The Next Generation
"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
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
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
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
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
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.
| FANTASIA/2000 PRODUCTION | FANTASIA/2000 CREW | FANTASIA/2000
| 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