Film Review with Robert Mann – Tangled

Tangled 3D ****½
Tangled 2D ****

Walt Disney Pictures has a very long tradition of producing movie fairytales about princesses and has produced many classic movies in this particular subgenre, among them such beloved animated features as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

Until last year, however, and with the exception of 2007’s animation/live action blend Enchanted, this tradition looked to be one that was completely relegated to the past in terms of Disney’s big screen releases (although Disney Princess has continued to be a strong brand on DVD), their efforts being invested in making other kinds of family films far removed from their past works, and only with the release of last year’s The Princess and the Frog did it appear that Disney were making a move back to the kind of films that they became known for in the first place. The Princess and the Frog demonstrated a step backwards on behalf of the studio in more than just one way, not simply being a return to their classic princess film mould but also a return to traditional hand-drawn animation techniques. When I reviewed that film I stated that Tangled – then titled Rapunzel, before they gave the film a makeover to make it a bit more 21st century, the final film being a touch more comedy adventure than straight out fairytale with the male “hero” playing as a big a role as the princess herself – would continue in the fashion established by The Princess and the Frog by being both another princess movie and another one made in the form of hand drawn animation. It has since transpired that, while I was correct on the first count, I was actually wrong on the second, as Tangled may embrace more traditional Disney family film values but it is also a film done in the more modern animation form of computer animation – the first Disney fairytale movie to be made in this way – and is also the latest animated feature to be released in 3D. This isn’t to say that the traditional animation style has been ditched altogether, however, as much effort has been made to give the film a traditional look. According to animation supervisor/directing animator Glen Keane – who, from the beginning, intended the film to look and feel like a traditional hand-drawn film but in 3D and who hosted a seminar called ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ where he brought in 50 (an apt number given that this film, as stated at the beginning, is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 50th animated feature) Disney animators, working in both CGI and traditional animation, to discuss the techniques used in each style and how to, in his words, “bring the warmth and intuitive feel of the hand-drawn to CGI” – a technique known as non-photorealistic rendering was extensively used in the making of this film to make the CGI surface look like it is painted whilst still containing depth and dimension and the movie’s visual style (essentially that of a three dimensional painting) was greatly inspired by the romantic painting The Swing, by the French rococo artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Keane saying that “a fairy tale world has to feel romantic and lush, very painterly”, Keane crediting animator Kyle Strawitz for achieving the painterly style that is on display in this film. Clearly, a lot of effort – and money, the film’s production budget being a huge $260 million – has gone into making Tangled but is this is a film that’s worthy of the same positive reaction awarded to last year’s The Princess and the Frog, or even Disney’s classic princess movies, or does it owe more to Disney’s earlier forays into the world of computer animation which proved simply decent rather than remarkable?

Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) is a teenager who has been imprisoned for years in a tower after being kidnapped from her real parents, the king and queen of the kingdom, by her evil ‘mother’ Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy) when she was just a baby. She is no ordinary teenager, though, but one who possesses 70 feet of enchanted blonde hair, hair which has the power to heal and revitalise, a gift that Gothel wants all for herself. Unaware that she is a lost princess, Rapunzel desperately wants to leave the confines of her tower home and explore the world and it seems that she may have the chance to do just that when charming thief Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi) takes refuge in the tower. At first, it is simply a trade off, whereby if Flynn takes her to see the releasing of some lanterns into the sky, something which Rapunzel has witnessed from a distance every year on her birthday, she will return the crown that he has stolen to him. But, as they get to know each other, Rapunzel and Flynn develop a connection and discover something far greater than either could have imagined. But Flynn is a wanted man, wanted not only by the forces of the palace guard but also the Stabbington Brothers (voiced by Ron Perlman), the two accomplices he swindled, and Gothel is not prepared to let Rapunzel escape with her magic hair and soon the two find themselves tangled up in a spectacular action-packed escapade. With her pet chameleon Pascal and police-horse Maximus by her side, Rapunzel sets for her true home, having the time of her life along the way.

I will start off by saying that Tangled is a stunningly beautiful film. Showing off a fresh and innovative approach to CG animation, the animation here is truly wondrous and the design of the animation really captures the essence of hand-drawn animation, perfectly transposing it to CG animation, the look, feel and texture of a hand-drawn animation film being superbly applied to 3D computer animation, there being times when you will swear that you actually are watching a hand-drawn animation film rather than a CG one. It really does look like a painting that is being presented and brought to life in three dimensions and the extra dimension itself is used to terrific and magical effect. It’s great to see a true 3D movie for a change (i.e. one that isn’t a 2D to 3D conversion) and particularly one that makes as good use of 3D as this film does. The 3D here isn’t the most obvious you will see, being neither in your face or gimmicky, but it is creative and inventive, the extra dimension being used to enhance the storybook feel of the film and in a superb way. A classic Disney fairytale with a slight 21st century twist, the film retains the musical aspect that is such a key part of classic Disney movies and just as with The Princess and the Frog does it really well, delivering good upbeat song lyrics and musical scoring and pitch perfect vocals provided by the cast, in particular Mandy Moore whose singing voice is pretty much perfect. While this film may be a (slightly) more modern take on the classic Disney princess movie, this doesn’t mean that the humour falls back on pop culture references or resorts to cruder styles of humour as is sometimes the case in today’s animated features – the humour here is good, clean and simple, and most importantly, pretty funny. Combining some amusing physical style comedy with entertaining supporting characters and fun musical numbers, the film delivers plenty of laughs. Not only that but the film manages to appeal to more than just the core audience for whom these films are normally targeted. A full on princess movie might only appeal to young girls but this film has plenty to appease young boys as well, the comedy adventure style making this more than just a classic princess movie (though that element never fails to come through as well), being a film that delivers as much in the action adventure department as it does in the romance aspect and the musical numbers. As well as being a technically proficient film in terms of visuals and music, the film also boasts good voices, Zachary Levi’s vocals perfectly capturing Flynn’s ego and sense of self importance as well as his charisma and later his more touchy feely side while Mandy Moore generally proves decent in bringing to life her character. The other vocal performances are also good and mention must be given to appearances by such stars as Jeffrey Tambor, Brad Garrett and Richard Kiel as thugs who turn out to be quite soft on the inside. In general, the characterisation is also very good – thus giving the voice actors plenty to work with – Flynn not being your typical prince type character, rather far more of a rogue, while Rapunzel is a traditional Disney princess, only with a very slight modern twist, being far from a helpless damsel in distress and quite capable of holding her own. The story is hardly complicated and certainly won’t get your brain in a tangle, offering few surprises and generally being very predictable but the writing is pretty decent and you really won’t care that you probably know how everything will work out. Very sweet, extremely lively and upbeat, lots of fun and with good values, this film is just too delightful for you to be let down by a slight case of predictability. Combining action, adventure, laughs and romance, Tangled is a film that the whole family can enjoy. A stunning work of animation, this is a truly magical and enchanting 3D moviegoing experience. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the film is CG – in spirit, this is a classic Disney princess movie.

Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.


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