There are no major spoilers below, but if you want to keep your movie-going experience pure, revisit this entry another time.
Tangled is a breathtaking new Disney film which brings back the fervor and hyper-Romanticism of Disney’s “Renaissance-era” of the 90’s. Perhaps this re-imagining of the German story Rapunzel is the start of a Restoration period in Disney animation, which has hit its stride with the amazingly lifelike computer effects and a sweeping score.
The music, which features folk, country and Broadway elements is a clear indication of Disney’s lookback to the highly successful adaptations of the Americanized Euro-fairy-tale. In recent memory, I have not loved a Disney song more than “When Will My Life Begin?” (sung by Mandy Moore) The chord changes – the frenetic lyrics and the animation that accompanies this song is new and exciting. The number sung by Donna Murphy, “Mother Knows Best,” is perhaps a close second, tied with the love duet “I see the Light.” (as a songwriter – you almost weep that the latter song is so simplistic – and in C Major!). In third place, I would have to say that the orchestral cue that plays when Mother Gothel is lifted up to the tower is to die for. Here we are back to the 100-piece orchestra with backing choir that is so iconic of the Disney musical sound.
With Lasseter at the helm producorially, the script speaks to the Neue-brainiac audience of the Pixar fanbase: wittier one-liners, very sarcastic humor and down-to-earth characters. The look of the film, which is perhaps the primary reason most people will see the movie, appears particularly Pixar with how it handles the animation of the non-speaking animal creatures and the cartoon-violence. The surfaces of the characters’ faces shine with the plastic veneer attributed to the three Toy Story films. Yet the film looks so real. And the 3-D is incredible. One would almost venture to guess that they filmed the entire story live-action to study the faces and the movements of the actors before sitting in front of the Maya console. The fighting scenes seem harder, grittier and Rapunzel does get to partake in the action. Perhaps what makes this film Restoration rather than Renaissance is the fact that the lead female character is not the waiflike damsel, but a stronger, hands-on heroine. (If this illustration helps, all the better: Rapunzel is way stronger than Meg in Hercules but not as much of a roughneck as Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon.)
While the film leans heavily on its Pixar leg, it is still however, a Disney film at heart. The princess in the film is unmistakably Ariel, Belle and Jasmine merged together into one uber-female and crowned with blonde hair. Even though the trailers depict the protagonist as the male lead, Flynn Rider, it is Princess Rapunzel who carries the more heartfelt and complex storyline and songs.
What makes the film great is its ability to merge many different comedic genres into one movie. At times the film feels like a “buddy-movie.” The boys in the audience will have something to chew on as Flynn and Rapunzel problem-solve their way through dangerous situations. The initial flirtation between the two romantic leads (this film is more a romantic comedy than a full musical) embraces the more complex issues of modern dating and is careful not to appear whimsical. The sense of “magic” is still there, without the clichéd “potion” or “spell” devices.
I saw this film as part of a special Q & A with Alan Menken, who actually revealed some of the process of writing the songs, which was quite nice. Tangled is a rebirth and a sure model for future movies to come.