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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tangled – An Unbraided Rapunzel?

Yesterday was a very, very exciting day for me.

For the first time in my lifetime, a Disney Princess film premiered with a blonde for a heroine.

And Alan Menken was doing the music.

And this was a film that had gone through so much reworking…I mean, 3 different titles! 2 totally different casts! (I'm a little bummed that Kristin Chenoweth did not end up in Tangled, but considering that she, as Rapunzel, was supposed to be trapped in squirrel form while some random teenager ends up in hers…I think we're lucky this project got an overhaul).

I'm not going to lie…after having some knowledge as to what this film has gone through, and to then see some really downright awful commercials…I was afraid that this film was going to be Disney attempting to do Shrek, which is definitely not something the company should ever do. Enchanted was okay because the majority of the film was live-action…but in general, it's not brilliant to make fun of yourself in front of everyone. It only makes you look even more like a fool. Of course, that's just my opinion.

In all honesty, the only advertising I really liked for this film was the teaser trailer.

It annoyed me that a lot of the advertising didn't involve the film's main villainess, Mother Gothel. Before I saw the film, it was because I was very familiar with the original version of Rapunzel – after seeing the film, it's because of that and the fact that the character is just really well done by Donna Murphy and the animators for this film.

The original tale of Rapunzel is really more of a heavy family drama than a light-hearted Disney musical (of course, Disney has tweaked every fairy tale that they've touched, as they have every right to, and that's fine by me). I mean, I don't think it would have gone over well for the audience to see Flynn's eyes bleeding and stumbling around blind while screaming in agony.

I am a little sad, however, that so much of the familial basis was altered. In the original fairy tale, Rapunzel is not born a princess, but is the daughter of a Baker and his Wife, who tragically must give up their child to a Witch because the Baker raided her garden after the pregnant Wife got hungry for some greens.

However, I can let this go because Flynn is allowed to have a "Cinderella" moment, if you will. Because he came from nothing, and as an underdog was able to rise up and accidentally fell in love with a princess.
Of course, this doesn't change the fact that Mother Gothel isn't even a witch…maybe Disney was trying to just change things up a little, I guess.

While I was thrilled to finally see a central mother-daughter relationship in a Disney film (because, let's face it…there just really hasn't been in any previous Disney films), I do wish the relationship between Rapunzel and Mother Gothel had felt a bit more significant. It was too easy for Rapunzel to turn her back on her mother towards the end, and it was too easy for Mother Gothel to be so easily detached. After all that time together, the two of them should still deeply love one another, even if it Gothel kidnapped her for selfish reasons…she still raised her as her own. She clearly loves her daughter enough that she's willing to travel very far to get her daughter some special shells for her paint…

I am not completely discounting what we did see between them by any means. Mothers are great at putting superficial ideas into their daughters heads, manipulating them and belittling them…and the classic teenager to parent dilemma of, "I need to do things on my own and experience the world" versus "I have protected you all of your life and I can't let you go because I love you" was done in a fairly moderate way to not overdramatize the film…but I will say, coming from a girl who's been there, it hurts a lot more than Disney showed. At least we've broken ground. I'm hoping the in the future Disney will "dig a little deeper" on this issue.

And speaking of music…while I don't feel the music for this film is on the same level as Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin, it was definitely enjoyable, and it was a treat to see Menken's work on an animated Disney film again...Glenn Slater provided some clever lyrics in there, too.

The only really awkward moment was during the song "I See the Light"…while the music is rather beautiful (and the imagery just as gorgeous to match), I was rather taken aback when, after hearing Rapunzel and Flynn singing in their heads, saw them suddenly singing to each other in harmony ¾'s of the way through the song. That was potentially the weirdest thing in the film…you get past it, but it was a poor choice in my honest opinion.

If anyone out there remains skeptical about this film because of the vocal talent, let me put their mind at ease. Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy (a Broadway veteran) and the rest of the cast do a fantastic job! I wish I had been able to see Zachary sing more (he originally had more, a solo and a reprise that was first a love song from Mother Gothel to Rapunzel and after with him a love song to Rapunzel)…hopefully Disney will include whatever files they have saved from these cut songs and include them on the Blu-Ray/DVD release!

Chock it up to a simple story, a good script, great animation and vocal talent…but the characters in this film are rather well-developed. A fellow colleague of mine remarked that he felt Rapunzel was the first really likeable Disney Princess…I don't know if I can fully agree with him on that, as every Disney Princess is simply a product of her time, but Rapunzel is definitely the sweet girl next door, with a little bit of fun and spunk. She's not afraid of being goofy, of being herself, and that's definitely an attractive quality to see in anyone. In the line of Disney Princesses, therefore, her characterization seems like a breath of fresh air. As for Flynn, I was not sure coming in to see the film that I would like him…I originally saw him mostly as a Disney marketing ploy that was going in the wrong direction. But through the course of the film, he stops being completely self-absorbed and detached from the cares and worries of life and has a quite nice and full character transformation.

Here is a quick little comment I need to make – while the King and Queen in this film do not speak, their animation is so perfect, so realistic and so powerful that in the span of a few seconds you will be holding back tears. Whoever animated them needs some serious recognition at Disney…that footage is absolutely powerful.

Speaking of the animation…just in general, it is quite beautiful. The background story of this film reminds me a lot of what happened to Sleeping Beauty, but perhaps ending on a more positive note. What bothered me, however, was that at times the consistency of Rapunzel and Flynn's faces seemed a little spotty. I won't pretend that Disney has always been perfect in this category, but it seemed only aggravated with this style of animation. Rapunzel looked like three different women to me! And there was one shot where Flynn's hairline was way too forward on his forehead (which made him suddenly a lot less attractive by my taste).

Still, overall the animation was rather gorgeous. Trying to mimic the look of oil paintings was a brilliant idea.
I will actually have to go back to the theaters to see this film again…besides the fact that I really enjoyed the film, my 3D glasses darkened the picture significantly, so I'm going to have to see it in 2D to be able to really appreciate the hard work the animators and designers did on this film. Please note that I'm not discouraging anyone from seeing this in 3D! There are no tacky, gimmicky stunts pulled because you're wearing special glasses. The vast landscaping, buildings and just overall texture really benefit from the 3D (and speaking of texture…the way Rapunzel's hair is animated is just fantastic!). But if you want to see the true coloring of the film, you're going to have to nitpick.

Overall, I give this film two thumbs-up. And it looks like everyone else is, too…it was recently announced that Tangled has had the biggest Thanksgiving Weekend Opening ever with $11.5 million garnered on its first day of release! That's more than Toy Story 2 did, who had the title before Tangled.

I leave you with a quote by Glen Keane regarding the whole Rapunzel project (after the concept for Rapunzel: Unbraided got the boot), who has worked for several long, hard years on this film:
"I think that's what Disney needs to do right now. No one else can do it. We should not be embarrassed or make excuses for doing a fairytale."

I am thankful for people at Disney being proud of their legacy and continuing on with it with attitudes like this. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

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