My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music Monday: My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music: Part 11: Fantasia 2000

I’m sorry to post this a day late, but I felt rather tired, as I did not get much sleep on Sunday night, and I could not focus on completing it; I decided not to skip this post because I figured, “better late than never.”

I talked about the original Fantasia before, but today I will talk about its sequel, which was 60 years in the making.

As the original Fantasia was being developed, Walt Disney intended for it to be a perpetual entertainment experience.  In other words, people it would be regularly rereleased with new segments replacing some of the old ones.  According to Wikipedia: “Disney had wanted Fantasia to be an ongoing project, with a new edition being released every few years.[145] His plan was to substitute one of the original segments with a new one as it was complete, so the viewer would always see a new version of the film.[71] From January to August 1941, story material was developed based on additional pieces, including Ride of the Valkyries by Richard WagnerThe Swan of Tuonela by Jean SibeliusInvitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von WeberFlight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov,[13][71].”

However, that would never happen.  There were many reasons.  First, Disney wanted to release Fantasia as part of a roadshow exhibition.  However, his distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, refused to handle the film because of its length (124 minutes) and because money, materials, and time required to install the new Fantasound sound system in the theaters.  RKO allowed Disney to distribute the film himself.  However, due to the limited release (Fantasia played in only thirteen different roadshow engagements), the fact that the film couldn’t be released in Europe because of World War II, and high costs, the film failed to turn a profit.  The plans to update Fantasia were cancelled.  Disney did make two films consisting of musical segments, Make Mine Music (1946) and Melody Time (1948), but they were not true updates to Fantasia, and were different in style.

Disney’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, however, belatedly fulfilled his uncle’s dream by producing Fantasia 2000, which opened in IMAX theaters on January 1, 2000 (mirroring the special road hshow release of the original).  The film featured 7  new segments plus the return of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; instead of having one host, each segment had a different host or hosts.

The film begins with a compilation of scenes from the original Fantasia with Deems Taylor’s introduction heard in voice-over, and then the first number is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which acompanies a story of abstract butterflies fleeing their more sinister counterparts; this segment mirrors the abstract animation of the Tocatta and Fugue from the original.

The second segment uses the music of Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome to tell the story of a pod of humpback whales who can fly.  Steve Martin formally welcomes the audience to the film, and then the film changes its focus to violinist Itzhak Perlman who introduces the segment.

The third segements features the jazzy Rhapsody in Blue, the signature piece of George Gershwin, which tells the story of four New Yorkers (drawn in the style of caracaturist Al Hirschfeld) during the Great Depression who all have different dreams: Duke, a construction worker who longs to be a drummer for a jazz band; Jobless Joe, who wants a job; Rachel; a little girl who wants nothing more than to spend more time with her busy parents; and John, who wants to leave his overly demanding wife.  It is introduced by music producer and mogul Quincy Jones who is accompanied by the piece’s pianist.

Next, Bette Midler gives the viewer information on several pieces and concepts that were considered for a new Fantasia, but they never made it to the screen.  Eventually, the Disney animators chose to Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, but struggled to find the right music for it, finally settling on Dmitri Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto.  First composed in 1957, it is the newest piece in any of the Fantasia films.

Next, James Earl Jones introduces the Finale of The Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saens.  This piece answers the age-old question “What happens if you give a yo-yo to a flock of flamingos?”  It’s definitely the funniest piece in the film.

Next, Penn and Teller introduce The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the only returning piece from the original Fantasia.

Next, James Levine introduces a piece featuring Donald Duck, The first four Marches of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance set to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, featuring Donald as Noah’s assistance.

Finally Angela Lansbury introduces, Igor Stravinky’s Firebird Suite.  This segments features a wood sprite bringing a forest back to life after the winter, but then she awakens the Firebird, who lives in a volcano…

While, I don’t think that Fantasia 2000 matches the original, I still feel it’s a worthy feat, with the right amount of diversity, style, and tone.  I wish that Disney would make another one, but I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

 

 

My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music Monday: My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music: Part 4: Walt Disney’s Fantasia

Hello, All.

Happy Monday.

This is a special day for me because it is my 23rd birthday.

To that end, I will do special blog post, and I will talk about some of my favorite pieces of classical in my absolute favorite film: Walt Disney’s Fantasia.

In the late 1930’s Walt Disney planned to make a special Mickey Mouse cartoon accompanied by the the musical piece, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, composed by Paul Dukas.  The intention was to increase the popularity of Mickey Mouse who was beginning to lose fame to other cartoon characters of the time.  One night at restaurant called Chasen’s Southern Pit, Disney had a chance encounter with Leopold Stokowski, the most famous conductor of the time.  Both men were fans of the other, and Disney asked him to conduct the music for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, to which Stokowski agreed.  However, as production began, Disney realized that the expenses of the short film were growing too much.  He and Stokowski decided to make entire feature based around animated images accompanied by classical music pieces.  They hired Deems Taylor, a composer and music critic, to act as the film’s host, and they created a film version of a classical music concert.

I first discovered the film in late 1999 when I began seeing previews of Fantasia 2000, the sequel to the original film.  I would see that film at the IMAX theater (Fantasia 2000 was screened exclusively in IMAX theaters from January 1, 2000 until April 30, 2000, and it opened in standard theaters on June 16 of that year.) the following February 2000, and I enjoyed it.  Later that summer, I rented the original Fantasia on VHS from Blockbuster, and I greatly enjoyed that as well.

To me, Fantasia is very mystical, mysterious, rich, diverse, and complex.  It has 8 different segments, each dedicated to a specific classical piece.

The first is the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach, though in recent years, many music scholars and musicologists have questioned whether or not he actually wrote it, since the styles and techniques within it are atypical of him and more consistent with music composed after the Baroque era.  It was originally composed for organ, but Stokowski created an orchestra arrangement for it.  Since the piece was aboslute muisc, music that is not meant to tell a story or depict something concrete, Disney and his animators decided to use abstract animation to go with the music.  Taylor states in his introduction that if one were to go to a concert all and hear this piece, abstract images might go through one’s head.

Second, the The Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky.  Rather than retell the story of the Nutcracker, Disney interpreted the music as a ballet of the personification of nature.  Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is about sprites and fairies putting dew all over a forest during the nighttime.  The Chinese Dance shows a group of mushrroms, made to look Chinese, doing a Chince dance.  Dance of the Reed Flutes depicts ballerina flowers dancing.  The Arab Dance, depicts sexy, sultry goldfish dancing.  The Russian Dance shows lilies and thistles doing a Russian folk dance.  And finally, the Waltz of the Flowers shows fairies changing the seasons from summer to fall and from fall to winter.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice features Mickey Mouse as the apprentice of a sorcerer.  He decides, without permission of supervision, to use the Sorcerer’s magic hat to bring a broomstick to life to fill a cauldron with water.  However, Mickey could not get the broomstick to stop…

The Rite of Spring is different from the first three pieces in that its story is from science rather than fantasy.  It shows the history of the world from when the world was nothing but volcanoes to the evolution of life to the age of the dinosaurs and their extinction.  The composer, Igor Stravinksy was the only Fantasia composer alive at the time.  He enjoyed a work in progress version of the segment, and after the final film was released, he gave the studio the rights to use three of his other works in future films; however, Stravinsky later went on record saying that he hated that a third of the music was omitted and that much of what was kept was reordered.

Next, is “Meet the Soundtrack” where an animated line demonstrates the sounds that the orchestra is capable of making.  The animators certainly embued a lot of personality into the line, making it seem as real  and as memorable as any human or animal character they have created.

Next, is the Pastoral Symphony.  Disney chose to depict the music as depicting Greek mythological creatures including, flying horses, centaurs, fauns, and unicorns.  They originally chose the piece Cydalise by Gabriel Pierne, but the music was not complementary enough to the animation, and so they chose Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. In three sections, the segments depicts, the creatures living around Mount Olympus, the centaurs and centaurettes near a river, a huge party interrupted by Zeus and Vulcan creating a thunderstorm, and then the end of the storm and nightfall.

Then, the film moves on to Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, depicting ostriches hippos, elephants, and alligators doing ballet.  The film was meant as a parody of ballet, but it still pays tribute to ballet at the same time.

Finally, is a double segment, Modest Mussorgsky A Night on Bald Mountain and Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria.  This was designed as a battle of the profane and the sacred.  The first shows the black god, Chernabog coming to life and summoning all sorts of evil beings.  However, when church bells ring, all the evil goes back into hiding and we see a group of the faithful walking through the woods carrying torches as the sun rises.

So diverse, yet so cohesive, Fantasia is a wonderful cinematic journey.  While it was not appreciated much when it was first released, it eventually got its due, and is heralded as a classic.  And now many people around the world appreciate for the work of art that it is.