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FANTASIA 2000:
The Next Generation
(Part II)

"Set to the strains of George Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue,' one of the new Fantasia/2000 segments culminates at the skating rink at New York's Rockefeller Center. Here, five animated characters frolic on the ice as they imagine their dreams coming true. And one of them actually flies.

Flying, of course, has been a recurring Disney metaphor for the pursuit of happiness since Mickey Mouse flew in 1928's 'Plane Crazy'. Throughout Fantasia/2000, the belief in -- and hope for -- happiness is a common thread.

'Think of the happiest things,' Walt Disney said in 1951. 'It's the same as having wings.'

Fantasia/2000's seven new segments (the film also includes an encore of 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice') are set to a sparkling orchestral score of classics performed by Maestro James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The first begins with a battle between good and evil, conceived by Pixote Hunt, its director and art director. Using the instantly recognizable introduction to Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 as musical canvas, Hunt tells his story using abstract, multicolored forms that flee jagged shapes darkness.

The segment's climax comes when an orange shape, cut off by darkness, perseveres and ascends until it is, in Hunt's words, 'safely home.' The protagonist here is a simple pastel shape, scanned into a computer, inked and painted electronically, then manipulated as a computer-generated image. But to the artist's eye, it is a moving painting. And to our eyes and hearts, it could be a fellow creature, desperate to escape danger.

When Executive Producer Roy E. Disney first saw Hunt's fluttering, geometric visualization, he offered his own interpretation: 'I thought, "Butterfly characters -- older ones, younger ones."'

A similar ascension takes place in Ottorino Respighi's 'Pines of Rome,' directed by Hendel Butoy. This time, what once was lost and now is found is a little humpback whale. With Respighi's trumpets swirling, the whale, reunited not only with his parents but with the entire pod, launches what is, in essence, a great jump for joy.

The scene changes dramatically in the third segment, 'Rhapsody in Blue.' A slowly ascending clarinet wail introduces the Gershwin piece and prepares us to meet some big-city characters filled with longings as they pursue happiness.

'Rhapsody' Director Eric Goldberg and his wife, Art Director Susan Goldberg, have visualized a day in New York City in the linear style of Al Hirschfield, the 96-year-old master caricaturist of The New York Time's drama page. Susan created a color script that, she says, uses the emotional possibilities of 'every blue, ever.'

So Duke, the construction-site riveter who is a jazz drummer at heart, is the color purple. And Jobless Joe, who needs work but can't find it, is ice blue with a tinge of sadness. Susan also uses other colors for contract: Rachel, a pretty little girl who just wants to be happy be being together with her parents, is bright magenta. And Flying John (said to designed after the writer of this article) may be dressed in black, but his red socks reveal what Eric Goldberg calls 'his slightly surreptitious joie de vivre.'

'All John needs for liftoff,' says Eric, 'are the saxophones, that big violin section of the famous slow theme, and his happy thoughts. He takes his momentum from them, goes into a little squat as skaters do before they leap, and suddenly -- he's flying!'

Things don't start our nearly so upbeat in the segment accompanying Dmitry Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2. The villain of the piece is the vain, malicious jack-in-the-box from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, ' The Steadfast Tin Soldier,' and he seeks the ruin of his rival for the love of a porcelain ballerina.

Roy Disney thought this tale of toys coming to life was a natural for computer animation. In Andersen's story, the ballerina is burned to a spangle by the same fire that melts the soldier down to his tin heart. But Supervising Director Hendel Butoy thought, 'The music seemed to be asking us to give the tin soldier and his beloved ballerina the happy ending that their personalities deserve.' What Butoy heard in the music, the animators brought to life: The jack-in-the-box has the fiery ending he planned for his rival, and the soldier and ballerina dance joyously.

In 'Carnival of the Animals,' by Camille Saint-Saens, Director Eric Goldberg animates a quirky parable about every person's right to have fun. It all began with a question posed by Joe Grant, co-story director of the original Fantasia and creative director on Fantasia/2000: 'What happens when an ostrich encounters a yo-yo?'

The idea of all that string wrapping around that long neck intrigued Grant. Roy Disney, too, loved the idea. After Michael Eisner, The Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO, told Disney of his preference for pink flamingos, Grant redrew the idea with flamingos.

'Joe had always imagined the piece as a tour de force for one animator,' says Thomas Schumacher, president of Walt Disney Feature Animation. 'That's why we brought the concept to Eric.'

Goldberg envisioned the piece as a conflict between one individualist and six conformists moving in lockstep -- that mode of marching in close file where each leg moves with the corresponding leg of the stepper just ahead.

The individualist is a yo-yo expect, whom Goldberg dubs Our Hero. The others he calls the Snotty Six. When the Snotty Six are looking the other way. Our Hero is slyly tossing out a yo-yo to do, say, a wag-the-dog, stubbornly asserting his right to play.

To make sure that yo-yo experts in the audience would respect Our Hero, Goldberg not only observed flamingos in zoos an don video, he also studied the movements of a real-life yo-yo expert: Mike Gabriel, his co-director on Pocahontas.

'The breakthrough came when I redesigned Joe's flamingo ankle,' Goldberg explains. 'That way, I could caricature the human "wrist-snap" action with Our Hero's foot.'

In 'Pomp and Circumstance,' by Sir Edward Elgar, Director Francis Glebas tells a story of Noah's Ark in which, at last, Noah's assistant gets his due. It turns out that the heretofore unsung hero who wrangles two of every critter onto the overcrowded ark is Donald Duck. And since Glebas has turned Noah's Ark into a they-just-keep-missing-ear-other love story, there is a role here for Daisy, too.

The Great Moment in Animation comes when Donald and Daisy kiss after each has feared the other lost in the deluge. Professor Peter Schickele, known for his P.D.Q. Bach concerts, arranged four of Sir Edward's 'Pomp and Circumstance' marches to provide the music that leads up to this really big kiss. Maestro Levine conducts diva Kathleen Battle in singing a high E that soars above the scene and even makes a rainbow in the sky.

But the kiss itself was up to Tim Allen, lead animator for both Donald and Daisy. 'I remembered the way my wife kissed me when she rejoined me from Minneapolis,' says Allen. 'I'd gotten the job at Disney but hadn't been able to bring her with me right away.

'I think I had Daisy kiss Donald the way everybody wants to be kissed.'

Roy Disney calls Fantasia/2000's final segment, based on Igor Stravinsky's 'The Firebird Suite,' 'nothing less than a story of death and resurrection.' The three personalities who populate 'The Firebird Suite' are a sprite who represents nature; an elk representating the creatures of nature; and the firebird itself, a symbol for the destructive power that is as much a part of nature as is fecundity. The French twins Paul and Gaetan Brizzi, who impressed Roy Disney with their work on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, co-directed the segment.

To research the piece, Disney sent the brothers to the Pacific Northwest to spend a few days near Mount Saint Helens. It was that volcano's destructive eruption, years earlier, and nature's subsequent rebirth that had started Disney thinking about the death -and-resurrection theme that would ultimately end the film.

Disney then dispatched Supervising Animator Ron Husband and Paul Brizzi to elk country -- Antelope, Montana, to be exact -- where they could experience live models. 'I could touch them, feel their muscles, the texture of their hair,' recalls Husband. 'I got a real sense of the strength I wanted to put into my elk.'

John Pomeroy animated the firebird itself. After its force and violence have reduced the sprite to ashes, the empathic elk breathes on those ashes and tenderly nudges the reborn form, coaxing it to wake up and try again. In the end, the sprite rises from the ashes and dissipates into radiant light that bathes the hill where the elk stands, transfixed.

Fantasia/2000's final layout shows what Sir Winston Churchill once used as a metaphor for the peace that could come after war: 'bored, sunlit uplands.' The elk is in the foreground; in the background is a now-dormant volcano. But the emotional focus is no longer on the firebird, the volcano, the elk, or even the sprite. It has shifted to the Brizzis' mystical conception of an ultimate happy ending: the sunlight on the hill.

John Culhane became a journalist more than 40 years ago on the advice of Walt Disney. Culhane's seventh book, Fantasia 2000: Visions of Hope, will be published by Hyperion in December.

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FANTASIA/2000 NEWS | FANTASIA/2000 PRODUCTION | FANTASIA/2000 CREW | FANTASIA/2000 MUSIC |
FANTASIA/2000 LINKS | SYMPHONY NO. 5 | THE PINES OF ROME | RHAPSODY IN BLUE | THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER |
CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS | THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE | POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE | THE FIREBIRD SUITE