Reviewed by: Scott Brennan
|Featuring:||Mandy Moore (Rapunzel), Zachary Levi (Flynn Ryder), Donna Murphy (Mother Gothel), Brad Garrett (Hook-Hand Thug), Jeffrey Tambor (Big Nose Thug), M.C. Gainey (Captain of the Guard), Ron Perlman (Stabbington Brother), Paul F. Tompkins (Short Thug)|
|Director:||Nathan Greno, Byron Howard|
|Producer:||Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures, Roy Conli, John Lasseter|
|Distributor:||Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Buena Vista Pictures|
“They’re taking adventure to new lengths.”
“Tangled” is Disney’s first CGI Fairytale film and its 50th animated feature and will undoubtedly be a hit, despite it being the first in the “princess” genre to get a PG rating by the MPAA. It definitely earned the rating due to the slightly violent overtones, but more on that later. In case you hadn’t heard, this movie was originally slated to be called “Rapunzel” after the infamous fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.
As for storyline, the Disney version is really superior to the “grim” original (pun intended). By grim, I mean dark, pointless and somewhat boring. However, the “tangled” web that was woven around this film had nothing to do with hair, crème rinse, or conditioner prior to its release, but more about the right title and correct target audience. The consensus appeared to be that the name “Rapunzel” would be scrapped to give way to “Tangled” since the former would risk the film falling by the wayside like “The Princess and the Frog,” appealing to far more little girls and not so many boys. By all accounts, Disney considered “The Princess and the Frog” as underachieving by their own standards—despite a $270 million worldwide purse and critical acclaim. They couldn’t risk that again, especially since they planned to put this genre to sleep after this film. My guess is that “Tangled” refers to the two characters becoming intertwined and not Rapunzel’s braids. The film begins with a single line from Flynn—immediately capturing the attention of any boys in the viewing audience: “This is the story of how I died…”
So changes were made, and “Rapunzel” became “Tangled” and the trailer and storyline put emphasis on the male character, Flynn Rider (voice by Zachary Levi), the high-flying male bandit who eventually becomes the hero and love interest of Rapunzel (voice by Mandy Moore). Flynn is a caricature of the real life Errol Flynn, a la the swashbuckling Robin Hood he portrayed in the 1938 film by the same name, which makes it an obvious appeal, not just to boys, but to an older generation as well, one who would recognize the name Flynn from yesteryear.
Creating the visuals for this eye-popping phenomenal film required advances and experiments in the industry similar to those James Cameron made in the making of “Avatar,” where tools and techniques didn’t exist when the project was started, but came into being out of necessity. The art demanded them, not just the executive producer, and creative director Glen Keane. From the onset, Glen planned on a film that looked and felt like the traditional Disney hand-drawn animations, only in 3D. The only question was how were they going to achieve this? The vision was there, using the French rococo artist Jean-Honore Fragonard’s famous painting “The Swing” as the chief inspiration. It would be a lush and painterly style to capture the essence of a Romantic fairy tale world, yet they would keep the rounded edges and curves of brushstrokes from watercolors that characterized the traditional Disney animations. Keane credits animator Kyle Stawitz for achieving this balance and bringing to life a moving, Disney, painterly style film, a first in the world of CGI animation.
As stated earlier, Grimm fairytales are foreboding by nature, so the dark quality was expected, especially when it comes to Disney for creating the stark contrast between its protagonists and antagonists. Where there is an Ariel, there is an Ursula. And it is true for Rapunzel as well--where Mother Gothel (voice by Donna Murphy) portrays the darkest character in the film. She is the witch, the enchantress, motivated by her lusts and desires to achieve immortality if only by maintaining her youthful appearance, although it’s never explained for what purpose. (It’s the opinion of this reviewer that her busty, cleavage-bearing-image was a little overdone for the character she was playing. Did she have a night job?) She is the dominating dark mother of enmeshment and deception who has imprisoned Rapunzel, since the day she stole her away from her royal crib and hid her in a stairless tower. Although Rapunzel is unaware of these facts at first, she comes to learn of them throughout the story and sings of her dream, “When will my life begin?” as if she instinctively knows something is wrong.
The lies and deception that Mother Gothel uses to brainwash young Rapunzel move beyond common prevaricating. They are the worst kind of deception because they are lies that are covered with dialogue where Mother says things like, “I love you,” to evoke the response from Rapunzel, “I love you more,” so that Gothel can close the case with “I love you most,” an insidious form of control that will shortly come to sting Rapunzel’s conscience. That’s the one part of the film that I had trouble with. While Mother Gothel was truly a fraud and evil in every way, young Rapunzel didn’t really know that. Instead, Rapunzel deliberately left the safety of the castle against the authority set over her. Once out in the real world she is experiencing a rift of emotions and thoughts that any girl would probably express in the same situation like, “I am a horrible daughter,” followed immediately by, “This is the best day ever!” Why was it the best day ever? Was Flynn right when he tempted her further with, and I’m paraphrasing here, “A little rebellion is normal; it’s part of growing up.” A clarifying conversation may need to take place after the film about all of this with regards to biblical authority in general, as well as the 5th commandment.
There are moments of mild violence throughout the film beginning with Rapunzel’s blackout hits on Flynn’s head with a frying pan, not once, but 3 times including tying him up in a closet with her hair and not even telling her mom about him. There was also a visit to the “Snuggly Duckling” which was basically a renaissance-faire like bar with characters who looked like the cross between the Capital One thugs on the TV commercials and all the Disney bad guys in past animated films—one of each—including one named “shorty” who stays inebriated throughout the film. The antics and dangers that Flynn and Rapunzel experience in the “Snuggly” were anything but. For a small child they could be quite scary.
Before the bombardment begins with the howls of the respondents below whom may think I’m being too picky or prudish, let me say that there are plenty of endearing qualities in this remarkable film. First, the fact that it’s a musical makes the darker parts of the film feel not so scary, kind of like the songs in “The Wizard of Oz” did for me as a child. I could almost look at the witch knowing they were about to sing, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Alan Menken doesn’t disappoint with his memorable music either, although I have my doubts as to whether it will match the success of some of his earlier projects. Time will tell. There are some fantastic fun-filled-Irish-type-dance-scenes that make you want to join in as well.
Second, the characters, in general, are clearly differentiated in that you know who the bad guys are. That makes it simple to follow, especially for kids.
Third, there are many significant life lessons that can be learned for kids and adults of all ages, vignettes that can easily be discussed to bring the point home with ease, that include obedience, authority, lying, stealing, family, loyalty, forgiveness, vanity, anger, fear, resentment, rebellion, safety, strangers—to name but a few.
If you can get past the Disney product placements—what you know will be coming—like stuffed chameleons, the CSI super-sleuth horse Maximus (my favorite character), the scenes scattered throughout the movie that look like parts of different rides at Disneyland, or the entire film as the preview to the Broadway stage show, then you’ll probably love it. You have to suspend disbelief at some point. The little boy behind me in the theater yesterday said it best (I’m guessing he was 5), “Mommy, he is dead now… But he is still talking… That’s because of the magic, right mommy?” “Yes, son, that’s right.”
I think I can safely say that Disney hasn’t lost the magic…because way down deep inside “I have a dream.” Okay, I admit it; I’ve been humming this song from the movie for the past 24 hours. This was probably the best part of the film for me. The dream is alive. In due time, God will bring it to pass in our lives, if we wait patiently for it, and pray that we will see just what the proverbial “lanterns” in all of our lives actually represent. If these last two lines are unclear, it’s because it would be a spoiler for me to explain them. I chose to see the lanterns as the good works. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Back in your court Mickey!
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.