(2010) director Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
The latest Disney princess is Rapunzel, but you wouldn’t know that from the title of the film. Given the lack of traction that the last Disney princess film, The Princess and the Frog (2009), had at the box office with the non-girl segment, the marketing wizards at Disney heightened to role of the princess’ suitor in this film and changed the title to less clearly princess-y Tangled. Cynicism and the dream factory of Hollywood have long been ironic teammates. But in the case of Felix [ed note: the reviewer’s son; daughter Clara came as well], the marketing probably worked. He was up for the film. Who knows how he would have felt about “Rapunzel?”
Unlike The Princess and the Frog, Tangled is a digitally animated feature, filmed for 3-D, and in the case of our viewing, shown in XD (Extreme Digital Cinema). What is Extreme Digital Cinema, you may ask? I had to ask it myself, especially when shelling out $15 for myself and $13 for the kids. (We were time constrained and couldn’t really reschedule our showing to a less-expensive option). According to the marketing it’s “Digital projection”, “Wall-to-wall screen“, and “custom sound.” To me, that spells rip-off.
I’ll give it that the film looked fantastic. Who knows how much of that was enhanced by the digital projection, large screen and custom sound. Right now, I’ll credit the film.
Tangled is Disney following its own templates. A classic fairy tale, musical numbers, and charm and variably likeable characters. But Tangled is a good version of the template. And we know from many lesser efforts by the studio that even for Disney, coloring by numbers doesn’t always add up to a good product.
The design is a rich melding of digital and more tradtional 2-D cell animation aesthetics, added on top of digital animation’s ever-growing polish and depth. What you have is a slick and beautiful 3-D animation design and a set of characters, while perhaps nowhere reaching the classics of say Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) or The Jungle Book (1967), are enjoyable and fun enough. I actually liked that the two humorous sidekicks, in this case a chameleon and a horse, who are usually given character by obvious celebrity voice talent, are in this case mute, and are developed only through their actions and expressions.
The film’s biggest action sequence, the bursting of a dam, and the flooding of a cavern and a gully, are actually as exciting, if not more so, than digitized action sequences in live action non-animated feature films. And the film does develop a real charm and emotional hook about the abducted child of the king and queen who yearn for her every year by releasing lanterns into the night sky on her birthday. Or maybe I’m just getting soft.
The music wasn’t especially great, nor especially bad (my favorite number was the Viking-like pub sing-along that felt almost like a Disney theme ride.) Though it makes you wonder, outside of Disney’s princess film template in which music is a staple, why they felt it necessary. And the villain, the hag who abducts Rapunzel and keeps her locked away to succor on the healing and perpetual youth magic that her unshorn locks have, is good, but not a classic villain.
In the end, Tangled is a good time. Clara loved it. Felix thought it was alright. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. And I think you can count it as a success for the Disney studio. In fact, it might be the best of the digitally animated features released by the mouse that aren’t under the Pixar shingle. But it’s not perhaps a classic in comparison with other films from the studio’s more-celebrated catalogue. And if you’re going to work from such a standard model, you are more prone to comparison and contrasts with the other products from the same line and ilk.
For the full, extensive archive of movie reviews by Ken, please see kennelco.com/film_diary