Taking Cues from the Past
A bundle of animated shorts set to famous classical music pieces, Fantasia hitched a supposedly lowborn art form to a high-hat soundtrack; Mickey Mouse shaking hands with Leopold Stokowski on the podium is a statement of intent. Uncle Walt's pricey experiment flopped upon release in 1940, but started turning a profit by the mid '50s; its stream-of-consciousness imagery and tone-poem rhythms also helped it join 2001 and Yellow Submarine in that rarefied realm of Great Films to Watch While You're Baked.
Budding young stoners have to hoof it to an Imax theater for the rehauled Fantasia 2000, which sports seven new shorts, keeping only "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" from the first version. The second new installment is the best: Mystic and austere, "Pines of Rome" lets Respighi's music color in the somber blues and grays of a young arctic whale's journey upwards through the icy surface to join his parents in some starry-skied cetacean Valhalla. The effect is hypnotic, oddly mournful, and vaguely unsettling, like a too-vivid dream. The rest is just a snooze: Al Hirschfeld's antiquated Gothamites shuttle about to the strains of "Rhapsody in Blue," emanating a musty whiff of Upper East Side gentility; a fretsome Donald Duck as Noah on the ark during "Pomp and Circumstance" is an unfunny bit of Disney nostalgia. Arriving just after the best year for animated film in recent memory, Fantasia 2000 doesn't play like a celebration. In its sentimental yearning for a golden age when another one's upon us, it feels a little like a rebuke.
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