The 50th of Disney’s animated classics is also the one that has had the most prolonged development. Originally targeted for production as early as 1947 the story of Rapunzel was one celebrity head in a frozen jar Walt had always wanted to see finished. He never did (or did he?) and over the years the idea was put on the back burner. Obviously there’s only a finite amount of fairy tales for Disney to adapt and so it was inevitable that one day Rapunzel would be asked to let down her hair on cinema screens via the medium of Disney’s cinematic magic. Read on for my views on the resulting film…
When the task to finally bring Rapunzel to cinema screens began it was conceived to be a traditional cell animated film. Eventually the task of animating all that hair by hand proved too big a task and so the move to CGI animation began. That’s not as easy a transition as you’d think. Try to remember how many characters from animated films had hair longer than neck length. There aren’t many. the reason for this is that getting CGI hair to flow is one thing but to get it to interact with outside forces is where things get tricky. A new animation engine was created just for this film and it’s results are very impressive. As a techy geek I can only trust you to believe me when I tell you that this film is pulling off some visual wizardry in animation that should be considered benchmark stuff.
Now that I’ve fully geeked out over the technical stuff onto the story proper. As you know Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) lives in a tower kept away from the world by her wicked mother until one day a prince comes along to rescue her with the call of “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!”. Except this being a Disney fairy tale that’s not how it happens here. Quite rightly too. That story would be a very short and pretty boring film. Instead there’s an overly convoluted back story involving a drop of sunlight that heals people, the power of that sunlight being transferred to the baby Rapunzel after it’s healing powers were used to cure her mother of an ailment during pregnancy and the kidnapping of Rapunzel by the youth obsessed Mother Gothel (Donna Murphey). Every year lanterns are lit on Rapunzels birthday in the hope that one day she’d come home. 18 years pass and Rapunzel has been raised as Gothels daughter and filled with tales of horror of the world outside her tower. One day a thief by the name of Flynn Rider (Zachery Levi), who is both a cad and a bounder, stumbles across her tower whilst on the run from the royal filth for the theft of a crown. Rapunzel convinces Flynn to take her to where the lanterns rise from every year on her birthday without her “mother” knowing. Naturally action, adventure and fairy tale princess love all come along for the ride.
As far as the story goes you could time it’s beats with a metronome. So precise is it’s story structure that even the most casual of movie watchers will feel the familiarity. It’s a story of a teenage girl rebelling, a journey of revelations and of finding her first love. Disney loves a story such as this but that’s not to say it is detrimental to the film overall. The story is precise but very well told and filled with plenty of character and charm. It also manages to be genuinely funny without ever resorting to outright obvious pop culture references. This contrasts heavily with the advertising campaign Disney strung together that made it look like a Shrek knock off and actually put me right off the film. The trailers they used in the US and UK played on Flynns quips and the animal characters comic relief. The name change from Rapunzel to Rapunzel Unbraided and eventually Tangled was also an attempt by Disney to take the focus off the princess at the centre of the story in order to make the film seem more hip to young boys. Apparently Disney market research suggested that young boys find princesses both “Yucky” and “Gross”. Anyway, watch the Japanese trailer for a better representation of the film and if you’ve been put off by the US trailers just give the film a chance. It’ll likely surprise you. Basically what I’m trying to say is…
The films songs are provided, for the first time in many years, by Alan Menkin. Back in his prime he produced the musical numbers for Disney classics such as Aladdin, Beauty And The Beast and The Little Mermaid. He’s also the absolute genius that gave us songs of The Little Shop Of Horrors, a personal favourite musical of mine. In recent years though he’s not been at his best. the last Disney film he wrote the songs for was the Dire Home On The Range. Here there’s a little of the old magic but many of the songs are fairly forgettable. That said the songs Mother Knows Best and I Have A Dream do stand out as songs you’ll likely be humming along to after the film is done.
The film has a few outstandingly crafted set pieces. An action sequence in an open cast mine being one that is excellently staged and, no word of a lie, features a frying pan to sword fight between Flynn and a Horse named Maximus. A later stand out scene is the eventual lantern scene which tonally recalls the ballroom scene from Beauty & The Beast. Both of these sequences show a near Pixar level of scene staging. Remember when that phrase would have been Disney focused? To say Disney themselves have been off the ball for the last 15 or so years is like saying facebook has been moderately popular in recent years. It’s a colossal understatement. In my opinion Disney haven’t produced a great animated film since The Lion King. Sure Hunchback of Notre Dame had it’s moments and The Princess And The Frog isn’t too bad but they haven’t been great for over 15 years. Tangled is the first Disney film I feel has earned the When You Wish Upon A Star theme at it’s opening since The Lion King. It’s a joy to watch and comes at a time when animated films have really been going through a good run. It seems as though we have finally outgrown the pop culture referencing, talking animals phase that’s been plaguing the animated world for years. Admittedly that’s thanks mostly to Dreamworks. Not one animal in this film talks, although the legend that is Frank Welker provides plenty of noises on their behalf. You have no idea how much of a relief that is for me. Basically what I’m saying is screw crap like Madagascar. I want more like this.
Overall Tangled is enjoyable, funny and an bonafide real Disney classic. It maybe isn’t quite as good as other animated films from last year such as How To Train Your Dragon and Toy Story 3 but it sure does it’s best to hang with them. It’s testament to the crafting of this films environment and characters that Tangled never drifts into Shrek territory and that Flynn never gets annoying. He so easily could have too. Rapunzel herself really takes centre stage in this film despite the marketing departments best efforts and she is the centre of all the films stand out scenes. The moment she finally steps foot outside the tower is an emotional, and amusing, roller coaster ride that informs you just how messed up in the head her life has made her but never once pushes you away from liking her. Tangled is worth a purchase and hopefully it will signify a renaissance of classical quality from Disney. At least they should hopefully never go back to the dark depths of Home On The Range again.