By Scott Martin
Tangled, USA, 2010
Directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard
Tangled achieves something exemplary for Disney on two levels: it’s both a return to form and, hopefully, the birth of a new magical touch. They’ve lacked it for quite some time now. At the very least, this can be seen as an apology for last year’s abysmal The Princess and the Frog. No pointless updates to be found here, no ulterior motives, or subtle race cards being played. It’s Disney giving their unique breath to a classic fairy tale, and doing the best job they’ve done in years. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about this is their understanding of what they’re doing. Shades of acknowledgment are paid to Disney classics – Cinderella (1950), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) – in fact, elements of all the “vaulted” Disney films can be found, in some shape or form. Perhaps that’s where the film gets its name from? Catching the references is almost as much fun as the film itself. All at once, Tangled is sharply funny, extremely touching, and visually breathtaking. We even have a couple of silent animals to make us laugh, and be moving in their own ways, along the journey.
Our story here is basically the Brothers Grimm’s story of Rapunzel. A kidnapped princess (voiced by Mandy Moore) is locked in a tower by an evil witch, Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy) and a hero, Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi) comes to her rescue. Artistic license is obviously taken, but not to the point where you’re wondering why it was even advertised as an adaptation (I’m looking at you, Treasure Planet).
Maybe Disney has learned something from its time spent with Pixar. In most Pixar films, it’s the performances that make the characters come to vivid life, and here, there is no difference. Moore makes our Rapunzel as charming as can be, and puts her beautiful voice to excellent use; Levi does his best Nathan Fillion and gives us a hero to be remembered, oozing with a suave and dashing presence; Murphy’s wicked witch is a remarkable ode to the classic Disney villainess, recalling Ursula from Mermaid, Frollo from Hunchback, and Cruella de Ville from One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961). In many ways, Tangled winds up being an homage to a long forgotten Disney tradition: the Princess films. Enchanted (2007) barely counts, as adorable as it is. The Princess and the Frog was nothing if not a let down. We hadn’t had a real one since Mulan in ’98. I’m so glad that we’re given a classic Disney princess now.
Catchy songs seamlessly weave in and out of the story, not necessarily stopping the show, but absolutely enhancing it (the mark of a great musical number); combine this with astounding visuals and an intelligent screenplay – I know I’m praising their comeback quite a bit, but let me focus on the animation for a minute. Animated to look like oil paintings (specifically Jean Honore Fragonard’s “The Swing”) and traditional 2D drawings, we have the look and atmosphere of an old empire long lost in the transition to CGI. While this film is completely CGI, techniques created and used specifically for this film have brought the 2D and 3D worlds together. Not a moment too soon, either. I felt at home watching this. I was reminded of much simpler times when I was a kid, popping in Pocahontas or The Rescuers (1977) into the VCR and marveling at how lifelike a drawing could seem, how much depth was implied. And now that we have computers to give us that implied depth from years ago, there isn’t any reason for Disney to turn back now, unless they want to give us another 2D Princess in order to make up for their last one. That would be appreciated, at least on my end. If that was their “traditionalist” swan song, I’d like an encore.
Without fail, this film is a triumph on a number of levels. It’s an instant animated classic that not only brings a new form of animation to the table and announces very loudly that Disney is still a force to be reckoned with, but it allows its actors the room needed to fully flesh out their characters and take deep breaths with their audience. Deep breaths of crisp, fresh air. It’s been years since we’ve been able to do that with just Disney, as opposed to Disney/Pixar; together, they are an incredible team – I’m just glad to know that Disney can still pack a punch on its own. I feel like the five-year-old in me can hope for something even greater the next time around. I certainly know that the 24-year-old in me does.
Way to go. Can’t say it enough. A job exceedingly well done.
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