- “Walt Disney described the art of animation of a voyage of discovery, into the realms of color, sound, and motion. The music from Igor Stravinsky's ballet, The Firebird inspires such a voyage. And so we conclude this version of Fantasia with a mythical story of life, death, and renewal.”
- ―Angela Lansbury[src]
The Firebird Suite written by Igor Stravinsky is the eighth and final segment in Fantasia 2000.
After a long winter, in the form of water, the Spring Sprite emerges from the pool to meet the Elk and he leads her out of the hidden alcove for her to get to work. Her body turns green and melts the snow away for the coming of the spring season, covering the forest in fresh foliage.
Going up a nearby mountain, though, her abilities escape her when she ascends the slope. Curious as to what is going on, she looks inside the massive crater of the mountain at a small volcanic stone. Touching the stone, it awakens the Firebird, who rises from the ash, smoke, and magma to attack the Sprite and destroy the forest. It immediately fires on the Sprite, who evades the attack, but is then knocked over by a series of rocks broken off from the mountain they were on. Chaos ensues, done over with lava flows and a fiery carnage. Evading the second flow of lava, the Spring Sprite scrambles up a ledge, where she sees the entire forest engulfed in fire. The Firebird makes for her, and she runs away for dear life and climbs up a tree, but she's trapped. Here, the monster rises up for one final attack, consuming the Spring Sprite.
Cutting to the aftermath where the landscape has turned gray and ash-covered, the Elk, who has witnessed the carnage, finds a burnt out and gray Sprite in ash form. The Elk helps her up and gives her a ride on his antlers, as the Sprite cries from the destruction she had unleashed. Soon she realizes her tears are healing the land when they uproot plants and returns back to the sky in a rain form, bringing a healing shower down upon the valley. Continuing her work, she brings the plant life back to the forest, restoring the trees and finally covering the volcano in a fresh layer of grass, her confidence fully restored.
"The Firebird Suite" was part of a 1940 list of potential future segments in a 1940 document called "Future Fantasias", with Disney having acquired the rights from Stravinsky during the production of "Rite of Spring". The version discussed in the document however would go for the full 30 minute length versus the abridged presentation Disney would end up going with.
After a search for a piece to cap off Fantasia Continued on an emotional high note on the level of Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria with considered pieces including Beethoven's 9th and the Hallelujah Chorus, Firebird would end up becoming the selected piece. Earlier in development, a more comic take on Firebird was briefly proposed by story artist Francis Glebas in the form of a ballet of "The Ugly Goofling" starring Goofy.
The story itself would be inspired by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.
|I had an idea for the images. I'd driven by Mount St. Helens not too long after the eruption up there, and I carried that image with me for a long time. And I thought, if I could put a camera up here for the next thousand years and watch what happens to this place, and time-lapse it in five minutes - and that was our finale.|
The sequence was directed by Paul and Gaetan Brizzi and primarily produced at Walt Disney Animation France.
- Contrary to what some believe, the story in the Firebird is about forces of nature showing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, rather than a clash between the forces of good and evil.
- The song was previously used in the Italian Fantasia spoof film Allegro Non Troppo. In this version, the segment featured the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve eating the fruit of knowledge himself, after failing to convince them to eat it, and experiencing a nightmarish vision of the future.