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Customer Review

on 30 June 2009
The original Fantasia was a wild, ragged mixture of the conventional and the truly experimental, showing how in the 1940s it was still possible to reach for high culture and the crowd at the same time: the audience for cinema had not yet catalysed out into a whole series of niche markets, as it rather tragically has now. At the popular end, the Sorcerer's Apprentice and Dance of the Hours sequences were light children's fare; the Pastoral Symphony sequence occasionally reached past kitsch to magical beauty, as Disney has always managed to do at odd moments; the Rite of Spring sequence daringly though rather distastefully incorporated dark social-Darwinist ideas about nature red in tooth and claw; the opening Bach slot was abstract in a way you would have expected to be audience suicide, while the Night on Bare Mountain sequence is so disturbing I would never have let my under-12 children watch it.
Fantasia 2000 is much more homogenous and much more relentlessly upbeat. We are selling to a demographic now: middle-class parents who want to ram culture down their children's throats. And so, although much of it is truly lovely, there is a slight feeling of sadness at how our civilisation has squandered its opportunity to make the best culture available to all.
The only really duff sequence is the opening Beethoven's Fifth Symphony number: this nonentity of a story about the rescue of a pink butterfly is woefully inadequate to the music. Don't be put off, watch the rest: the Pines of Rome sequence, where whales take off into space, is perhaps the most technically brilliant; the New York-based Rhapsody in Blue is exhilarating; best of the lot is the final Firebird sequence about a water-nymph who gets caught in a volcano, where the triumphant ending is bound to bring tears to your eyes: it works for me every time I watch it. (My editor says Rhapsody in Blue is the best, and on second thoughts I'm inclined to agree with him.)
The music is cleverly cut and pasted, to the extent that I don't think anyone who didn't already know the pieces well would notice the cuts. What I did not like, for the most part, were the celebrity introductions to the musical numbers. They reeked of the mortal fear every artist now feels of seeming highbrow, elitist or inaccessible: instead of educating about the music, they trivialised it. The low point was when some woman was talking about animations that hadn't made it to the final cut of the original Fantasia: one being a visualisation of The Ride of the Valkyries whose loss was surely a tragedy. We saw one or two seconds of priceless footage while this ignorant hag jeered, 'Here they come - and there they go!' For goodness's sake, if you can't believe in classical music even while you're trying to sell a DVD's worth of the stuff, why don't you just save yourself the trouble?
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