Feb 28, 2011

[Movies] Tangled (2010)

Tangled (2010)It's odd to think that when kids today consider their favorite Disney movies, they'll more than likely end up naming something from the Pixar family of films. As much as Pixar is officially a part of Disney these days, there's still a distinct differences in terms of their content and art style as compared to the rest of the Disney library.

I'm proud to share that I was raised on Disney cartoons, like most kids were. Even though a large number of them seemed to be focused on female protagonists as part of the ever-expanding line of princess-related tales, I sincerely enjoyed the movies given the good animation quality and the generally fun songs. At the same time, I've also witnessed the decline of Disney over the years (I think things started to turn around the time The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released or shortly after) and it's apparent to anyone why Pixar came in at precisely the right time to change the face of animated movies forever.

But the old Disney tripe formula for sanitized fairy tales and such will always hold a special place in my heart thus their attempts to try to imitate Pixar right before they bought them out (think Chicken Little) were quickly met with failure. And I'm sure a lot of people feel this way, and thus welcomed Disney's latest release as a piece that tried to go back to those older roots given the success experienced by the live-action comedy classic Enchanted. This movie was an interesting blend of both Disney and Pixar sensibilities - perhaps some of the influence of Pixar's John Lasster now holding the title of Chief Creative Officer for both Pixar and Walt Disney Animated Studios.

Tangled is a 2010 animated musical and is the 50th animated feature released by Disney. The story of the movie was largely inspired by the classic fairy tale Rapunzel and was directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, who also directed the Disney feature Bolt.

The story, like many other classic tales, begins in a far of kingdom. A drop of pure sunlight falls to earth and turns into a flower with magical healing properties, something which is discovered by and old woman named Gothel (Donna Murphy). Thus she regularly visits the flower and sings to it in order to trigger its magic and prevent herself from aging. Years later, the queen falls ill while with child and the only cure would appear to be the magical flower. The king's men search high and low for the flower which Gothel does her best to hide but ultimately it is found and the queen is saved.

A concept rendering of Rapunzel, demonstrating...Image via WikipediaNow the twist is that somehow the broth made from the magical flower passed on its magical properties to the child, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore). When Gothel tries to cut the child's golden hair in order to keep the magic, it quickly loses its power and turns a dull brown color instead. So she kidnaps the child instead and secrets her away in a hidden tower, keeping the magic to herself.

Fast forward 18 years and we meet Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), a petty thief who manages to steal a tiara meant for the princess with the aid of his twin accomplices (both Ron Perlman). But during the chase from the King's guards, he stumbles upon the tower and eventually Rapunzel. The two eventually get together in order to fulfill her dream of finding out what the floating lights are that appear every year on the night of her birthday in exchange for the tiara which she has secreted somewhere in her tower.

Now in terms of the story, I really liked the whole sunshine angle. As silly as the whole concept was, it gave a nice fairy tale explanation for why Rapunzel was so valuable to the old woman. After all, the common version of the story only makes us feel like Rapunzel was punished because her mom went overly crazy over vegetables that didn't belong to her. This kept Rapunzel's family in a better light and focused all the weirdness on the Gothel and her obsession with her appearance.

The rest of the story could have done with a lot more thinking though. After all, Rapunzel and Flynn really don't have that much quality time on screen to merit them actually falling in love in the end, and I'm already saying this with he context of other Disney movies. At least the older movies start with the "love at first sight" trope and make sure to cement the relationship with a good montage with accompany duet of the two protagonists. Instead they spend most of the time running and trying to get one-liners out there in the hopes of making quotable quotes for the future. And they proved largely unsuccessful in that regard.

To be fair to the actors, one can't really criticize their performance all too much since it is just their voices after all. In a Disney setting, you tend to loose sight of the actors behind the words and instead leave the storytelling to the animation in itself. And the use of CGI in this movie was fairly well done - nothing spectacular, but it had nice hints of the hand-drawn sensibilities of older Disney pieces.

My one character critique though will definitely go to Gothel. Perhaps it's because she was made to act as Rapunzel's foster mother, but her rendering and styling seemed highly reminiscent of how Bernadette Peters brought the Witch to life in the Stephen Sondheim musical, Into the Woods. But I'm just talking visually here - in terms of personality and singing capability, she was nothing like Peters. This worked against the movie, but only on a personal level given how much I love Into the Woods. I doubt it will bother most viewers.

The music as a whole was a bit understated and at times lacking, which was rather disappointing on the part of Alan Menken. While Disney songs do tend to be campy in terms of lyrics and the like, all the song entrances felt awkward this time around and the lyrics badly matched. Throw in most of the voice actors / singers were given odd directions for the music and the movie ended up being week in a rather critical area for a Disney movie.

To be fair, the movie was still pretty entertaining despite not meeting some of the expectations set by the initial trailers. It was pretty fun overall with amazingly good use of frying pans as combat weapons and for the most part the humor was in a good place. This definitely felt like an interesting mix of Pixar humor with classic Disney fairy tale storytelling and gives me hope for the future of the combined animated studios.

Tangled is one of the better Disney movies in recent history. It gets 3.5 absurd goals and life dreams for common thugs and hoodlums out of a possible 5.

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