Monday, September 19, 2011

Our Feature Presentation (25/50) -- Tangled (2010)

Of the over 50 films part of the Disney Animated Features canon, Tangled led me on the biggest emotional rollercoaster. I first caught wind of the project back in 2009, when it was titled Rapunzel, and, indeed, there was a Rapunzel teaser trailer that made its way onto the Blu-ray release of The Princess and the Frog. What happened from there, no one can truly know, but here’s what conventional speculation and Wikipedia tell us: The Princess and the Frog was a mild box office success, rather than the titanic megahit it was supposed to be, and Disney execs got a bit gun shy. The Princess and the Frog was marketed as a back-to-roots labor of love, similar to projects released in the 90’s; since that didn’t seem to work, Disney decided to give audiences a new vision of its Rapunzel project. From this bit of decision-making came one of the worst promotional campaigns I’ve seen in film, now titled Tangled, with trailers that made the movie out to be a hip, snarky take on the classic fairy tale, a la Shrek.

My antipathy for Shrek doesn’t run as deep as some in the blogosphere, but if there’s one thing that absolutely does not belong in a Disney project, it’s snarky, hipper-than-thou “attitude.” Granted, it’s not like Disney hasn’t attempted hipness, but the Disney Animated Features brand has lived and died by its sincerity, and even its most irreverent projects have had a strong emotional core. Fortunately, Tangled, turned out to be one of the most sincere projects seen from Disney in quite some time, with strong characters, a good story, and the sense never to posture as “above” the material.

Old-fashioned, yet still fresh, Tangled is an absolute goodie.

Tangled begins with a narration, where we learn about a centuries-old witch named Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) and magical flower that keeps her young. The local queen is expecting a child, though, and needs the flower to deliver the baby (in lieu of Rampion, I suppose), so the flower is found and given to her, and she safely delivers a happy baby girl. Gothel, however, steals the child, whose hair now possesses the flower’s healing power, and raises her in an old, obscure tower. Brokenhearted, the king and queen begin a tradition of releasing a series of paper lanterns every year on the missing princess’s birthday, as a way to remember her, and to find her if possible.

Cut to eighteen years later. Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is now a beautiful young lady, content with living in her tower, but for one thing: more than anything, she wants to see the lights that appear in the sky on her birthday. This would require leaving the tower, which, to Gothel, is completely out of the question. After a large row that ends in Gothel angrily telling Rapunzel that she can never, ever leave the tower, Rapunzel appears defeated in her desire to see the lights in person.

Ah, but enter Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), a crafty thief who has just stolen a crown belonging to the lost princess. After ditching his accomplices, the Stabbington brothers (Ron Perlman, Armie Hammer-style), Flynn hides himself in a non-descript tower… where he is promptly knocked over the head and captured by Rapunzel. Rapunzel offers Flynn a deal: if he will take her to see the lights, she will give him the crown. What follows is a bit of a road movie, where Rapunzel and Flynn learn about themselves, and grow closer together.


Prototypical Disney tropes and quippy dialogue meet in the best way possible, kinda like Rapunzel and Flynn in this scene.

I mentioned in my The Princess and the Frog write-up that Princess had an old-but-new approach to Disney filmmaking, a self-conscious throwback to the pictures of the Disney Renaissance, peppered with newer narrative ideas and details. Tangled, by contrast, has a new-but-old take on its conventions as a Disney feature; while it’s built with new-fangled, gorgeous CGI and 3D effects, it’s made with a much more traditional (and, frankly, much more Disney-esque) story progression, cast of characters, song style, the whole nine. I think it’s this sheer, unadulterated Disney-ness that gave Tangled such success; Tangled is the second-highest grossing Disney feature in the United States (after The Lion King and Aladdin), and gets the jollies of more people I personally know than any other Disney film of the past ten years (though The Emperor’s New Groove comes close).

And yet, for a movie so unabashedly sincere, Tangled is incredibly funny in a completely 2011 way. Small, slick lines creep their way into the dialogue (“Frankly, I’m too scared to ask about the ‘frog.’” “‘Chameleon.’” “Nuance.”), and it has a penchant for quotable deadpans like few other films in the Disney canon (“You should know that this is the strangest thing I’ve ever done!”). Tangled never tries to be above its fairy tale material, though, and gracefully treads the line between clever and smirking (as opposed to many of its contemporaries, which go for out-and-out troll face).

Good lines about in Tangled
"Oh mama, I have got to get me one of these."

Helping to sell the humor is Tangled’s cast of well-rounded, enjoyable characters. Rapunzel operates straight out of the Ariel school of strong female protagonists, but she’s given the chance to develop her character more often than not; I love her little “Eeep”s, and the scene where she rebounds between ecstatic and remorseful (“Best day ever! … I am a terrible human being.”) is one of my favorites. Flynn is a suave, Han Solo-esque rogue who isn’t quite all that he seems (original as sun in the desert, I know, but it works for him), and Levi gives an extra “aw, shucks” charm to him. Mother Gothel is a powerful diva of a villain, equal parts dangerous and drama queen; I also love her faux-motherly relationship with Rapunzel, and she manipulates her through guilt without Rapunzel’s knowing. Even the by-now-requisite animal sidekicks manage to stand out, using silent comedy to the best possible effect. Pascal, the chameleon, uses small, specific movements to sell his character’s humor, which Maximus, the horse, performs in huge, broad strokes—in a way, it’s almost like having Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in the same movie.

Speaking of non-vocal parts, I want to use this paragraph specifically to talk about Rapunzel’s parents, the king and queen. Both the king and queen are rarely seen in in Tangled, but they have one of my favorite scenes in the movie—it’s near the two-thirds mark, just before the first lantern is about to be released to the kingdom. The queen (whose resemblance to Rapunzel is remarkable) comes to fetch her husband. She fastens his cloak, meeting his eyes with a weak, sad smile, and we see a single tear fall from his cheek. Though the filmmakers do nothing to explicitly spell it out, we are able to glean exactly what is going through the king and queen’s mind: that what has been alluded to as a yearly festival is, in fact, a painful and vivid reminder of how, eighteen years ago, their only daughter was taken from them, and that time has done nothing to dull their hurt. Dear readers, it lasts all of twenty seconds, and it is HEARTBREAKING.

Their screen time is very brief, but the king and queen both create a lasting impression, at least for me.

Moving on. The animation in Tangled is absolutely gorgeous. In particular, the film makes delicious use of color, particularly the deep greens of the forest and royal purples of the kingdom. There are also a multitude of small details that help give the world its place, things like the textures on Rapunzel’s wall and Pascal’s scales, the small floating particles in the water, and the individually detailed hairs on Rapunzel’s head (they even get disheveled during a scene of conflict). Character animation is stellar as well; everyone looks soft, and different from other CG animated pictures. Lastly, Tangled makes perhaps the best use of 3D I’ve seen in any movie, and though I don’t feel like I’m less involved when I watch it at home on 2D, I sure wouldn’t mind paying to see it in 3D again.

Tangled also happens to be an excellent-sounding film. I consider myself a small Alan Menkin fanboy, and his score for Tangled is exceptional, especially the way he uses the score to punctuate gags and action moments. The songs aren’t stone-cold classics, but are more than pleasant, and while I don’t expect to find someone on the street humming “I’ve Got A Dream,” I could certainly understand if they wanted to.

I was pretty terrified when Tangled came out, but since then, it’s not only assuaged my doubts, but also has moved on to become one of my absolute favorite Disney films; not bad for a movie that just came out less than a year ago. Excellent characters and humor, fun songs, and a story that is all-but-guaranteed to leave a warm, gooey feeling inside the viewer, Tangled comes highly recommended, and is an absolute must-see for folks who are worried that Disney has lost its touch.

Top Three Songs
  1. “Mother Knows Best (Reprise)”
  2. “When Will My Life Begin”
  3. “I’ve Got a Dream”

Favorite Scene
  • Rapunzel first leaves the tower

Favorite Character
  • Pascal

The Jar Jar
  • Old Man

How I Watched It

With all of the prosal love and kisses I gave Tangled, you’d better believe I snagged this one the first day it was available. Tangled comes in three flavors: a single-disc DVD, a double-disc Blu-ray plus DVD, and a four-disc 3D Blu-ray that comes with the 2D version, a DVD copy, and a digital copy. My Samsung is not 3D-compatible, so I was more than happy to save ten dollars and buy the double-disc edition.

As expected, Tangled looks bloody fantastic in high definition. Colors are bright and saturated, and the small details I mentioned earlier are easy to spot with the enhanced resolution. I couldn’t use the surround sound with my review, but I have no reason to believe it would be anything less than at-least-pretty-good.

For a film that just came out last year, there is a surprising lack of bonus features. Included are several surprisingly-lengthy deleted scenes, a few alternate openings to the movie, and a small making of featurette, “Untangled: The Making of a Fairy Tale.” The featurette is hosted by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, and is all of twelve minutes long, and though it does have a few interesting bits, it’s too kid-centric and EPK-happy to be of much educational use to anyone.

To be honest, I’m a bit bummed by this release’s supplemental extras. Perhaps it would make more sense if Tangled had flopped at the box office, or if it was made a while ago, but Tangled was the 10th highest-grossing film of 2010, and the third-highest-grossing Disney film domestically. I suppose they figure the kids wouldn’t watch them anyway (they’re probably right), but I would love for more info about Tangled, especially since it has such a long and complicated development history.

No comments:

Post a Comment