Unveiled just after the clock struck midnight on Dec 31st 1999, making it the first film to be released in the new millennium (pedantry over the date of the beginning of the millennium notwithstanding).
The first feature length animated film to be presented in IMAX. IMAX had to agree to Disney's terms and conditions to gain the exclusive first showings of the film. These included a limited engagement of 4 months and 50% of the box office receipts. It was for this reason that, when Fantasia 2000 (1999) had its first run, not all IMAX cinemas showed it as not all of them were prepared to accept Disney's terms. The California Science Center in Los Angeles was one such venue who refused to meet these terms so Disney built a purpose-built IMAX theatre for the 4 month run, costing them $4 million, and demolished it afterwards.
Although never mentioned, the main characters of the "Rhapsody in Blue" segment all have names. The construction worker is named Duke. The man who needs a job is, appropriately, named Jobless Joe. The little girl is named Rachel, named and modeled after Eric Goldberg and Susan Goldberg's youngest daughter. (Rachel's real-life sister Jenny was the model for a character in Rachel's scenes, the girl with blue hair that can perform all the actions that Rachel cannot. At the time the segment was being produced, the real Jenny had blue hair.) The portly fellow is named John, sometimes referred to by the animators as "Flying John", and he is named after animation historian John Culhane, who was also the inspiration for the character Mr. Snoops in The Rescuers (1977). (He was originally based on Al Hirschfeld's caricature of writer Alexander Woollcott.) Duke and Jobless Joe are not named after particular individuals.
When Eric Goldberg first approached cartoonist Al Hirschfeld about adopting his visual style for the "Rhapsody in Blue" segment, Hirschfeld told him that if he was 50 years younger he would have been on a train the next day to come work on the project. Eric Goldberg showed "Rhapsody in Blue" to Al Hirschfeld shortly before the artist's 96th birthday. Hirschfeld's wife Louise called it the best birthday present he could have received.
Outside of the Pixar films, the "Steadfast Tin Soldier" segment is the first time that lead characters in a Disney animation are completely computer generated. Although the whales in "Pines of Rome" were computer animated, their eyes were all hand-drawn. This was done because the software available to the studio at the time was not advanced enough to create convincing eyes with the expressiveness desired by the filmmakers. This was not a problem by the time "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" went underway, and the CG characters for that segment have fully expressive features.
The "Carnival of the Animals" segment with the yo-yo-playing flamingo was originally conceived with ostriches in mind by Joe Grant, 91-year-old head of story on Fantasia 2000 (1999) and the only crew member to have worked on the original Fantasia (1940).
Director Eric Goldberg animated the entire "Carnival of the Animals" segment himself. He had just finished co-directing Pocahontas (1995) and, quite literally, wanted to get back to the drawing board. The whole process took him about 9 months.
In the original IMAX release, this film incorporated a multi-channel and multi-layer stereo system for the soundtrack. This was put into amusing use during the introduction of "Pomp and Circumstance", when Mickey Mouse went in search of Donald Duck. The sound was processed to give the illusion that Mickey was running about the theatre, behind the audience's seats.
When Bette Midler was introducing "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" by talking about ideas that were originally going to be in the original Fantasia (1940) she mentions "Flight of the Bumble Bee". It was used in Melody Time (1948) under the title Bumble Boogie.
Instead of being produced all at once, as the original Fantasia (1940) had been, each segment was produced individually during production lulls between features. "Pines of Rome", the first segment to go into production, was completed in 1995. Ludwig van Beethoven's 5th was the last sequence to go into production.
The "Rhapsody in Blue" segment is drawn in the style of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld is famous for incorporating the name of his daughter Nina Hirschfeld West into his drawings. There are three instances of "Nina" in this segment: one on the end of Duke's toothpaste tube, one in the fur collar of John's wife and one in her hair. She herself is caricatured among the people rushing out of the Goldberg Hotel alongside caricatures of Hirschfeld himself, sequence director Eric Goldberg, his wife Susan Goldberg, and producer Donald W. Ernst. The man running towards the camera with the coat in his arm is writer Brooks Atkinson, taken from a Hirschfeld illustration.
Composer Bruce Broughton was initially contracted to pen original music for the interstitial sequences, and also conducted the recording of "Rhapsody in Blue" that is featured in the final film. Broughton ultimately did not provide any original score for the film, and the recording of "Rhapsody in Blue" on the film's CD soundtrack is an alternate version conducted by James Levine, who conducted every other recording for the final film. Broughton has continued to work with Disney, however, on many other Disney projects since.
Roy Edward Disney actually studied "Pines of Rome" in a Music Appreciation course he took while studying at Pomona College in California. He brought a score to one of the first meetings with the animators, and told them he wanted it in the final film.
A third film in the Fantasia series, called Fantasia 2006, was in the works however partway through Disney eventually realized this was impractical and released the shorts intended for it individually without the "fantasia" branding.
Initially the release was going to only feature a few new segments with the majority of sequences coming from the original Fantasia (1940). However this was found to be impractical and Disney instead considered making the film out of mostly new segments with a few favorites from the original. Eventually they decided to only keep the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" from the original with the rest being entirely new segments.
The short (under three minutes) segment, "The Carnival of the Animals" was meant to be a tour de force for some animator. Director Eric Goldberg animated the sequence himself. His separate short, based on George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", was released as part of Fantasia 2000 (1999) and became, at 12 minutes, the longest segment. "Rhapsody in Blue," originally planned by director Eric Goldberg as a stand-alone independent film, was an eleventh-hour addition to the lineup. "The Nutcracker Suite" from the original Fantasia (1940) was originally planned for this spot, until a production hiatus allowed Goldberg an opportunity to allow the Disney animators to work on "Rhapsody in Blue." See the trivia for The Emperor's New Groove (2000). In the earliest trailer a clip was shown from the segment of "The Nutcracker Suite." However, when the trailer was re-purposed for the theatrical run in June of 2000, this segment was missing. Yo-Yo Ma had recorded a host segment for "The Nutcracker Suite."
Received its world premiere at New York City's Carnegie Hall with the 120 piece Philharmonia Orchestra of London providing the music. This was repeated in Paris, Tokyo and at London's Royal Albert Hall.
The original plan for the film was to feature 2 segments from _Fantasia_ - The Sorcerer's Apprentice and The Nutcracker Suite. The latter was replaced by Rhapsody in Blue, the segment utilizing Al Hirschfeld's drawings.