DINOSAUR & FANTASIA 2000
Welcome to Revisiting Disney! This week, we’re trying something new, and looking at two Disney movies that came out at the close of the century, Fantasia 2000 and Dinosaur! Like always, I have labeled each category so if you want to skip to the parts that interest you most, feel free. And, of course, if you have any thoughts, burning or otherwise, please share in the comments!
SOME IMPORTANT NOTES
So, the reason I’ve grouped these two together is because as we get more into the modern Disney films, some of the information is harder to track down; people talk about Tangled and Frozen in a way that they don’t talk about some of the other films that came out after the Disney Renaissance.
The Disney Renaissance, which officially goes from The Little Mermaid to Tarzan (1989 to 1999), is really made up of the Disney films that tended to win a lot of awards, utilize groundbreaking technology, and really do well at the box office. I would call them the films that looked great, critics and audiences tended to be fans of them, and they took advantage of changing styles in animation.
Even though there were some pretty brave (and in my opinion, fantastic) movies that came after the Renaissance, some of which were popular, after the rise of the CGI animated feature, the traditional 2D seemed to have become less appealing in some ways. DreamWorks (founded in 1994 by Steven Spielberg, former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen) and Pixar (who released Toy Story in 1995) changed the game of animation, and the popularity of their films show that. Disney needed to adapt, and it took them a little while to get there.
Not that Disney was making bad movies (though there were some I personally am not a fan of), they just don’t really seem to be the films that the public wanted at the time. This is a broad generalization, and not true of all of these films, but there was some of that.
Because of these factors, I’m planning on grouping together a few different films, and this is my test dual post. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Fantasia 2000 was released on June 16th, 2000, and Dinosaur was released on May 19th, 2000. Both are very different films in that Dinosaur has a plot, while Fantasia 2000 is a “concert film,” like Fantasia before it. However, both of them are very interesting films, visually speaking. Fantasia 2000 took nine years to animate and is made up of a variety of sequences and is a continuation of Fantasia.
RELATED: Revisiting Disney: Fantasia
Dinosaur, on the other hand, went through several changes during production. At one point, it was supposed to be a story where the dinosaurs didn’t talk but had voice-overs, ala Homeward Bound. Another take on the story had it done with stop motion animation but mixed in with live actors playing the lemurs.
When Jurassic Park was released, however, some aspects of the film changed (particularly the use of CGI since Jurassic Park had some wonderful CGI dinosaurs). Dinosaur was originally supposed to be much darker in tone, and the original scene, where Aladar’s egg travels to Lemur Island, is a good example of that original tone.
Fantasia 2000 would go on to win four Annie Awards while Dinosaur would be nominated for five Annie Awards.
Fantasia 2000 is made up of 8 different musical segments. These are Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5,” Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome,” George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102,” Camille Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals,” Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance, Marches #1, 2, 3, & 4,” and Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.”
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was performed by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, who performed the music in the original Fantasia. This piece is just transferred over. The new pieces were performed by James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. However, “Rhapsody in Blue” was performed by Bruce Broughton, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and Ralph Grierson on piano.
The score for Dinosaur was composed by James Newton Howard (the man behind the music from Snow Falling on Cedars and Runaway Bride). The movie is filmed in an epic way, trying to tell a grand story, and the music reflects that. The music builds up as the action does, and there is a bit of emotional manipulation in the score (making us cry and feel pity for the animated dinosaurs). Overall, I think it’s very effective and a wonderful score.
Dinosaur cost $130 million to make, making it the most expensive movie to come out that year. The film uses the CGI dinosaurs as the characters, but also uses real backgrounds; the tropical settings are actual images of Hawaii and Tahiti. Personally, I think the dinosaurs look better than the lemurs, and sometimes the backgrounds can seem fuzzy, but it’s an interesting idea that was fun to watch.
There’s really not a ton to say about it, specifically, but I did find it interesting that some of the dinosaurs were changed to fit what the story needed. For example, iguanodons didn’t have lips; they had beaks, but talking dinosaurs with beaks was a touch silly looking, so…
Also, the carnotaurus was actually smaller than the iguanodon, so the carnotauruses in the film were made to be T-Rex sized (apparently, the T-Rex was going to be used, but since Jurassic Park 2 had some parental t-rexes, they decided to go a different route. The T-rex still did go crazy in San Diego though, so I think it still could have worked).
Fantasia 2000 was the first Disney film to be released in IMAX, and there were several IMAX theaters who were unable or unwilling to meet the terms Disney had set up, making the release of the film a slightly more limited one. Additionally, each piece was animated between other films, which explains some of the changes in the technology used.
“The Steadfast Tin Soldier” is an interesting case, because it uses only CG characters for the first time in a Disney film. CGI had been used in other segments in Fantasia 2000, particularly “Pines of Rome,” but the animators had been unsatisfied with the level of expression they were able to give the characters. By the time “Steadfast Tin Soldier” was animated, they were able to give the characters the expressions they wanted.
Another fun fact about Fantasia 2000 is that the “Carnival of the Animals” piece was animated entirely by Eric Goldberg, who had worked on Pocahontas previously as a co-director. This short took him about nine months, which is pretty awesome. He also used watercolors, which is different than the typically coloring techniques used in Disney animation.
My final fun fact is that the rain used in the Noah’s Ark segment, the “Pomp and Circumstance” piece, was used in Fantasia for “Rite of Spring.” It’s a great example of Disney reusing bits of their old animation to great effect.
Fantasia 2000 doesn’t really have a plot, and while each short kind of tells a story, that’s not really the point. Each segment has an introduction by a celebrity, who shares some sort of fun fact about each piece before it’s performed. This felt a little jarring at times, but as someone who enjoys film trivia, I was able to set my feelings aside on celebrity cameos in concerts and just enjoy it. Fantasia 2000 can be seen on Netflix, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I’d recommend checking it out.
Dinosaur, on the other hand, does tell a definite story, following the adventures of an iguanodon named Aladar. Following a stampede and a very angry meat eater, he narrowly survives his time in the egg and is adopted by a family of lemurs on their island. After a meteor strikes nearby, Aladar and his family make their way to the mainland, where they find a herd of iguanodons, migrating to their nesting ground.
Aladar struggles between his desire to fit in and the way he feels drawn to protect the weak in the herd, regardless of orders from Kron, the leader of the herd. This struggle is intensified when Aladar finds himself drawn to Neera, Kron’s lovely young sister. The herd is stalked by a pair of Carnotauruses and the path to the nesting ground might be more complicated then they all thought at first. Plus, there are no real villains among the herd, just a bunch of dinosaurs trying to do what they think is best. This is a unique way to portray the conflict in a Disney movie, and I thought it worked well.
It’s a Disney movie, so obviously the dinosaurs get to the nesting grounds, but the story takes a fun path, complete with commentary from some sarcastic lemurs and a couple of sassy old dinosaurs. It’s a pretty funny film. One of my favorite scenes is in the beginning. The lemurs are courting, and we hear the advice given to the lady lemurs and the gentlemen lemurs (which is a hilarious contrast).
Dinosaur is based on a short-film by Phil Tippett called Prehistoric Beast which had been released in 1985, and is a stop-motion film with very realistic dinosaurs. The original plan had been to adapt this story into a longer piece, one that used stop-motion animation to make a silent, fairly violent dinosaur film. As production went on, the story really changed to the more family-friendly one we have today.
With Fantasia 2000, the source was similar to the sources used in Fantasia; classical music that was animated based on what the artists heard. The stories were from the imagination of the animators, though “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was included from the original film. “Rhapsody in Blue” was also based heavily on the art of cartoonist Al Hirschfeld, who loved it.
There was also the “Steadfast Tin Soldier” piece based on a Hans Christian Anderson story, which was a piece that Disney had wanted to use in the original Fantasia, but hadn’t been able to find music that they liked for the piece. Finally, the “Firebird Suite” was based on the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. The animators took inspiration from many things, from Noah’s ark, fairy tales, the life of whales and other wildlife, and working in New York during a Depression.
We are about to leave the 1990s and the last century behind us! When these movies were released, particularly Fantasia 2000, people were very excited to not have seen the end of the world. Also, these two films are a great example of how things are changing, very quickly. Technology is booming; you can have CGI dinosaurs over a background in Hawaii and animate characters with detailed expressions using the computer in new and exciting ways.
Basically, the 1990s were a time of great change, and if you look at the Disney films produced during that time period, you get a sense of that shift. Realistic sometimes sells, and sometimes it doesn’t. Computers, particularly programs like CAPS (which Disney used for Rescuers Down Under), allow the Studio to do things that they hadn’t been able to do before.
The lessons learned are varied. From Fantasia 2000, I learned to always chase my dreams; whether I am a whale who wants to fly, a flamingo who wants to learn how to yo-yo, or a construction worker with a passion for music. If I dream it, I can do it.
Also, I learned that nature can grow back. Time can help all things heal, whether a volcano on a mountainside or a bunch of mean flamingos stealing my yo-yo collection. Finally, love conquers all. No, that’s not how any Hans Christian Anderson story ends, but it’s nice. And the Noah’s Ark with Donald Duck and Daisy Duck is really sweet.
From Dinosaur, I learned that there is strength in numbers. On his own, Aladar can’t beat back the Carnotauruses, but by working together, the herd can win. When they are trapped in the cave, everyone has to work together to break out, and when the water is dry, they have to work together to get more.
Also, a big lesson in Dinosaur is that the smallest things can make a difference. Whether that’s a small act of kindness or a person who thinks they can’t make a difference, you can (a comforting thought). And all we can do is hope that we make a difference, no matter how small.
DO THEY HOLD UP?
Both of these films are wonderful in different ways. While I prefer the music and style of Fantasia 2000, personally (plus, I like how you can tell how the technology has changed, just in those years), Dinosaur is also a pretty impressive film, animation-wise. While I wouldn’t call either of them my personal favorite Disney films, they show off the skill and talent of the Studio and the way they are adapting to the new technologies.
For next week: The Emperor’s New Groove
If you enjoyed this post and the others in the Revisiting Disney series, and have found yourself wishing that you could find them all in one convenient and bound book with eight extra essays, there is an option for you! Check out A Journey Through Disney: My Look Back Through Disney Canon, now available on Amazon as both a Kindle book ($4.99) and a paperback ($11.99).
Bailey, Adrian. Walt Disney’s World of Fantasy. Everest House Publishers. New York, New York. 1982.
Finch, Christopher. The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdom. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, New York. 1975.
Johnston, Ollie and Frank Thomas. The Disney Villain. Hyperion. New York, New York. 1993.
Sale, Roger. Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E.B. White. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA, 1978.
Tatar, Maria. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. W.W. Norton and Company. New York and London, 2002.
Thomas, Bob. Disney’s Art of Animation From Mickey Mouse to Hercules. Hyperion. New York, New York. 1992.
Wright, Gordon. The Ordeal of Total War: 1939-1945. Harper Torchbooks, Harper & Row. New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, and London, 1968.
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