Where the hell were the dancing hippos? That was the first question raised immediately after a screening of Disney's new Fantasia/2000, a retooled, souped-up, IMAX version of the original animated 1940 flick, which succeeded in terrifying children around the world, pretty much assuring they would never in a million years become classical music fans.
The pudgy, tutu-wearing mammals daintily pirouetting were sorely missed. But the sinister anthropomorphic brooms from the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" are there, in all their six-story glory, marching with their buckets of sloshing water. The eunuch-voiced Mickey makes the requisite appearance too, as do an assembly line of established celebrities, most of whom go unidentified. (Guess they're just so famous everyone is supposed to know who they are!) A tuxedoed Steve Martin, who actually introduces himself, is the first. Quincy Jones (Quincy Jones?), Penn and Teller, James Earl Jones, and Bette Middler follow. Angela Lansbury concludes the all-star lineup, making us wonder at whom the movie is truly aimed: children or adults?
The updated rendering, the first full-length animated feature to be made in the IMAX format, provides nearly 90 minutes of sensory overload. James Levine conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program of banal classical music (Beethoven's Symphony No. 5; Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance; Respighi's Pines of Rome). Fostered by the latest technological advances, seven new animation sequences, sometimes intriguing but more often menacing for kids of any age, paint distorted portraits, slamming the viewer over the head with a profusion of images that ultimately fall short of capturing what the music could symbolize. (A rare exception is the Al Hirschfeld-inspired vignette set to George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which conjures 1920s New York City, delicately exploring urban denizens of all ages and walks of life.) The creepiest moments take place in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," carried over from the original film and looking as dated as the lesson it relates. Seemingly a simple story of a harmless mouse getting his comeuppance when his wish goes awry, it is really a stern morality tale, warning those who languish in laziness not to take the easy way out of their burdens.
For those patient enough to sit through all of the credits (and there are many), comedian Martin delivers a funny bit. Very early on in the film, though, he claims quite seriously that in its first incarnation Fantasia was thought of as a "perpetual work in progress." Well, back to the drawing board, guys.