IMAX is a format usually reserved for flashy, splashy nature films. There is the occasional departure, such as Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Wings of Courage. Last year, Everest made history by pulling in top-ten box office revenue. Now Disney plans to further blur the IMAX/commercial barrier by releasing a major motion picture on the IMAX format.
Fantasia 2000 is a followup to the classic original. Like its predecessor, Fantasia 2000 shuns sound effects and instead, merely sets images to the music. Occasionally a dramatic splash coincides with a strong hit on the musical score, but no foley adorns the soundtrack.
Eight compositions are animated (including a restored “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from the original). Each one features appropriately stirring, moving, or funny images. Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” showed a bustling New York of yesteryear, animated with simple ink line-drawings and broad pastel colors. It was refreshing to see animation that looked lovingly hand-crafted.
Some of the computer-generated stuff was good too. Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” was set to a fantasy in which a Disney-cute young whale and his pod soar under and over massive icebergs. On an IMAX screen, some of these whales are “life-size,” according to the promotional material. It really is as breathtaking as it sounds.
Another segment, Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” featured Donald Duck as Noah. I feared the worst as soon as I saw that duck, but the humor was subtle and reserved, and the story was well told without sound effects or dialogue. I was pleasantly surprised.
But Fantasia 2000 was also disappointing.
Each segment is introduced by a celebrity. Steve Martin, Bette Midler, and Yitzahk Perlman are just a few. Most of the introductions aren’t very interesting, and none of them are necessary. I got the impression it was cheaper to film a few celebs than to animate another musical segment, and so they were included merely as filler.
Even if I’m wrong about why they were included, they still do a disservice to the rest of the movie. Firstly, they interrupt the mental immersion in the musical segments. After flying with the whales into the cosmos, I don’t want reality intruding back into my brain. Secondly, they are condescending. These segments, it appears, are included to try to make classical music fun — notice the underlying assumption that classical music is not fun. The tone of the movie becomes one of recruitment. If you sit through this classical music we’ll reward you with a joke from Steve Martin.
The other big disappointment was that the IMAX format was not used to its fullest potential. A great IMAX movie will pack a lot of detail in every corner of the screen, taking full advantage of the film’s great size. But no extra trouble was taken animating any of the segments to a richer detail. For example, the Gershwin segment would have looked as clear on 35mm film and on DVD as it did in IMAX.
Worst of all, at least one of the segments was not output from the computer at a high enough resolution, and you can see the pixillation around the edges of each character. (The segment in question accompanies Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, and features a flock of flamingos.)
But IMAX is always good, even if it’s underused. And if Fantasia 2000 helps other feature-length movies be shot on IMAX, then I’m all for it.
On the whole, Fantasia 2000 was a stirring, enjoyable time at the movies. Perhaps my biggest complaint is also the biggest compliment: Fantasia 2000 ended too soon.