Since its release, 1940’s Fantasia has had somewhat of a rocky history. The initial run of the film was not a hit, something that greatly saddened Walt Disney, later calling it an “artistic success, financial failure”.
His vision for the film was to play in a Roadshow format and be distributed by his usual distributor RKO. Unfortunately, RKO didn’t like that and refused to distribute the film. Therefore, Walt decided he would distribute it himself, and demanded that the film be given the grandest of treatments: a fancy new sound system, aptly called Fantasound, a 15-minute intermission, and special programs for each member of the audience. He wanted it to feel like a special performance of a concert. Each segment was broken up with an introduction which detailed the piece of music chosen and the intention of the animation. This original version of the film was screened in 13 cities.
However, Walt Disney’s ultimate dream was that Fantasia would be a continuously running experience where you went to the theater and saw Fantasia again and again. It would always be changing, and would feature different segments that would come and go. This didn’t happen in Walt’s lifetime but fast forward 60 years later and his vision was finally realized, thanks to his nephew Roy E. Disney. Roy convinced then-CEO Michael Eisner to make another Fantasia which resulted in Fantasia 2000.
Fantasia 2000 features seven new segments, as well as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This films begins with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, a segment which intentionally mirrors the Toccata and Fugue segment from the original Fantasia. It is an abstract piece with seemingly random images paired with this incredibly well known music. The second segment is Pines of Rome, which features a beautiful blend of traditional and CGI animation.
Rhapsody in Blue was animated in the style of Al Hirschfeld, the famous Broadway caricaturist. Look out for Flying John, a character modeled after Disney historian John Culhane, who was also the inspiration for Mr. Snoops in The Rescuers. Piano Concerto No. 2 is based on The Steadfast Tin Soldier and, though gorgeous to look at, is probably the weakest of the segments in regards to story. The Carnival of the Animals is another of the weaker segments due to its short length, but what is there is fun. Pomp and Circumstance tells the story of Noah’s Ark, but with the addition of Donald and Daisy Duck. This is one of my favorite segments because it is so effective in making us care about the characters and as well as its creative use of familiar music. Firebird Suite is quite possibly my favorite segment out of both Fantasia films. The visual representation of birth, destruction, and rebirth is so powerfully executed. Both the animation and the music will will take your breath away.
In Fantasia 2000, there are interstitials between every segment, just like there were in the original Roadshow version of Fantasia. However, rather than merely explaining the music, Fantasia 2000 has contemporary celebrities cracking jokes which, unfortunately, doesn’t really work. Still, there is valuable information presented, though most of it will already be familiar to fans of the original film.
Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, are two of my favorite Disney films. Of course, the original is universally hailed as a piece of creative genius, and I don’t disagree. However, I feel that Fantasia 2000 is almost just as good, which many critics would disagree with. The two Fantasias are thematically very different, with Fantasia fairly serious in tone (save for a couple of segments) and Fantasia 2000 almost entirely upbeat. I think this is what makes Fantasia 2000 work for a contemporary audience and for younger kids, this may be the one to start with.
Live-action remake: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment was reimagined as a live-action film in 2010 starring Nicolas Cage.
Fantasia 2000 in the theme parks: Sorcerer Mickey is a popular piece of merchandise and is featured in the parks in many forms. The fireworks show Fantasmic! features clips from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Both Fantasia films are available to stream on Disney+.