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Animated feature entertainment shows no sign of tapering off thanks to the commitment of various studios and the stylistic lead of Pixar. The 3D boom has expanded the profit potential of what was once a highly risky venture -- Disney itself stumbled and plodded through 25 years of so-so animated work before incorporating Broadway-style musical elements into the form in the early 1990s. The Disney organization's latest computer-driven 3D epic Tangled is another step up in quality, and in audience acceptance. It is reportedly the most expensive Disney animated effort. It also has the longest running time of any of their animated shows with a single storyline.
Tangled is an overachieving entry in the Disney brand's "princess" line, a retelling of Rapunzel with a number of expanded and enhanced story elements. The original Grimm's Fairy Tale (Wiki claims that it's actually from an Iranian folk tale) is indeed a grim affair. Various versions include a blinded prince and even a pregnant, out-of-wedlock Rapunzel.
Dan Fogelman's screenplay retains some of the tale's situational menace (this is a PG picture!) but lightens things quite a bit. Not all of us remember much more than the hair-out-the-window aspect of the original, so we play close attention. Mother Gothel (voice: Donna Murphy) finds a golden flower that keeps her forever young, and tries to hide it for her use alone. But the palace guards find the magic flower and take it to cure the Queen, who is gravely ill after giving birth to a green-eyed, blonde baby daughter. The Queen is cured but Mother Gothel steals the infant, because its golden hair has taken on the flower's healing properties. To safeguard this flesh-and-blood fountain of youth, Mother Gothel names the child Rapunzel, keeps her in a tall tower and pretends to be her mother, shielding her from what she claims is an evil world. At age 18, Rapunzel (voice: Mandy Moore) is a spirited and artistically gifted dreamer. She wonders why thousands of "stars" rise from over the mountains on her birthday each year. When she asks to go find out what these stars are, Mother selfishly changes the subject -- while replenishing her own youth through Rapunzel's magic, glowing hair.
The only access to the tower that Rapunzel knows of is her seventy feet of golden tresses, hung outside the tower window. Along comes Flynn Rider (voice: Zachary Levi), a womanizing thief in need of a place to hide. Flynn has stolen the Queen's crown and the tall tower looks like a safe haven...
Tangled crowns its cleverness with some fine qualities. It drops Disney's old habit of easy laughs through topical references, a choice that is making Disney pix like Aladdin look woefully dated. For a "princess" story, it's also fairly deep -- Rapunzel is a serious victim, a pampered-but-imprisoned child slave. Fogelman doesn't go overboard with the secondary comic characters. Rapunzel's refreshingly dour little chameleon named Pascal helps her decide how to deal with her unwanted guest Flynn. The knaves and thugs Mother Gothel warns Rapunzel about turn out to be a lovable bunch of dreamers who hang out at a grog shop called the Snuggly Duckling. The dutiful palace guards trying to catch Flynn are balanced by Flynn's nefarious partners in crime, the Stabbingtons. That leaves the palace horse Maximus to carry both the comic and personality qualities Flynn lacks. Maximus is a literal hound dog on the trail of the thief Flynn, is true blue to a fault, and comes to the rescue as would a fearless prince of olde: he gets our vote for the hero of the story. It's too bad Maximus doesn't turn out to be a real prince under a magic spell, so Rapunzel could forget that untrustworthy pretender Flynn.
The film's storyline is clean, the animation marvelous -- it must have looked attractive in 3D. It also avoids most of the pitfalls of modern adaptations of fairy tales. But there are issues. Mother Gothel in the original has a legitmate gripe to motivate her kidnapping of her neighbor's baby. At the core of her malice is a fear of being left alone at an old age. The movie's Mother Gothel is a grasping and selfish glamour girl willing to condemn Rapunzel to a false life to suit her personal needs. Thus Gothel becomes a total villain with no chance for our forgiveness on any level: a fairy tale about the realities of women growing old and unloved turns into a vicious battle of the generations. This is exactly how some of the pampered "princess"--reared girls watching Tangled might turn out, I imagine -- the movie might inspire peppy, immature girls to dismiss their "interfering" mothers as rotten witches.
But let's not blame movies for creating the modern American brat. The girls that dump on Mom will probably do that anyway: "Geez, you old cow, Danny/Sean/Gomer only stole one car! And you won't let me stay out all night with him!"
Although I'm exaggerating, Disney's Rapunzel is definitely straight from the
The idea of making Rapunzel's hair glow with magic properties is a winner, that shaves away some of the original story's morbidity about stolen children imprisoned by monstrous adults. (it still happens). 1 That magic flower and hair must contain some of the same DNA possessed by Jason's Golden Fleece (in some versions of the story). We also love the way Rapunzel's hair snakes and trails without ever actually becoming tangled, except when Rapunzel wants to exert her woman's prerogative and tie her boyfriend to a chair. Gee, bondage and frying pan sadism in a Disney kid's film, who knew? I also imagine that ten million women watch Tangled and think, Lord, if I could only keep my hair as tangle-free as that. That's an extra pleasant fantasy angle.
The sequestered Rapunzel has somehow taken on a modern kid's hipness and sophistication with only a snarky manipulative stepmom to pattern herself after. I don't begrudge the movie this except that it aligns with the pre-teen princess brainwashing that pours out of Disney's DVDs, the television and a dedicated radio station. This Rapunzel is 18 years of age so as not to cause Glenn Beck to ignite a screaming controversy. Flynn Rider, or Eugene Fitzherbert, is a cleverly rendered morph of teen throbs Keanu Reeves (what, Keanu isn't an AARP member yet?) and Jake Gyllenhaal. A lot of Jake Gyllenhaal. Flynn's personality arc swings from "highly untrustworthy vain doublecrossing rogue" across the spectrum to "thoughtful sensitive honorable swell guy". Do guys like this exist anywhere, or is this a perennial princess fantasy as well? Does this mean we ought to let Jennifer/Samantha/Zoe date Gomer the car thief?
Although the story is said to be taken from the Grimm Fairy tale, we detect a heavy influence from the musical Into The Woods. Mother Gothel's refrain that she's only protecting Rapunzel from The World isn't necessarily from Sondheim, but it is a main theme of the Broadway musical's Rapunzel section. Although the songs are said to be inspired by '60s rock 'n roll (?), to me they sound exactly like Steven Sondheim's style. I would think that a Tangled stage musical can't be too far ahead in the future.
Note, these are wandering thoughts and observations, not criticisms .... none of this impaired my enjoyment of the film. The new elements in the story are handled with grace and good judgment ... Tangled is a best-case scenario Princess Empowerment tale.
We tend to take for granted the effort and talent that go into these 21st century animation pictures -- just because nobody manually inks & paints animation cels doesn't mean that it's all done by pushing buttons. The organizational and personality skills required to keep this sort of project going in a constructive direction is nothing to sniff at either. Tangled doesn't play like a film that's been beaten to death by a committee. Visually impressive ideas like the missing princess'es birthday celebration are allowed to stay basically simple. The scene with the millions of paper lanterns can be appreciated for itself and not packed with unneccessary ideas by executives second-guessing the concept or insisting on marking their territory. Tangled qualifies as a positive example of the relatively new & flexible genre of "animation unbound."
Disney Home Video's Blu-ray + DVD release of Tangled has the expected wonderful HD transfer that allows us to admire the glittering detail in Rapunzel's golden hair and Maximus'es stiff white hide. We're told that the modeling and textures of the characters were meant as a compromise "look" between computer work and animation accomplished with flat cels, and the result is pleasing. The artists charmed me by stylizing the mass candle balloons in a soft haze ... capturing the appeal of Disney's old multi-plane animation tricks.
The disc's back menus offer some interesting stop-off points. Completists will want to see the deleted scenes selection, while the film's two directors host a presentation of two separate "Storybook" openings concocted before it was decided that the prologue would be fully animated. Extended versions of the songs are present, along with the film's teasers. The Making of a Fairy Tale is an entertaining featurette. As this is the 50th Disney animated feature, a final extra is a (very fast) Fifty-Title Countdown, going through them all starting with Snow White. Notice the big gap in the 1980s, before The Little Mermaid kicks in. I thought they skipped over the friendless The Black Cauldron until I went back and checked ... nope, it's there too.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Tangled Blu-ray rates:
1. Now, wait a minute, here: The magic of an enchanted flower is passed on not to the person healed (the Good Queen) but to her daughter. This "inherited trait" is a benign opposite to the generational curse in the morbid Hammer film The Curse of the Werewolf. In that show, a crazed, starved beggar rapes a deaf-mute servant girl, and she dies giving birth to a boy born under a bad sign. Despite the fact that he's the innocent offspring of an innocent woman raped by a madman not responsible for his actions, the boy grows up to be a cursed, demonic Lycanthrope. Now is that fair?
What this makes us think about Tangled is this: will any offspring of someone healed by the magic of the flower have magic powers? Can you say SEQUEL?
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T'was Ever Thus.