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2 items from 1999

Film review:'Fantasia 2000'

23 December 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

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

Directors Pixote Hunt, Hendel Butoy,

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,

Lois Freeman-Fox


Running time -- 75 minutes

MPAA rating: G


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Film review: 'Forever Hollywood'

9 December 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

In a densely packed 57 minutes, "Forever Hollywood" celebrates the glamour and mythology of Tinseltown while providing a thumbnail sketch of the history of American moviemaking. The film, made by astute film critic Todd McCarthy and his co-director and editor Arnold Glassman, is designed for exclusive permanent showings at the Egyptian Theatre, home to the American Cinematheque.

The film is aimed primarily at tourists and is therefore not intended to break any new ground in revisiting the various eras of studio moviemaking. And, understandably, it contains a faint whiff of boosterism.

But what McCarthy has achieved is not only a fresh look with film clips and archival footage new to this sort of nostalgic exercises, but also -- thanks to his intelligent narration, delivered by Sharon Stone, and bemused and alert comments by a host of top-drawer filmmakers -- a surprisingly insightful glimpse of this industry town's development.

"Forever Hollywood" develops a fascinating subtext when it explores how social mores influence Hollywood and, conversely, how Hollywood influences social mores. Without drawing any conclusions, the film hypothesizes that many of the town's ideas about itself and what its citizens think they are doing derive from the movies.

Using film clips about Hollywood moviemaking ranging from King Vidor's underappreciated "Show People" and Preston Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels" to the ultimate rags-to-riches tale, "What Price Hollywood?" and its musical progeny "A Star Is Born", McCarthy shows how the myth of instant stardom was born.

Hollywood influence is seen in other ways. Movies of rebellion and social experimentation from the '50s and '60s reflected but also impacted the times. Then there was the towering figure of Brando, influencing (for better but often for worse) a generation of actors. But the film's biggest laugh in this regard belongs to none other than John Waters.

Cinema's enfant terrible wishes he could jump into a time machine and land on an MGM soundstage the day Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch shrinks to death in "The Wizard of Oz".

"That (scene) influenced me more than any film," he declares. He adds that what he never understood, then or now, is why after experiencing the eye-popping brilliance of Oz, Dorothy "wanted to go back to that dreary, smelly farm" in Kansas.

McCarthy also touches on life on the inside. If Angela Lansbury reminisces about the glamorous night life she experienced as a young starlette, Clint Eastwood recalls his tough times at casting cattle calls. Star-struck views get registered by Steven Spielberg, Kevin Spacey and Salma Hayek, while second-generation hipsters such as Jeff Bridges and Rob Reiner recall hanging out at Sunset Strip rock clubs.

The film touches only briefly on Hollywood's dark side by mentioning the town's susceptibility to scandal and scandal-mongering by the press. Vincent Sherman recalls old scandals, and a few quick cuts from "L.A. Confidential" touch on 1950s tabloid outrage.

But these are conveniently long ago and nearly forgotten. No references are made to modern-day problems such as drug use, minority underrepresentation or congressional concern over movie violence.

The film's well-taken point is that Hollywood is the movie capital of the world and is likely to remain so forever.


American Cinematheque Production

in association with Esplanade Prods.

A Kodak presentation

Producer: Sasha Alpert

Writer-director: Todd McCarthy

Executive producer: Barbara Zicka Smith

Co-director/editor: Arnold Glassman

Line producer: Dale Ann Stieber

Director of photography: Nancy Schreiber

Additional photography: Paul Ryan

Narration: Sharon Stone

Color, black and white/stereo

Running time -- 57 minutes

No MPAA rating


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2 items from 1999

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