Monday 13 January 2014

Munir's Disney Retrospective - Animated Classic #50: Tangled (2010)

Last Week’s: Munir’s Disney Retrospective - Animated Classic #49: The Princess and the Frog (2009).

After The Princess and the Frog marked a glorious return to hand-drawn animation, I was disappointed that Tangled was made in CG. Don't get me wrong, I love CG animation, especially Pixar films, but because Tangled was a fairy tale, I expected a similar approach to Princess & Frog. Also, what didn't sit well with me was the title change. Because The Princess and the Frog "underperformed", Disney thought that, in order to appeal to boys, the name Rapunzel was not appropriate. So they changed it to Tangled, a very generic title that doesn't say anything about the film. Fortunately, despite this, Tangled was another triumph for Disney Animation, and their first genuine box office success in a very long time.

While the marketing wanted you to believe this was a "hip" and "modern" story in the same vein as most of the early DreamWorks films, the actual film (fortunately) is a more traditional fairy tale that manages to enchant with its winning characters and engaging story. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the dynamic between Rapunzel and Mother Gothel. Mother Gothel is clearly a villain, she kidnapped Rapunzel and kept her locked away for 18 years. But, despite this and the fact that she cares for her magical hair, on some level she does care for Rapunzel. Yes, she is abusive and selfish but what's interesting is that this mother-daughter relationship is that there's a sense of care between these two, which makes the relationship much more layered and complicated than your usual relationships in mainstream animated films. Also, while the marketing wanted you to believe that there were two leads in this story, the actual film is mainly Rapunzel's story (as it should be). Flynn Rider (a.k.a Eugene Fitzherbert) is a great companion with a nice backstory, but in the end it's Rapunzel who learns her real identity and where she really belongs. Nonetheless, it's easy to invest in their relationship as both have entertaining personalities and both end up saving each other, which makes for a grand finale.

One thing that I have always liked about this film is that it allows its characters to feel and it gives them time to process those feelings. Two clear examples of this is when Rapunzel first steps onto the ground after leaving the tower. The moment she touches the ground with her foot is a little yet powerful moment, we feel her excitement and we also process that emotion. The other moment is when she has this battle with herself when she leaves the tower. In a great montage we see her going from extremely happy to extremely guilty for disobeying Gothel and this moment makes Rapunzel a much more layered and relatable character to us. In a world where many animated films just rush the story and are concerned with big explosions and action, it's nice to see a film that offers the audience this little yet precious moments where we can actually emotionally connect to the characters and be invested in their story.

Tangled is the most expensive WDAS film to date and it clearly shows. While Meet the Robinsons and Bolt have both pleasant but still rough around the edges animation, Tangled takes the CG to a whole new level and it's the first CG WDAS film that can be up there with the likes of Pixar and the most recent DreamWorks films. The animation is just stunning and the overall design is breathtaking. Much of the credit has to go to veteran animator Glen Keane who envisioned a more traditional look with a CG approach. By merging both traditional animation and CG, Tangled has a modern but classic design and the result is stunning. You just have to take a look at Rapunzel's lustrous hair and you can see the amount of effort and resources that the studio devoted to the film.

The great Alan Menken returns to score this film and while Tangled may not be his best work, it's not by any means bad. The classic rock style that Menken infuses into it really helps the overall feel and environment of the movie. The songs add great moments, and while they may not be as flashy as The Princess and the Frog ones, they serve the story and are accompanied with moments of great beauty. From the inventive "I want" song "When Will my Life Begin?," to the melodramatic "Mother Knows Best," the songs help the story move along in a nice way. Of course, the main highlight is the duet "I See The Light" between Rapunzel and Eugene, where both of them declare their love while the sky lights up with lanterns. This scene is one of the most beautiful scenes from any film and this superb song elevates the whole thing to glorious heights.

Thankfully, the horrible marketing did little to prevent the film from becoming a success and cementing Walt Disney Animation Studios' reputation as a leading studio again. With a great story, strong characters, good humour, superb animation and nice music, Tangled, the studio's 50th feature film, is a dazzling spectacle of the most superior quality and I can't think of a better film to celebrate that milestone. An instant classic. Rating: 5/5.

Next Week - Animated Classic #51 Review: Winnie the Pooh (2011).

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