Disney to remake the cartoon of the century

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The Independent Online
DISNEY IS to remake for the first time its classic 1940 movie Fantasia, which combined animation and classical music.

The reworking of Walt Disney's most ambitious masterpiece, which has entranced generations, will be called Fantasia 2 and include new scenes. The new version will be premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in London next year, with the American maestro James Levine conducting a live orchestra and the film playing behind them.

Fantasia 2 will involve using much of the original film, but with additions such as a three-minute version of Beethoven's Fifth. Also in the new version will be Stravinsky's Firebird, replacing the composer's The Rite Of Spring. Classic sequences such as Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer's apprentice will remain and Donald Duck will have a role in the new film.

In the original film, which the Disney organisation describes as "Walt Disney's most celebrated and most requested film", the late Leopold Stokowski conducted on screen and famously shook hands with Mickey Mouse. This time James Levine will be conducting on a real podium.

Disney personnel say some of the new sequences involving the most up- to-date animation techniques are breathtaking. One senior executive said: "We are very aware there is a heavy responsibility on us. We are dealing with an iconic work of cinema. But we think everybody will be very happy with the result. Walt originally wanted to update the film."

The reworking of Fantasia is among a number of highly ambitious plans by the Disney studios that sources have revealed to me. The plans involve dramatic departures from the corporation's previous policy.

Fantasia took three years to make and became known by the studios as "The Concert Feature". The movie was deemed brilliantly inventive by animation standards of the time. Disney was at the height of his success, with Donald Duck, Goofy and the Seven Dwarfs having become international celebrities. Concerned that his original hero, Mickey Mouse, should not be eclipsed, Disney decided to cast him in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a comedy about an overworked apprentice misappropriating his master's magical powers.

Disney put the idea to Stokowski, who saw the challenge as "the ultimate in conducting" and went on to suggest other pieces of music that could be expanded. Stokowski suggested Stravinsky's Rite of Spring ballet music. Disney visualised the music as a story of the evolution of life on Earth during the first billions of years.

Later Stravinsky recalled going to Hollywood to see the final movies. He was offered a score and, when he said he had his own, was told: "But it is all changed.". And it was. Stravinsky declared that Stokowski's performance of his music had been "execrable", and that Disney's illustrations were "an unresisting imbecility".

When Fantasia was released Disney told Time magazine that he expected what he called his "most exciting adventure" to run for years - perhaps even after I have gone".

Another of Disney's plans is to mount a stage musical of a real-life story - the rise of the world's most famous basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters. Disney executives will go into Harlem to recruit young athletic basketball players, who will be schooled in acting, dancing and singing skills.

The Disney organisation is also planning a new surprising stage musical to follow its hugely successful stage version of The Lion King, which opens in London this month, and an upcoming retelling of the Aida story with music by Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice, which opens in America in October.

The musical being planned to follow The Lion King and Aida is Hoops, which will be the stage show telling the story of the Globetrotters.

The Globetrotters musical is intended to have real basketball players on stage with basketball set pieces at the centre of the show.

A Disney source said this would be much better than teaching actors and singers to play basketball. "I'm certain that among the young players in the Afro-American community we will find people who have acting, dancing and singing skills as well," he said.

Fantasia 2 and Hoops are both now firmly on the schedule. Another idea, which Disney is keen to pursue but for which there are not yet firm plans, is to bring one of its most successful movies, Mary Poppins, to the stage.

But to do this Disney executives would have to get the agreement of the estate of the late P L Travis, author of the Mary Poppins books - and they would probably want to make the character of Mary Poppins a little more acerbic.

Disney is taking a risk in adapting the Aida story for the stage. It is the first time the studio has taken an operatic story and turned it into a musical. With music by Sir Elton and lyrics by Sir Tim, it will open in Chicago in November and is certain to come to Britain later.

A senior Disney executive said: "I know we will get some criticism from opera critics for daring to adapt one of the most treasured stories in the whole operatic canon. But we are confident audiences will love what Elton and Tim have done."

But whatever the success of stage shows, it is movies that maintain Disney's global reputation. And the remaking of Fantasia will be its biggest test for many years.


Brilliant Or Banal?

THE FILM'S eight pieces of music were conducted by Leopold Stokowski, who collaborated with Disney at each stage of the production and was responsible for the experiment in stereophonic sound that makes the music swoop across the screen in synchronisation with the drawings. The parts are:

Bach's `Toccata & Fugue in D Minor'

Tchaikovsky's `The Nutcracker Suite'

Dukas' `The Sorcerer's Apprentice'

Stravinsky's `Rite of Spring'

Intermission: `The Soundtrack' (compilation)

Beethoven's `The Pastoral Symphony'

Ponchielli's `Dance of the Hours'

Moussorgsky's `Night on Bold Mountain/ Schubert's `Ave Maria'

REVIEWERS called it an "audacious and original work", but their praise was not unequivocal:

"A courageous and distinguished production but Disney is attempting the impossible. There are times when his breaking down of music into animated art strikes me as definitely pretentious."

Howard Barnes, New York Herald Tribune

"The `Pastoral Symphony' shows Disney at his abysmal worst... I found all this part quite embarrassingly common."

James Agate, Tatler

"An attempt at academicism by a half-educated man. As such it was highly praised by the half-educated."

Paul Rotha and Richard Griffith,

Film Till Now (1949)

"A remarkably bold experiment and still, some 30 years later, the most ambitious animated cartoon ever made."

RAE Pickard, Dictionary of 1000 Best Films (1971)