IMAX; you, Mickey
Originally, Walt Disney wanted to call his symphonic feature Fantasia "Concert Film." As a kid, I wanted to call it "Boring Piece of Crap." However, my mother would never tolerate such language. Nonetheless, old Walt wanted cartoons to be respected as an art form. He wanted to merge the perceived lowbrow with the established highbrow. So he came up with the idea of using various styles of animation - abstract, impressionistic, realistic, and cartoony -to interpret famous classical music scores. The result was the Disney film equivalent to spinach and liver.
It was a cartoon parents raved was good for you and insisted on cramming down your throat no matter how much you wrinkled up your face. To make matters worse, Mickey had become one of them: He was the Minister of Propaganda beneath a magic hat, gleefully waving his arms as though he were conjuring a special gift for children. But he was only bait. He showed up for his short, vitalizing segment, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," took a moment to suck up to the conductor, then skipped out on us, never to be seen again. Rat bastard.
But now, I'm an adult -- older, wiser, educated. I've spent years studying literature, film, some classical music -- even animation. And thanks to this college experience, I realized how childish some of my youthful observations had been. Fantasia is truly an amazing film experience (especially on weed). And now, there's also a new version of Walt's "symphonic concert film," dubbed Fantasia/2000. More than just a millennial re-release cash-in, it's being billed as the actual realization of Walt Disney's original dream: to make Fantasia an ongoing experiment with new segments constantly being added to an ever-changing film. Since it's been nearly 60 years since the original, the ever-changing film is actually an entirely new movie -- save Mickey, who's back as Sorcerer's Apprentice and Minister of Propaganda, fooling audiences into thinking this movie is for children.
Of course, it's not. Kids today, with their Cartoon Network and Pokémon, might be even less prepared to handle this version of Fantasia than previous generations, despite efforts to make it more accommodating. The running time is only 75 minutes, whereas the original is two hours; Donald Duck gets his own segment, a Noah's Ark tale, giving kids another iconic Disney character to latch onto as well as a familiar story to follow; and there's a flamingo who yo-yos, no doubt a kindred spirit to the dancing Hippos of yore. Another segment, based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, features a tin soldier saving a ballerina from an evil jack-in-the-box. Though, come to think of it, kids today probably won't really identify with that one: They'll just want to go get an Ultimate Cheeseburger.
But to hell with the kids. Everybody knows most animation is really geared toward adults. South Park, The Simpsons, Futurama, even Batman Beyond and The Iron Giant are cartoons made by adults who love animation for adults who love animation. Like the original, Fantasia/2000 is no exception. In that sense, Walt might have realized his aspiration: The adult Fantasia audience readily accepts cartoons as an art form, which is a very good thing.
After all, it takes the sensibility of an art-loving adult -- particularly the sensibility of an art-loving adult on weed -- to understand that when "Pines of Rome" features neither Pines nor Rome but giant flying whales, you just gotta go with it, baby. It ain't about figuring it out; it's about being swept away into a marvelous world as only animation can do. Considering Fantasia/2000 is (for now) playing only at IMAX theaters with giant screens and 44-speaker surround-sound systems, it's impossible not to disappear into the film at some point, especially in the engulfing domed theaters where the action literally envelops you. The best segment is, by far, George Gershwin's irresistible "Rhapsody in Blue," with animation based on the old-fashioned linear-style caricatures Al Hirschfeld made famous in the 1940s. Far from a "Boring Piece of Crap," it's one of the most energizing pieces of art I've ever seen.
Scott Kelton Jones
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