Thursday, February 3, 2011

Animation Filmography: "Tangled" (2010)

Tangled marks its place in film history as the fiftieth animated feature the Walt Disney Studio has ever made. And its celebration and landmark is well-deserved. The fairy-tale fantasy surprisingly brings back the magic and essence of classic Disney animation, echoing the studio’s golden ages of such films as Snow White (1937), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and Beauty and the Beast (1991). And while Tangled is the third entry in a list of fairy-tale features that have been released within the last five years (the other two being the 2007 live action-animated Enchanted, and the hand-drawn The Princess and the Frog from last year), it captures a level of astonishment and authenticity those films - as good as they were - did not. 

The story opens with a drop from the sun, which creates a magic flower that has the power to heal and also to reverse age. A wicked witch named Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy), who first observed the flower’s growth, proposes to keep it to herself and remain youthful forever – that is, until the kingdom’s queen falls ill and the palace guards are sent out to find a cure. The flower’s cure, as a result, brings health to the pregnant queen, who gives birth to a baby daughter she names Rupunzel. In effect, the daughter possesses hair that carries the same form of healing and life sustenance. The only disadvantage (especially for Gothel) is that the hair will wither, turn brown, and lose its power if it is cut off. So Gothel kidnaps the girl one night and raises her as her own in an isolated tower.

Rupunzel's tower

Now approaching 18 years of age, the grown Rupunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore), who’s been under house arrest for her entire life due to her “mother’s” constant mentioning of the world being dangerous and manipulative, dreams of going out into the world and living a free life, if only to see the floating lanterns that emerge from the nearby kingdom every year on her birthday. What do they mean? What are they for? Do they mean something for her? Enter Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi), an escaped convict who happens to climb into Rupunzel’s tower and into his own hiding. Rupunzel eventually strikes a deal with Rider for him to take her to see the floating lanterns the following evening and return her home safely, in exchange for the mysterious trinket he has stolen from the kingdom.

Concept art of Flynn Rider, Rupunzel, and Maximus
What follows (don’t worry, no spoilers) is an adventure of mishaps, pitfalls, peril, comic sidekicks (Pascal the chameleon and Maximus the horse provide great comic relief), romance, and beauty that makes Tangled a near-perfect addition to the Disney canon. It is arguable the studio’s best animated feature in recent years, and the best Disney fairy-tale since Beauty and the Beast. It is to the credit of animation supervisor and Disney veteran Glen Keane (also the film's co-executive producer with John Lasseter), and directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno (who also made the entertaining Bolt), that the film recalls and sustains the classic Disney magic while staying true to contemporary audiences. At the same time, I’m respectfully glad they didn’t go the Shrek route, even though the tone and quality have been modernized slightly. Part of this essence lies in the strength and authenticity of the film’s lead characters. Mandy Moore (in what is probably her work in a while) beautifully embodies the innocence and spirit of Rupunzel that makes us thoroughly cheer for her. Zachary Levi (TV’s Chuck) is engaging and comically swashbuckling as Flynn Rider, exceeding any expectations of being a lame leading male and, in fact, becoming quite convincing. Donna Murphy’s bedazzling and often frightening Mother Gothel proves to be one of the most effective Disney villainesses in recent years, standing alongside the Queen from Snow White, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, and Ursula from The Little Mermaid. These characters are perfect and well-developed overall. In addition, it's a relief in how to see how much screen time is devoted to each character and to each of their stories. And Rupunzel's is one of the most convincing, along with her developing affections and love fro Flynn (and vice versa).

The other high point of the film lies in how it uses the computer technology to carry a hand-drawn quality that many other CGI films lack. One might wonder is this film would have been better or just as great in 2D. I can’t really say myself, because after seeing the film, I can honestly say that you don’t really mind that much. Tangled is a beautifully visual experience with wonderful set pieces from Rupunzel’s tower to the surrounding forest, to the tavern, to the kingdom, and to the floating lanterns over the lake. Best of all, like all the great animated features, the technology is used very wisely and effectively and helps tell the story without drawing attention to itself. It’s simply breathtaking and irresistible.


The breathtaking and beautiful "I See the Light" moment

Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater’s score and songs (while not memorable) fit the story nicely, combining elements of folk, rock, and fantasy. The “I’ve Got A Dream” number recalls the wit and hilarity of “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast, and Gothel’s number, “Mother Knows Best,” along with its reprise, is a creepy and controlling addition to such villainess songs as, say, Ursula’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid. The Oscar-nominated song “I See the Light” may have my winning vote this year, simply because it’s such a beautiful song in a beautiful highlight scene (no pun intended) involving the floating lanterns. I’m a little disappointed, though, that the Academy didn’t nominate five animated films instead of three. Tangled certainly was one of the best of 2010, alongside Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon.

Tangled is another great example of a film that should not merely be defined by its medium or technology, but simply by the fact (and by use of said technology) that it’s a wonderful story with endearing characters, heart, humor, adventure, and love. As Time Magazine’s Richard Corliss quotes, it “gradually achieves the complex mix of romance, comedy, adventure and heart that defines the best Disney features,” and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times notes it’s “a gorgeous computer-animated look that features rich landscapes and characters that look fuller and more lifelike than they have in the past.” And considering how much Disney has been progressing over the last five years, I couldn’t agree more.

Overall: 4.5/5 stars (Highly recommended without reservation!)

Written February 3, 2011

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