Rhapsody in Blue (2000)

This is the project Disney director Eric Goldberg had been planning in his head for over 15 years, ever since he had fallen in love with Al Hirschfelds’s caricatures as a kid. Getting the chance to meet his idol once he became an animator, it was Hirschfeld’s suggestion to do a piece based on “Rhapsody in Blue”, having known (and drawn) George Gershwin. When Goldberg finally got the green light to indulge himself in this special short subject, he quickly got together a team including his wife Susan as Art director and Emily Jiuliano as “keeper of the Hirschfeld line”. Her job was to make sure the characters, backgrounds and inanimate objects would all remain loose like Hirschfeld, as opposed to true to life (this being very important to the artist who inspired it all)
On screen, the distinctive opening note of Gershwin’s Rhapsody corresponds perfectly with the single line that forms the basis of all of Hirchfeld’s art, growing into the New York skyline (on a digitally colored background). This story of longing features four separate protagonists: Duke (named after Ellington) the construction worker who wants to be a jazz musician, Little Rachel (based on the Goldberg’s youngest), longing to be with her parents instead of nanny, Flying john (Mr. Snoop from The Rescuers) trying to escape from his bossy wife Margaret (and to a lesser extend her dog Foofoo) and Jobless Joe, who just yearns to earn some bread.
The animation follows the music as a guideline, meaning that if a passage sounded like a pile-driver to Goldberg, there’s a cut to Duke hammering away at the construction site. When it get’s all frantic and jumpy, the action switches over to the (unnaturaly clean) NY subway. The lyrically romantic sequence in the middle becomes skating in Rockefeller center. Here, Goldberg thought it would be original to reveal the characters hopes and dreams in the middle of the piece instead of the beginning, but in my opinion this feels more like driving an already proved plot point home and is therefore the only part that goes on a bit too long. Other influences/homages include Duke doing a Buster Keaton routine running down flights of stairs and the cat and the milk bottle gag from Tex Avery’s “The cat that hated people”.
Known for hiding the name of his daughter Nina in all of his art, Al Hirschfeld is represented himself in a visibly-by-pause-button-only cameo leaving the Goldberg (sigh) Hotel, as well as the director and his family, producer Donald W. Ernst, and basically everybody else who had a hand in this production (not to mention three hidden Nina’s). Naturally, George Gershwin appears playing the piano (but his brother Ira is nowhere in sight, as there are no lyrics). In accordance with the title, just about every color is drawn from a pallet of blue, with the occasional exception when an element needs to be highlighted (Duke’s lunch box and Rachel’s ball, both red). There are no natural skin tones, though the dancing hall girls near the end look more Caucasian than they did in their original caricature (another case of Fantasia censorship?), although, to be fair they have the same shade of purple hue as Duke.
When Roy Disney attended the first storyboard presentation, he became convinced this short was just the thing he needed to complete his labor of love “Fantasia 2000” (providing it with an American composer at last). Rhapsody became the last (and longest) segment, replacing “The Nutcracker Suite” from the original 1940 Fantasia, and leaving only “The Sorcerers’ Apprentice” to represent the earlier incarnation (the original plan was to keep half the original 1940 material in there). It is one of the most memorable and modern parts of the film, surpassed only in popularity by the Yo-yo-ing Flamingo’s from “Carnival of the Animals”, also directed and animated by Eric Goldberg (on his own).
8 out of 10

Midnight Blue Rose Bush

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