Fantasia 2000

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Almost sixty years ago, the original “Fantasia” was released and hard as it may be to believe it now, the response was unenthusiastic. Today, images like Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the little black Pegasus getting some extra help learning how to fly and the dances of the mushrooms and the ballerina hippos are a part of our culture. Walt Disney hoped that “Fantasia” would be released each year with new episodes, but the lacklustre box office and the distractions of other ventures meant that the idea of adding new material was shelved. Still, the animation studio hoped for another chance, and one of the pleasures of this movie is the chance to see some of the proposals for new episodes submitted by animators over the years.

Disney called the original “a grand mixture of comedy, fantasy, ballet, drama, impressionism, color, sound, and epic fury,” and that well describes the very worthy successor. As the first theatrical release designed exclusively for IMAX screens, it fills the eyes of the audience with splendor. Now on video and DVD, it is still a delight, even better in one respect because you can see the entire screen and catch some of the details that are lost in the vast expanse of the IMAX experience.

The audience is reassured from the beginning that this is not going to be some strange or boring culture lesson. Glimpses and sound clips from the original float into view, and then suddenly we are in the midst of the most famous opening notes of classical music, the da da da DUM of Beethoven’s Fifth, accompanied by an abstract battle between groups of triangles. Then Steve Martin comes on to make a joke, and we’re off to the next episode, whales in moonlight, to Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.” The light on the water, the stillness, the dignity and grace of the whales in the water and then as they float up into the sky are magnificent.

Other segments include a rollicking Al Hirschfeld-inspired look at 1930s New York, to the music of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” a very romantic “Steadfast Tin Soldier” set to Dimitri Shostakovich’s second piano concerto, and a mystical tale about death and rebirth in the forest, to Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” From the original, we get Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice with glowing colors and dazzling detail. And Donald finally gets his chance, as Sir Edward Elgar’s famous “Pomp and Circumstance” accompanies not a procession of graduates to their diplomas but a procession of animals to Noah’s ark. Celebrities like Angela Lansbury, Quincy Jones, and James Earl Jones provide smooth transitions.

The movie is rated G, but the experience may be overwhelming for some children. A three year old sitting near me in the theater was in tears throughout the first segment, though she enjoyed some of the others. Parents should also know that magicians Penn and Teller do a trick that may scare some kids, though they immediately show that everything is all right.

Families should talk about the way that music makes pictures in our heads, and experiment by asking children to draw pictures as they listen to music. Ask children why the people in “Rhapsody in Blue” are sad, and how they find what they were dreaming of. They may be especially interested in the rich little girl who is dragged around to all kinds of lessons by her nanny, but who dreams of spending time with her busy parents. Talk to them about the spirit of spring in “The Firebird Suite,” who learns that she cannot prevent death, but can help the forest to renew itself. Ask them about “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” (which has a Disney-ized happy ending). Why did the solider first like the ballerina? Why did he think she would not like him? Why was the Jack in the Box so jealous? Show children some of the drawings of legendary artist Al Hirschfeld, who hid the name of his daughter “Nina” in his pictures. Kids who are interested in the adaptation of his work for “Rhapsody in Blue” will enjoy the award-winning documentary about him, “The Line King.”

Families should watch the original, and compare them — one has a segment on the coming of fall and one on the coming of spring, both have music by Stravinsky, both have a non-representational segment, both have a processional number, and both have a funny animal segment — this one “answers the age-old question, ‘What would happen if you gave a flamingo a yo-yo?'” And see if kids can figure out the closest approximation in the new version of the original’s little black Pegasus. All of this may require a repeat viewing, but hardly anyone will object — and it will give you time to search for the Ninas in “Rhapsody in Blue!”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy three new Disney releases on video — originally produced as “Fantasia” follow-ups with modern music. “Melody Time,” “Make Mine Music,” and “Fun and Fancy Free” feature some of Disney’s classic animation, with outstanding segments like “Peter and the Wolf,” “Casey at the Bat,” and “Mickey and the Beanstalk.”

DVD note: The DVD version has some exceptionally entertaining extras, including commentary by Hirschfeld on his segment and a hilarious commentary by Mickey about his experiences making “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” — he is reassuring that no brooms were harmed in the making of the movie!

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Mumford

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is a cleverly updated version of a 1930’s movie staple — a genial small-town comedy with eccentric but endearing characters and a leading man who is not what he pretends to be. Loren Dean plays Doctor Mumford, a psychologist who has become very popular after just a few months in town (also called Mumford), despite unconventional methods of treatment. He refuses to treat a patient he finds annoying (Martin Short) and casually reveals information from his sessions to other people. But he is a good listener, his patients like him, and he seems to have real insight. Most important, he really helps them.

His patients seem to have a wide variety of problems. A pharmacist lives in a world of pulp-fiction fantasies. A wealthy woman is a compulsive shopper. A teen-age girl wants to look like the models in fashion magazines. A beautiful young woman (Hope Davis) has chronic fatigue syndrome. And a high-tech billionaire named Skip (Jason Lee) just needs someone to talk to. As they talk to Mumford, though, it becomes clear that all of them have the same problem — a need to connect to another person, and a fear that they are not worthy. And it turns out that Doctor Mumford has the same problem, too. He had come to Mumford (the name and the town) to escape the mistakes of his past. When he finds a real friend in Skip, he begins to be able allow someone to know the truth about his past. And when he falls in love with one of his patients, he realizes that he has to tell everyone the truth about himself and be accountable for his past mistakes.

Writer/director Lawrence Kasden brings his “Big Chill” ability to create a believable world with many interesting and engaging characters struggling with issues of intimacy and risk. Doctor Mumford says that his hope for his pharmacist patient is to make him comfortable enough to star in his own fantasies. In a way, that is what he does for all of his patients, even himself, only to find that they can then move on to the real thing.

Parents should know that this movie has a lot of mature material, including nudity and sexual references and drug abuse. Mature teens will appreciate the struggles of the teen-age characters to find a way to feel good enough about themselves to enter into a relationship, and the disconnect between the words and the feelings of Mumford’s teen-age patient. Families should discuss the role that families play in the way each member sees himself, and how the families in the movie help or hurt each other.

Note: Listen for the pharmacist’s comment about “the lost ark,” a reference to one of Kasden’s most famous screenplays.

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Comedy Remake

Godzilla

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The classic Japanese monster film has been updated by the team that produced and directed “Stargate” and “Independence Day,” and what we get is basically “Jurassic Park” with one very, very big dinosaur. Nuclear testing has resulted in the mutation of a fish-loving lizard who seeks out Manhattan as an ideal place for him to lay eggs (he is a self- reproducing hemaphrodite). Godzilla roars around knocking down buildings, bespectacled scientist Nick Tatapolous (Matthew Broderick) works with the US Army and a mysterious group of Frenchmen to try to stop him, and Audrey (Maria Petillo), the girl who broke Nick’s heart in college, tries to break into the broadcast reporting big leagues by getting the inside story.

On the scariness scale, this one fits in at around the “Jurassic Park” level, with a few jump-out-at-you surprises and some tense moments. The special effects are state-of-the art, but not particularly innovative. There are some striking visuals and a few clever plot turns. But the movie sorely misses the quirky charm of “Independence Day’s” Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum and the story never captures the heart. As far as I am concerned, the real special effect in this movie is the way they managed to make it appear that Manhattan was evacuated almost instantaneously.

Parents should know that younger kids aware of India’s recent nuclear testing may be concerned that real mutations could be occuring. Some kids may be confused because at times, Godzilla is presented sympathetically, especially as he/she shows protective fury in finding her babies have been killed. Parents of older kids may want to talk with them about why it was important to Phillippe (Jean Reno) to take responsibility for Godzilla and why it was wrong for Audrey to betray Nick’s trust.

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Fantasy Remake Science-Fiction

The Haunting

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This high-tech remake of the creepy classic is dumb and overblown, but some teenagers will have a good time with it, especially if they go in a group. Its only possible merit is that it is too silly to be scary. There are some good special effects and a couple of “boo!”-style surprises, so it can be just the thing for those early parentless outings.

Liam Neeson plays a doctor who (contrary to any sense of scientific ethics) invites three people to a spooky mansion for what he tells them is insomnia therapy. In reality, it is a part of his study of fear. The three subjects are Luke, a surfer type (Owen Wilson, a bit less spacey than the part he played in “Armageddon”), Theo, a bi-sexual artist who enjoys being provocative but is basically good-hearted (Catherine Zeta- Jones, as divinely gorgeous as she was in “Entrapment”), and Nell, a quiet woman who has spent years taking care of an invalid mother (Lily Taylor, far from the indie films for which she is best known).

The house is indeed amazingly creepy, accurately described by Theo as the house from “Citizen Kane” crossed with the house from “The Munsters.” Every gossamer curtain and every gothic carving screams “watch me because I am going to come to life later on” and in that, at least, we are not disappointed. What does disappoint are the plot and the dialogue, which so interfere with the mood the movie is trying to create that they become the best possible protection against anyone — even a 12 year old — taking it too seriously. R.L. Stine books and even Scooby-Doo epsisodes are scarier.

Kids who are genuinely interested in scary movies should watch the original version, directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Harris and Claire Bloom, to see how subtle story-telling can be much more unsettling. Parents may want to talk about some of the serious themes raised by the movie, including the ethics of scientific experimentation, the role of fear in evolution, child labor, and the paranormal, but perhaps of more interest and value is a discussion of why people like to be scared in a controlled environment like a movie, and what is and is not really scary.

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Horror Remake

The Parent Trap

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This delightful remake of the Hayley Mills classic stars Lindsay Lohan as both Hallie and Annie, twin girls separated at birth, who meet up at summer camp and decide to switch places. Lohan is utterly adorable and does a masterful job of creating two separate characters, each of whom spends a large part of the movie impersonating the other. Their father, Nick (Dennis Quaid), owns a vinyard, and their mother Elizabeth (Natasha Richardson) designs wedding gowns. Meredith, the scheming girlfriend who hopes to marry their father for his money (Elaine Hendrix) has this year’s bad guy profession: publicist.

Parents may want to reassure their kids — one child who saw it with me was distressed that the parents had split up the twins and made no attempt to see the child they gave up. Divorced parents should make sure their children have no illusions of a reconciliation, and all parents should make sure that while it may be charming for the children in the movie to manipulate their parents, it is not appropriate for real life. Other parental concerns include Elizabeth’s getting drunk (portrayed as funny) because of her nervousness at seeing Nick again, and a truly grisly scene where one twin pierces the other’s ears. There is also a poker game bet which ends with a child jumping in the lake without any clothes. Children who enjoy this version will get a kick out of comparing it to the original. Make sure that they notice Joanna Barnes, who plays Vicki (the fiancee) in the original, playing Vicki (the fiancee’s mother) in the remake.

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Comedy Family Issues For the Whole Family Remake
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