Walt Disney Animation Studios added another masterpiece to its long history last week with its Nov. 24 release of Tangled. As it has done many times since its inaugural film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the studio created a version of a well-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.
Tangled is based on Rapunzel, albeit very loosely: Rapunzel is a long-lost princess, and is saved not by a prince, but by the swaggering, dashing thief Flynn Rider, who happens to be on the run as a result of stealing the royal crown. Oh, and her hair glows when she sings and it has magical healing powers.
The tale is told in hallmark Disney style, with charm, comedy and a wacky sense of adventure. Rapunzel swings across a gorge with her hair as a rope. Flynn engages in sword duels with a frying pan. Maximus the horse sniffs out trails like a dog. A tavern full of ruffians sing about their dreams and aspirations. The city’s inhabitants dance in the street in a daylong montage of celebration, randomly set off by Rapunzel’s rambunctious happiness.
The movie is a classic family-friendly drama as well, with romance, suspense and plenty of tight spots and nearmisses. Yes, Mother Gothel and the Stabbington Brothers are flat, static, stock villains. Yes, Rapunzel is the typical Disney princess, naïve and happy-go- lucky, yet strong when the occasion calls for it. Yes, Flynn Rider is every other swashbuckling hero, conceited and sarcastic, but ultimately selfless. Evil is vanquished, the lovers marry, tragic death is averted by unexplained miracle, and everyone lives happily ever after. There is nothing new about Tangled. But with it, Disney shows once again that this old, simple formula can still be compelling, fun and entertaining.
The Disney classics were always more about the art of filmmaking than about the art of story writing, and Tangled is just the same. The plot may be predictable and the characters simple, but the music and visuals are masterfully done. Musical numbers punctuate the story, from Mother Gothel’s sinister, persuasive “Mother Knows Best” to the romantic climax “I See the Light.” Written by Alan Menken, the soundtrack is reminiscent of the Disney music of our childhood. It follows the mood of the film, playful and comic, dark and suspenseful, or soft and emotional, with beautiful harmonies and melodies, as well as the singing talents of Mandy Moore and Donna Murphy.
I was particularly impressed, however, by the animation. In Tangled, Disney manages to combine the soft, warm style of its old, hand-painted animation classics with stateof- the-art computer-rendered graphics. Much attention is paid to light and color, and the result could be described as super-real, brighter and more vivid than photorealistic animation.
Watching Tangled is like looking at a watercolor painting, but with high-resolution, super-detailed digital rendering, and the effect is quite stunning. Combined with skillful cinematography, the artistic style of Tangled leaves one with many memorable scenes and images, such as a montage of Rapunzel dancing through her tower room, or a thousand floating lanterns rising slowly from the city at night. Tangled was also the first of the new 3D films that I had seen. I was pleased with the realistic quality of the 3D effect.
Tangled is an entirely computer-animated feature, so the animators had the flexibility to use the three dimensional effect in ways that might not make sense in a live action or photorealistic film. In the floating lanterns scene, for instance, one or two lanterns moved forward, seeming to hover and dance over the audience, while the background lanterns moved out of focus.
I may not have agreed with the choices of a few of these effects, such as having the names floating in front of an otherwise flat drawing during the credits, but they demonstrate some of the clever things that can be done with this new technology.
If you are looking for something new, radical, or surprising, you certainly will not find it with Tangled. But if you want a classic Disney fairy tale, combined with spectacular modern animation artistry, you need look no further.