, these segments alone make the entire thing completely worth it for me.
What about you? Have you seen Fantasia 2000? How does it compare to the original? What is your favorite segment?
Jonathan North is writer, photographer, video editor, and animation fan from Iowa. He studied advertising and design at Iowa State University, and also has degrees in multimedia and art. His favorite movie is Fantasia, and his favorite cartoon is Gravity Falls. Or maybe Steven Universe. He can’t decide. You can find more of his work on his blog, as well as his Podcast and YouTube channel, where he reviews animation, movies, TV, or whatever else his guests feel like talking about. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, @jonjnorth.