Toons & Tunes: Fantasia 2000 – Rhapsody in Blue

Disney’s Fantasia 2000 was met with mixed reaction, but there was one segment in it which I particularly enjoyed, and it’s the subject of today’s Toons & Tunes. It’s the movie’s sequence for Rhapsody in Blue, a 1924 composition by George Gershwin for solo piano and jazz band, which combines elements of classical music with jazz-influenced effects.

Set in New York City in the 1930’s during the  Great Depression, in the lobby of the Hotel New York, the segment tells the story of several people in a daily life during a rough period. It starts with the following:

  • Construction Worker Duke heading off to work, while having dreams of being a jazz musician.
  • A jobless man named Joe is having coffee at a diner, feeling depressed at having no job and having a lack of money and is treated badly due to being out of money, not even having enough to spend on food.
  • A little girl named Rachel has to go various classes throughout the day while her parents work in the struggling economy, having to be with her nasty nanny throughout the day doing things she has no interest in or is bad at (such as ballet, which leads to her crashing into a closet, swimming, where she is covered from head to toe with various swim aids, singing badly to the point a dog faints, splashing her art teacher with blue paint, tying up someone with a gymnastic rope, just blocking a tennis ball with the racket, and almost falling off her piano-playing chair).
  • A man named Flying John is out and about with his wife Margaret, getting stuff for her dog while he just wants to have fun.

The segment ends with all four protagonists getting their wish, though their stories interact with each other’s without any of them knowing.

The characters are designed in the style of Al Hirschfeld’s known caricatures of the time.

Of all the segments from Fantasia 2000, this is the one that’s always stood out for me. It’s not as flashy or surreal as many of the other segments, but it tells simple little stories (no “magic land lives an idyllic life, then some Big Evil strikes and some heroes have to spend the story defeating said evil” shtick here; I’ve always preferred simple plots, which is one reason why I’ve always enjoyed shorts over features), funny and sweet, and you feel for the characters without it having to veer into hammy, smarmy, heavy-handed bathos territory. And all this without a single line of dialogue being uttered. Well played, Disney. Enjoy.

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2 Comments

  1. Funny. I actually saw both Fantasia movies on Netflix just a month or two ago. And yeah, Rhapsody in Blue’s a real highlight (although my bias towards nature makes Firebird Suite my personal favorite).

    But seeing them again made me kinda sad how Disney might never do another Fantasia film again. Fantasia 2006 got canceled, and there’s probably not a strong demand for an anthology film at the moment. It sucks, since both films allowed Disney animators to show their stuff and push the limits to what animation can do. I’m not saying that Disney’s current output is bad; far from it! But it would still be cool to see something as gorgeous and unique as Fantasia again on the big screen.

    Like

    • silverstar

      I didn’t even know there were at one time plans for a 3rd Fantasia film, but yeah, a hand-drawn animated anthology isn’t something the Mouse House — or any studio, for that matter– would be willing to sink money into right now. These days every animated movie has to be a CGI fairy tale or funfest a la Frozen or Hotel Transylvania, as those are the presently the only kinds of movies that Hollywood thinks will make any real money. The Princess and the Frog was kind of a throwback, but sadly it under-performed, not necessarily because it was hand-drawn, there were other factors at play (like how it looked like something from 20 + years ago and some folks didn’t bother with it because of that) but what The Powers That Be took from P&tF’s mediocre box office sales was that “people don’t want to see hand-drawn animated films”. It’s a pity, but the only thing that’s going to get American studios wanting to experiment with different types of animated movies is a different type of animated film striking box office gold, but most studios aren’t willing to take a chance on something different, so it’s a Catch-22.

      Like

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