2 items from 1999
In 1940, Walt Disney's "Fantasia" caught the public's imagination in an extraordinary way. The movie was a breathtaking achievement for movie cartoonists, who, despite occasional silliness, displayed a free-form approach to animation in their marriage of music to imagery.
In "Fantasia 2000", Disney animators have done it again. Employing technical tools those pioneering animators could only dream about, today's cartoonists have splashed across the screen bold and beautiful images that pulsate to several musical styles.
Freed from the confinements of traditional storytelling to pursue pure imagery, the animators experiment wildly with styles and color palettes. You can almost feel the artistic exhilaration that went into this 75-minute movie: Whales fly with birds, Donald Duck meets Noah and Al Hirschfeld sketches turn into a teeming cityscape.
Disney can anticipate a huge worldwide audience for this film that should become, as the first movie did, a perennial family entertainment, good for revival or video rentals for decades to come. In some quarters though, anxious viewers will have to wait awhile as Buena Vista launches "Fantasia 2000" in exclusive four-mouth engagements at IMAX theaters around the world beginning Jan. 1. The film will go out in regular 35mm next summer.
The IMAX release is a stroke of genius as the large-screen format brings the viewer into the surreal worlds dreamed up by the animators. The movie encounters a minor problem in the blow-up of the one sequence from the original film, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" starring Mickey Mouse. Despite a meticulous restoration process, this episode does not maintain its color resolution when blown up to IMAX's super screen size.
"Fantasia 2000" contains seven new episodes starting with the staccato first movement from Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony". This three-minute selection is the most abstract of the film's sequences, as triangular fragments drift, swirl, form and re-form pastel-colored designs against a world of clouds and waterfalls much like the pieces in a kaleidoscope.
Each of the remaining sequences is introduced by hosts including Steve Martin, Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn & Teller, Angela Lansbury and the film's music conductor James Levine.
Respighi's "Pines of Rome" evokes not Italian forests but, weirdly yet movingly, humpback whales in a sparkling, blue-tinged Nordic wonderland, performing ballets under water and in boreal skies as a lightning storm and squadrons of birds accompany their migration.
George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" borrows from caricaturist Hirschfeld to create a 1930s Manhattan with variations of blue that takes in a hard-hat construction worker, an overworked doorman, the out-of-work Joe, a little girl dragged to ballet and a Harlem jazz club.
Shostakovich's "Piano Concerto No. 2" provides the music for a telling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier", an action-filled fairy tale about a one-legged toy soldier's determination to protect a lovely ballerina from an evil jack-in-the-box. Animators use CGI to create a three-dimensional plasticity for the three main characters, who move through a world where shifts in color express the story's emotions.
Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals", arguably the weakest of the new episodes, has the nimble water ballet by a flock of flamingos destroyed by one trouble-maker who sneaks a yo-yo into the "chorus line." Pleasing watercolors convey the battle between the conformity of the flock and the routine-breaking by this rebel.
Excerpts from four of the marches in Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" provide the backdrop for the story of Noah and the Ark with Donald Duck acting as his wildlife wrangler. But this is a new, poignant Donald who believes he has lost his beloved Daisy in the tumult of the creatures' boarding. His sorrow is only relieved when the Ark finally "docks" on Mount Ararat and the two love ducks are reunited.
"Fantasia 2000" saves the best for last. Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite -- 1919 Version" prompts a mythical story of life, death and rebirth in which a life-giving water Sprite, summoned by an elk, inadvertently rouses a flame-belching Firebird lurking within a volcano. The monster lays waste to a wilderness with fire and Molten Lava only for the Sprite's magical touch to reawaken the foliage. The intensity of the powerful images and fiery colors in this sequence is stunning.
Created during nine years in a project championed by Disney vice chairman Roy E. Disney, "Fantasia 2000" firmly re-establishes that studio's leadership in animation at the dawn of the new century.
Buena Vista Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures
Executive producer Roy E. Disney
Producer Donald W. Ernst
Eric Goldberg, James Algar,
Francis Glebas, Gaetan Brizzi, Paul Brizzi
Music conducted by James Levine
Performed by Chicago Symphony Orchestra
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Supervising animation director Hendel Butoy
Associate producer Lisa C. Cook
Editors Jessica Ambinder Rojas,
Running time -- 75 minutes
MPAA rating: G
"The Annihilation of Fish" is a terrifyingly bad film, whose ineptitude is compounded by the status of those involved in its production. How could Charles Burnett, director of "Killer of Sheep" and "To Sleep With Anger", and Paul Heller, the producer who has been involved with films such as "David and Lisa" and "My Left Foot", working with a cast including Lynn Redgrave, James Earl Jones and Margot Kidder, have come up with such a woebegone product?
Further film festival appearances are this film's only likely public exposure. And for the sake of everyone involved in this misguided venture, it would be best if the film simply disappears.
Screenplays that insist on seeing mental illness and alcoholism as cute comic devices are always suspect. But Anthony Winkler's goes past the bounds of reason or logic. What is pathetic cannot be made into something funny or endearing.
The three-character piece feels like more like a play than a movie, in which three characters search for a meaning to their damaged lives. Fish (Jones), an elderly Jamaican newly released after years in a New York mental institute, continually wrestles an imaginary demon named Hank.
He moves to Los Angeles and an apartment building where his neighbor is Poinsettia, a drunkard who has maintains a longtime affair with the composer Puccini, a romance seemingly undeterred by the fact the man has been dead for nearly 75 years.
Soon Poinsettia is enlisted to referee Fish's imaginary bouts with Hank. Their landlady, Mrs. Muldroone (Kidder in hideous old age makeup) is untroubled by all the invisible people, wrestling matches and even the occasional gun shot.
Winkler's writing is sticky with sentimentality. His story contains no forward momentum and repetition is the order of the day. The only fascination the film holds is watching three outstanding actors try to play unplayable roles.
Production values on the film clearly made on an extremely modest budget are minimalist.
THE ANNIHILATION OF FISH
Paul Heller Productions
in association with American Sterling Prods.
Director: Charles Burnett
Writer: Anthony C. Winkler
Executive producer: Kris Dodge
Director of photography: John Ndiaga Demps
Production designer: Nina Ruscio
Music: Laura Karpman
Costume designer: Christine Peters
Editor: Nancy Richardson
Poinsettia: Lynn Redgrave
Fish: James Earl Jones
Mrs. Muldroone: Margot Kidder
Running time -- 110 minutes
No MPAA rating
2 items from 1999
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