April 17, 2006

Animated Manhattan: Fantasia 2000: “Rhapsody in Blue”

Part 7 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

George Gershwin’s 1924 composition “Rhapsody in Blue” is strongly associated with New York City, partly due to its use in Woody Allen’s film Manhattan. Similarly, the illustrator Al Hirschfeld’s amazing drawings of Manhattan night life, Broadway stars, and other celebrities appeared in the New York Times for so long that his association with this city even prompted the Museum of the City of New York to put together an exhibit and book called Hirschfeld’s New York.

So it was a good bet by the producers of Fantasia 2000 that combining Hirschfeld’s images with Gershwin’s music would create an amazing sequence in their movie of animation set to music.

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Using an animation style evocative of Hirschfeld’s drawings, the film tells the stories of several New York characters during the great depression. We meet the construction worker who dreams of playing drums in a jazz band in Harlem, and we meet the down-on-his-luck unemployed gentleman who can barely pay for a cup of coffee.

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We also meet well-to-do characters. We meet a little girl whose mother forces her into every hobby imaginable — dance, piano, swimming, etc. — and we meet the husband of an overbearing wife who lavishly spends money on her pooch.

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It’s really amazing the way the animators have managed to capture Hirschfeld’s style, and the feel of the city, synchronized expertly with the excellent music.

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Any fan of animation, music, and New York should rent this movie just for this sequence alone. There are pleasant surprises in the rest of the film, but this is where the movie really shines. Scaling down the images for this website doesn’t really do the artwork justice. On the big screen, each frame looks like it could be a Hirschfeld drawing. It must have been wonderful to see this sequence when it was originally released in IMAX.

Note: The below IMDb and BCDb ratings are for the entire movie, not just the “Rhapsody in Blue” segment.

IMDb Rating: 7.2/10
BCDb Rating: 6/10
My Rating: 9/10

(My rating is for the film’s depiction of NYC only)


show the video on this site

People often got distinct taste about the same thing, but this movie wasn’t that bad.