Movie Review/Blog Updates AND The New Series Reviews Winner

Hello, everyone. It’s a funny thing about this social distancing/quarantine we’ve all hopefully been partaking in these past few months; one concern that briefly crossed my mind was running out of things to do before boredom or cabin fever set in. It turns out the opposite has happened: so much to do and not enough time in the day! All this to say that unfortunately, May’s movie review isn’t ready yet (spoiler warning: it’s The Great Race, one of the most underrated comedies ever filmed). I sincerely apologize and will try to get it up as soon as I can.

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“She said, knowing full well how long it took the last time she promised that.”

Okay, so in order to complete May’s review without collapsing under my workload or burning myself out, I’m afraid I’m going to have to forego June’s movie review. That way I can still have the energy to finish the May movie review, work on the new series reviews, and prepare a review I’ve long had in mind for the blog’s fifth anniversary (it’ll five years come July, holy fishpaste…) I assure you, these delays and work piling up is due to some pretty major things I’m currently doing with my life. It all ties back to a certain conversation I had a few weeks ago with my mother (my mother who, by the way, is a blonde progressive hard-working passionate woman I owe much of my personality to):

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“Hi honey, you remember the dean of the college you graduated from that I also taught at for over thirty years, you knew her since you were three, practically your godmother?”

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“Yes, mom, what about her?”

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“She’s heading an online summer program and she thinks YOU would be a great teacher for one of the classes.”

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“Me?! I barely had any patience teaching you Microsoft Word, why would you both think I’d be able to teach a class?”

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“She said it would be geared towards younger kids as a way of getting them interested in the arts.”

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“Well, it’s one thing if it’s for kids, but I’m still not sure if I’d be the right -“

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“She wants you to teach them storyboarding for animation.”

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“…Mother, you had my curiosity. Now you have my interest.”

So yes, I got a summer job. As of this June you may refer to me as Professor Shelf, storyboard emeritus. It’s my first time teaching a class, if it wasn’t obvious enough already. I’m excited because it’s a topic I’m more than well-versed in, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous also. Though I’ve got my hands a little extra full making the preparations, learning Google Classroom and such, I promised you that I’d be reviewing a new series again, and I’m holding myself to it, though I hope you can forgive me for delaying it a bit while I square away my syllabus. You voted, I counted, and I’m here to announce what show I’ll be covering next. Drumroll, please!

And the winner is…

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March Review: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

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Whenever I discuss Sleeping Beauty with someone who doesn’t share my enthusiasm for Disney, they have an irksome tendency to get it muddled with Snow White; their excuse being “it has the same plot”. I’ll admit, there are some surface similarities that even the most casual viewer can pick up on: a fairytale where a princess is forced into unconsciousness and wakes up with some necking, the comic relief and villain being the most beloved characters, a little frolic in the forest with animals, the antagonist plunging off a cliff, you get the idea. In fact, Sleeping Beauty even reuses some discarded story beats from Snow White, mainly our couple dancing on a cloud and the villain capturing the prince to prevent him from waking his princess. Yet despite that, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are two wholly different movies shaped by the era and talents of the time.

I’ve discussed how Walt Disney was never one to stick to a repeated formula, no matter how successful it was. He must have noticed the parallels between his first movie and this one, but decided to make one crucial change for Sleeping Beauty that would forever differentiate the two: the look. We all know the traditional Disney house style: round, soft shapes, big eyes; charming as it was and still is, Walt was sick of it after several decades. Meanwhile, artists like Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle were producing gorgeous concept art that rarely made a perfect translation into the Disney house style.

Favourite Artists: Mary Blair & Eyvind Earle | Topical Musings

Walt wanted to make a feature that took the pop artistry of their designs and made the animation work for it instead of the other way around – which brings us to another animation studio that was doing well at the time, United Pictures Animation, or UPA.

UPA didn’t have the kind of budget Disney normally had for their animated projects, but what they lacked in fluidity they made up for in style. Watch The Tell-Tale Heart, Gerald McBoing-Boing and Rooty-Toot-Toot to see what I mean. UPA were pioneers of limited animation, taking their scant resources and creating some striking visuals with bold geometric designs. Through this, they defined the look of 50’s animation. Though perhaps unintentional, Sleeping Beauty comes across as Disney’s response to UPA, or what would happen if UPA had the funds they deserved. The characters’ contours are angular but effortlessly graceful, defining their inherent dignity and royalty. And the colors, ohhh the colors…

Because of the immense amount of work required to animate in this difficult new style (and in the Cinemascope ratio, no less) as well as story troubles and Walt barely supervising the animation studio now that he had his hands full with live-action films, television, and a theme park, Sleeping Beauty had a turbulent production that lasted the entirety of the 1950s. For a time, Chuck Jones of Looney Tunes fame was set to direct. Director Wilfred Jackson suffered a heart attack partway through production and Eric Larson, one of the Nine Old Men, took the mantle from there before Walt Disney replaced him Clyde Geronimi. And even after that, Wolfgang Reitherman teamed up with Geronimi as co-director to get the film finished after no less than three delays. Also, Don Bluth got his foot in the door as an assistant animator for this feature, beginning his short-lived but impactful tenure at Disney. Did all this hamper the movie, or did they succeed in what they set out to accomplish?

Well, one of the reasons why this review took so long was because I had a hard time not repeating “MOVIE PRETTY” and “MALEFICENT AWESOME” over and over. Make what you will of that.

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Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue Review

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30 years ago today (well, yesterday when I was originally writing this and was meant to go up but couldn’t finish it in time due to carpal tunnel), television history was made…well, for my generation, at least.

You probably already know Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue from its reputation more than anything else. There’s plenty of online critics who have picked apart this bizarre little PSA before me, and more will with every generation that discovers it. This was an unusual attempt on behalf of the White House, the Ronald McDonald House charity, The Walt Disney Corporation, several powerful television stations, and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to get kids to say no to drugs. Did they succeed? Probably not. But in order to understand why, we have to go back to the beginning:

In the 1980s, America was gripped by a crippling epidemic of drug users, urban monsters enticing children off the playgrounds into increasingly dangerous and deadly vices such as smoking and drinking – or so they believed. Ronald Reagan and his First Lady Nancy made headlines by declaring drugs to be the number one problem in the country and signed bills and acts into action that cracked down hard on even the most minute offenders. I don’t know, I could have sworn there was a real worldwide health crisis going on at the time that could have used more attention and early action, but maybe that was just my imagination. It wasn’t like this whole drug narrative was a desperate attempt by Ronald to create his own boogeyman that would distract the American public from a disease that predominantly affected an unfairly maligned group that he and Nancy liked to pretend didn’t exist, someone’s gotta think of the children dammit! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!

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Never forget them. Never EVER forget them.

As nostalgic as it is to look back on the colorful anti-drug PSAs that plagued the airwaves in my day, learning more about why and how they were made as a result of Reagan’s manipulation leaves a bitter aftertaste. They also present blatantly unrealistic scenarios; never in my life has a shady-looking fellow come up to me and my friends in the schoolyard and offered us marijuana or crack. I didn’t even know these drugs existed until my school got a visit from D.A.R.E. In fact, the whole War On Drugs is downright hypocritical if you know anything about the Contra affair. This self-fabricated war mainly targeted African-American and Latino communities, which only served to inflate Reagan’s ego and fuel his open prejudices against minorities when not steering the country towards bankruptcy and the threat of nuclear war through a combination of greed, bloodlust, and encroaching senility. It makes you wonder, what kind of campaign did this old bastard run that got himself elected in the first place?

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“…Either I’m on drugs right now or we’re all trapped in a time loop, and I don’t know which one is worse.”

The War On Drugs continued into the Bush administration with George Bush himself pushing this special as a huge step forward into saving children from drugs. He and Barbara Bush even filmed an awkward introduction for the VHS release. Cartoon All-Stars was a shockingly big deal at the time, not just for what it was trying to promote but for the fact that so many characters from a number of different studios were coming together all at once for the first and most likely only time. Roy E. Disney, in particular, played an enormous part in getting the special made. He stepped into the role of Executive Producer, ensured characters from some of Disney’s big Saturday morning cartoons like DuckTales and The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh appeared and had the special distributed through Buena Vista Home Video. Disney’s big name drew in more parties, and the use of other characters like Garfield and the Chipmunks got the personal approval from their creators.

Written and animated in the short time of eight weeks (startlingly quick turnaround time for animation), Cartoon All-Stars was part after-school special, part Who Framed Roger Rabbit/Avengers-style crossover, part commercial. The special was simulcast on four different major TV stations, and also freely distributed in video stores, schools, and libraries. I wasn’t born until after Cartoon All-Stars aired, but I spent my early childhood watching the tape fairly frequently. I enjoyed seeing all these cartoon characters I knew together, and admittedly the anti-drug message hit home pretty hard due to my grandfather passing away from lung cancer around that time. That part stuck with me longer than I care to admit. When you’re a four-year-old kid scolding an adult for smoking, it’s cute. When you’re fourteen? Eh, not so much.

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It’s Time For Tv Series Reviews Again!

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In the space of a year and a half, I covered the entirety of Gravity Falls’ television run. It’s been fun sharing what I loved about my favorite show, and it brought in some loyal readers who have stuck around since. Once my Patreon was up and running, I promised that I would review another series the day I reached my goal of making $100.

Today is not that day. I don’t know when it will come, but I know there are better places that extra bit of money could go to right now than in my pocket. So after much deliberation, I’ve decided to return to series reviews – but with a catch.

Much like the first time, what I review will be up to your vote. Some are shows I recommended the first time around being trotted back out for your consideration, and some are newcomers given a chance to prove themselves. Which one will come out on top is anybody’s guess.

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“It’s probably going to be Avatar. That’s the one everyone knows and loves the most.”

As for the twist, I’m reinstating Charity Bonus Votes: For every donation of $5 or more to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, you get an extra vote. Every little bit means the world right now, so even if you can’t give anything at the moment, please spread the word.

And the nominees are –

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Movie Review Voting for May!

We made it to April, folks! Congratulations on keeping your social distance and don’t stop washing those hands! Anyway, you don’t have to worry about spreading germs here. Voting is open to everyone, and here are your options, tailored specifically for comedic purposes:

  • Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
  • Heavyweights
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • The Great Race
  • UHF

You can leave your vote in the comments or email me at upontheshelfshow@gmail.com. Remember, unless you’re a Patreon supporter, you can only vote once. Supporters get perks such as extra votes, early access to certain posts and adding movies of their choice to the Shelf. If I can get to making $100 a month, I can go back to making weekly tv show reviews. As of now I’ve got $20 to go before I reach my goal! Special thanks to Amelia Jones, Gordhan Rajani and Sam Minden for their contributions!

April Review: The Pagemaster (1994)

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I expected this movie to have a few votes from those who remembered it as kids. I never expected it to win by a landslide. Lesson learned: never underestimate a nostalgic kids’ movie from the ’90s.

Once upon a time, David Kirschner, producer of An American Tail among other things, took his daughters to the New York Public Library. This visit inspired him to write a story about a fantastical adventure that would get kids excited about reading. The result was The Pagemaster, a 1994 box-office bomb that would go on to develop a cult following among children like me who grew up watching it. Animation historians tend to lump The Pagemaster in with the likes of Thumbelina or Quest For Camelot: 90s features that tried to coast off the success of Disney’s Renaissance films yet failed to match their caliber. But actually, trailers for The Pagemaster played in theaters and on home video a good four years before the movie was released…it was still in production for most of that time so the amount of influence Disney had on it is up for debate, but the point remains. I’m willing to bet what played a major part in its delay was the myriad of problems that cropped up during the filmmaking, from David Kirschner suing the Writers Guild of America for not receiving the sole story credit he felt was owed, to the plot being rewritten in the middle of the animation process, which is never a good thing. I’ve also heard stories about Macaulay Culkin being a diva on set, but knowing what we know now about his abusive father explains a lot so I’m not holding that against him.

And here’s another fun fact I dug up while doing my research: apparently Stephen King of all people wrote the treatment for The Pagemaster, which certainly explains the film’s more horrific elements. Does this means this movie is technically part of the King multiverse? I can see Richard hanging out with The Losers Club on weekends and trying to avoid killer clowns and langoliers in his spare time.

Though it was released under the 20th Century Fox banner, The Pagemaster was the first of only two animated films created by Turner Feature Animation, an off-shoot of Hanna-Barbera founded by media mogul Ted Turner. In hindsight, it’s not surprising that Turner had a hand in this children’s flick with an educational message. Let’s not forget the last animated project he invested himself in was all about teaching kids environmentalism in the cheesiest way possible.

But unlike Captain Planet, does The Pagemaster hold up after all these years? Will it get kids sucked into the magic of reading? And how long can I go without forcing in a Home Alone reference? Read on and find out.

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April (Fools) Review: Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like A Large Pile Of Ash

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There’s a lot to be said about J.K. Rowling, her consistent novel output since 2007, her living below the poverty line despite her level of fame, her absolute devotion to the representation of minorities and the LGBT community, but truly her greatest contribution to the literary world – no, society in general – is the eighteenth book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. Where do I begin with it? What do I say that other minds more clever and eloquent than mine haven’t already? It’s exceedingly well-written with so many iconic moments etched into our hearts: the unicorns’ strike, Snape and Professor Grubbly-Plank finally confessing their feelings for each other, the drunken game of Quidditch over Mt. Fuji, Cornelius Fudge discovering the cure for herpes, Dobby marrying his sock collection! And yeah, I liked the goblin musical number! It was witty and a bold departure from the genre! All you musical haters can suck a dragon’s toenail!

If you can’t already tell, I have a lot of strong feelings for this particular entry in the Harry Potter saga. But instead of recapping the entire book, I’m going to do something a little different, possibly even risky. I’ll be reviewing the chapter that defines this whole story and is the crux of Harry’s emotional arc throughout the entire series, Chapter Thirteen: The Handsome One.

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Not Another Coronavirus-Related Update!

Hello everyone, I thought with a lot of people giving updates on how they’re dealing with the coronavirus and quarantine that I’d relay my own situation as well.

Don’t worry, I’m not infected, and I’m taking enough precautions that I most likely won’t be. I work from home so not much has changed, but I’ve been helping my parents adjust to doing the same. I can’t remember the last time we’ve been holed up in one place like this, but we should be okay so long as we don’t come into contact with other kinds of viruses:

I hope that made you laugh. We all could use a good laugh now, which makes the timing for what I’ve got for the first of next month all too perfect, hopefully. Even then, it’s okay to be upset with the amount of closures of public places and events that leave us sequestered in our rooms (I managed to see Onward before the movie theaters closed and it was very good. Here’s hoping they release it on VOD/Disney+ soon because that movie doesn’t deserve to flop due to public safety concerns.) I bring this up because something I had planned for this blog during the month of May has been affected thanks to this pandemic, and I’m working on rescheduling it for a later time. See, my sister was going to have her wedding then, and rather than leave you all in the lurch as I spend half the time rushing to prepare and the other half partying in Cancun, I was prepping for a month full of scheduled pre-written mini-reviews surrounding a certain topic near and dear to my heart. Think Monster Madness or Disneycember but in text form. Since my sister made the difficult decision to postpone the wedding until later in the year, however, I’ve decided to do the same. Movie reviews will continue as usual, and I promise to make them as entertaining and enlightening as possible. This will also give me more time to gather my many thoughts on the subject I’m eyeing. Now I just need to come up with a different clever name, hopefully one that’s still alliterative.

If you’re still worried about what to do next if you’re home stuck and looking to occupy yourself with something other than constantly checking your twitter feed for updates, then look no further. I’ve compiled a list of ways I’m planning on spending my time and some handy tips on how to deal with our current situation which I hope will help you:

  • This is the perfect opportunity to binge through whatever series or films you’ve been wanting to see, whether it’s something new or one you’d like to revisit. Personally, I’m looking forward to finally watching Kipo and Infinity Train and catching up with Ducktales.
  • The same goes for reading. Wanna curl up with a good book you’ve been putting off? Now’s the time. If audiobooks are more your thing or you want something to listen to while you work, LibraVox offers free downloads of classic stories from the public domain you can listen to.
  • Podcasts are also a viable option; I recommend Tony Goldmark’s highly entertaining Escape From Vault Disney. He’s taking requests this month if you’re a patron of his!
  • If you’re practicing social distancing but still crave some form of social interaction, find that Twitch or Discord that’s related to the thing or entertainer you like and join in. You’ll meet some like minds and maybe even make a few new friends. (Let me know if you’d like me to start a Discord server as well as I’ve begun considering it).
  • Video games are a good outlet too, especially if you can do online multiplayer. If anyone here’s got a Switch and wants to join me in a game of Mario Kart 8, hit me up!
  • If you have to go out for food and supplies, DO NOT. HOARD. THE TOILET PAPER. By doing so, you’re ensuring that whole families who need to wipe themselves go without a comfortable means of doing so. I don’t know why everyone is so obsessed with owning all the Charmin in the tri-state area, and if you’re one of those people, be so good as to enlighten me. Based on my research, you do not contact the virus through your butt.
  • Also, please be nice to the people who are working retail at this time, especially at the grocery stores. They have to be there even though they really don’t want to, and are doing the best they can in helping others with the situation regardless. Don’t make it harder for them by demanding they produce more hand sanitizer for you. They are people, not genies.
  • Continuing from that topic, hand sanitizer is handy to have on you (see what I did there?) but the best thing you can do is wash your hands for at least 20 seconds at a time. That amounts to singing the ABCs or Happy Birthday twice, or if you’re me, I follow this handy musical song excerpt chart. I lean towards Defying Gravity, You Can’t Stop the Beat and the Phantom theme.
  • Seriously, wash your hands, guys.
  • There are a lot of people out there whose livelihood has been directly affected by the virus in that they’re too sick to work, afraid to go to work or can’t because their place of work has been shut down. If you’re able to donate any food, resources or money to keep them afloat until it blows over, seriously consider it.
  • Face masks won’t work in preventing you from catching the virus, so don’t spend your money on them. Leave them to the medical professionals who know how to properly attach them so the chances of being infected are minimized, and actually need them so they can help patients without being infected themselves. If you insist on wearing a face mask, do it only if you are sick so you won’t risk coughing or sneezing on anyone.
  • Don’t blame China entirely for this. Don’t blame Chinese or Asian people in general for this. Don’t refer to to the coronavirus as the China disease or Kung flu or as whatever so-called “creative” nicknames you have relating to the country. Don’t use this sickness as an excuse to be racist.
  • Stay safe, and keep calm. Check for updates online, but sparingly. Don’t keep the news on 24/7. Make sure what you read comes from reliable sources, ie. WHO or CDC. If it’s from the White House, change the channel. Though the news is constantly reporting the amount of cases and deaths, what they don’t mention is that people are still recovering from this virus. And we will. Life will go on, and we will keep moving forward.
  • And until then, keep washing those hands.

And if you happen to suffer from cabin fever at any point in the coming weeks, may it be full of festive salsa-dancing muppets.

Shelf out!

Movie Review Voting for April!

Hello, all! Just in case you didn’t catch it at the end of the Fantasia 2000 review, the next movie I’ll be reviewing is Sleeping Beauty, which will be out some time this month. As for next month, let’s take a trip down fantasy lane…no, not the Fantasy Lane, you need an ID to get in there. Here are the movies you can vote for me to review in April:

You can leave your vote in the comments or email me at upontheshelfshow@gmail.com. Remember, unless you’re a Patreon supporter, you can only vote once. Supporters get perks such as extra votes, early access to certain posts and adding movies of their choice to the Shelf. If I can get to making $100 a month, I can go back to making weekly tv show reviews. As of now I’ve got $20 to go before I reach my goal! Special thanks to Amelia Jones, Gordhan Rajani and Sam Minden for their contributions!

January Review: Fantasia 2000

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Last year I talked about Fantasia, which is not just one of my favorite Disney movies, but one of my favorite movies in general. And if I may be self-indulgent for a moment, it’s also one of the reviews that I’m the proudest of. Fantasia is a visual, emotional masterpiece that marries music and art in a manner few cinematic ventures have come close to replicating. One question that remains is what my thoughts on the long-gestated sequel is –

…you might wanna get yourselves some snacks first.

As anyone who read my review on the previous film knows, Fantasia was a project ahead of its time. Critics and audiences turned their noses up at it for conflicting reasons, and the film didn’t even make it’s budget back until twenty-something years later when they began marketing it to a very different crowd.

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“I don’t wanna alarm you dude, but I took in some Fantasia and these mushrooms started dancing, and then there were dinosaurs everywhere and then they all died, but then these demons were flying around my head and I was like WOOOOOAAAHHH!!”

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“Yeah, Fantasia is one crazy movie, man.”

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“Movie?”

Fantasia’s unfortunate box office failure put the kibosh on Walt Disney’s plans to make it a recurring series with new animated shorts made to play alongside handpicked favorites. The closest he came to following through on his vision was Make Mine Music and Melody Time, package features of shorts that drew from modern music more than classical pieces.

Fast-forward nearly fifty years later to the golden age known as the Disney Renaissance: Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney surveys the new crop of animators, storytellers, and artists who are creating hit after hit and have brought the studio back to his uncle’s glory days, and thinks to himself, “Maybe now we can make Uncle Walt’s dream come true.” He made a good case for it, but not everyone was on board. Jeffrey Katzenberg loathed the idea, partly because he felt the original Fantasia was a tough act to follow (not an entirely unreasonable doubt) but most likely due to the fact that the last time Disney made a sequel, The Rescuers Down Under, it drastically underperformed (even though the reasons for that are entirely Katzenberg’s fault. Seriously, watch Waking Sleeping Beauty and tell me you don’t want to punch him in the nose when Mike Gabriel recalls his opening weekend phone call).

Once Katzenberg was out of the picture, though, Fantasia 2000, then saddled with the less dated but duller moniker Fantasia Continued, got the go-ahead. Many of the sequences were made simultaneously as the animated features my generation most fondly remembers, others were created to be standalone shorts before they were brought into the fold. Since it was ready in time for the new millennium, it not only got a name change but a massive marketing campaign around the fact that it would be played on IMAX screens for a limited run, the very first Disney feature to do so. As a young Fantasia fan who had never been to one of those enormous theaters before, I begged and pleaded my parents to take me. Late that January, we traveled over to the IMAX theater at Lincoln Center, the only one nearest to us since they weren’t so widespread as they are now, and what an experience it was. I can still recall the feeling of awe at the climax of Pines of Rome, whispering eagerly with my mom at how the beginning of Rhapsody in Blue looked like a giant Etch-A-Sketch, and jumping twenty feet in the air when the Firebird’s massive eyes popped open. But did later viewings recapture that magic, or did that first time merely color my perception?

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