Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Trouble with Hairy: Although CGI, “Tangled” is a Worthy Addition to the Disney Animated Canon

What is it with Disney princesses? They’re always getting into trouble aren’t they. They long for something bigger something greater. Some of them don’t even know they’re princesses. Take Rapunzel as seen here in the newest addition to the Walt Disney Animated Classics collection (number 50 to be exact) “Tangled.” The film’s title is almost borderline dreadful mostly for what it actually represents. The Disney suits were worried that a Disney animated musical about a princess named Rapunzel would not attract of the film industry's favorite customers: boys. So they changed the title and decided to put the focus on the film’s male hero Flynn Rider. He’s a thief with a heart of gold and you won’t be too shocked to find out who he falls in love with.

“Tangled” is a movie musical in the tradition of the greats like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid” and like those films it centers on a strong female character who wants to know about what’s “out there.” It turns out Rapunzel was the daughter of the King and Queen, but she was snatched away by Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy). Gothel used the power of this special healing flower to keep herself young and beautiful for years and years. This same flower helped the Queen from dying as she gave birth to her baby. It turns out that magic healing powers were transferred to Rapunzel through her golden hair. With just a song she could harness her hairs powers, which Gothel was jealous of and needed in order to stay young and beautiful forever. She kidnaps the Princess and raises her as if she were her own, locking her away in a tall, tall tower, never able to set a foot into the real world.

That is until Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) a thief hired to steal the Princess’ crown, stumbled upon the tower and Rapunzel herself. Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) unaware of her royal status is scared of this stranger but intrigued as well. She sends her mother off to find her a unique 18th birthday present, while she insists Flynn take her to see the Queen and King’s floating lantern display, which they do every year on their missing daughter’s birthday. There seems to be a lot of setup for a Disney movie, but there you go. So in the meantime there’s plenty of time for Flynn and Rapunzel to fall in love. And to sing songs of course! Because Disney musical maestro Alan Menken is on hand to write the music for Rapunzel and her co-stars. The songs are well done if not particularly overly memorable and sound like more modernized versions of songs you may be familiar with from the early 1990s. There’s a song about hope and wonder “When Will My Life Begin” and a song about dreams “I’ve Got a Dream” and it wouldn’t be complete if the villain didn’t beak out into song either with “Mother Knows Best.”

“Tangled” is influenced and some might even says it outright borrows elements from earlier Disney films. In fact you can probably name something in this movie you’ve seen before in the other classic films. But those are the elements Disney fans have been holding onto for years! Last year’s The Princess and Frog” represented the hope that Disney could return to glorious form that made those early movies so rich and warm and successful. With “Tangled” they’ve proven that the formula can still work even nearly 20 years later. Sure “Tangled” feels a little more modernized, with computer generated animated and not the hand drawn stuff, but the animation represents animation in the new era. (Actually the advertising for the film actually feels the most modern, what with that Pink song blasting during it). Most people cried foul when films transitioned from black and white to color and in the end that wasn’t all that bad. And I loved how much Rapunzel's hair became a characater of its own. She uses her hair much in the same way Indiana Jones might use his whip.

I still believe Disney can, and will, make good hand drawn movies in the future. I mean it’s Disney for crying out loud they created this stuff and I think they will stick to it. Sure they’ve had to adapt along the way, but Tangled is a great return to what made them popular in the first place. It has wonderful and funny characters (including a particular memorable chameleon sidekick named Pascal), good songs and lush animation to feast your eyes on. So what are you waiting for? Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t have kids, just go see it already! GRADE: B+

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