Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tangled/Rapunzel: A Tangled Tale

Movie Review                                                                                                             25/11/10

Starring the voices of: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy
Directed by: Nathan Greno and Byron Howard
Walt Disney Pictures

               Any child of the 80s/90s will probably remember the films from the Disney Renaissance, and chances are one or more of them would’ve shaped their childhood or influenced them in one way or another. In 2007, Disney’s Enchanted proved that there was life yet in the fairy-tale-based Disney animated movie. 2009 saw The Princess and the Frog, and now we have Tangled/Rapunzel/Rapunzel: A Tangled Tale (more on the naming debacle later).

            Drawing inspiration from the classic tale by the Brothers Grimm, Tangled tells the story of Rapunzel (Moore), a princess who was stolen away and locked in a tower by Mother Gothel (Murphy) a woman obsessed with the magical powers possessed by the young girl’s hair. Rapunzel’s hair can heal and rejuvenate when a magical incantation is sung, in effect a fountain of youth made of keratin.

            Enter the swashbuckling Flynn Rider, a debonair thief who has stolen a crown from the palace, and while evading capture hides out in Rapunzel’s tower. Keeping an eye out for Mother Gothel, Rapunzel promises Flynn that she’ll let him keep the crown in exchange for taking her out of the tower to see the lanterns that are released into the night sky once a year, to commemorate the lost princess’ birthday.

            Throw animal sidekicks, thugs, ruffians, palace guards and musical numbers into the mix and there you have Tangled.

            I was determined to watch the film with a critic’s eye. News of the development of the film seemed to be one upset after another. For one, there was the renaming: the corporate executives at Disney seemed to think the title Rapunzel would scare off young boys, and instead chose to focus on the male lead Flynn, and renamed the film Tangled. Here in Singapore and in Malaysia, the film is screened as Rapunzel: A Tangled Tale.

Then, there was the revelation that instead of a 2D cel-shaded animated film, Tangled would be made with CGI animation. Was The Princess and the Frog really that bad?  

            However, it seems that somewhere in the middle of the 90s, the folks at the House of Mouse had taken some of that winning Disney Renaissance magic and bottled it. It resurfaces here, albeit a little diluted. Still, this is six parts Disney magic, one part water, and that’s really alright.

            Making the film using 3D computer animation also had its benefits: Tangled is gorgeous to look at, combining the look of a Pixar animated film with that of a traditionally-animated Disney picture to good effect. Of course, the star here is Rapunzel’s hair. The long, long locks look amazing and possess fairly realistic weight and movement. Atmospheric elements such as water and fog turned out lovely as well, and the lantern sequence is truly awe-inspiring, especially when given the Disney Digital 3D process. Sweeping panoramic shots and some nice action scenes also add to the it-looks-wonderful factor of the film.

            This is a full-fledged musical, featuring the music of Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater. It’s a bit of a pity then that the songs and score sound fairly generic and, god forbid, bland, as opposed to the stirring music from such films as The Little Mermaid and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Also, Glenn Slater’s fairly uninspired lyrics fall dramatically short of the standard set by Stephen Schwartz, Tim Rice and earlier the late Howard Ashman. Still, the big love duet is a pleasant-sounding number.

            The story has been deftly adapted from the source material by the Brothers Grimm. Embellishments such as the chameleon Pascal and the palace horse Maximus (thank goodness they don’t talk – my favourite animal sidekicks never actually talk) and Flynn himself are worked into the story decently and don’t feel shoehorned in.

Disney seemed to be stuck with a formula of the “rebellious princess” for a while – but here, when Rapunzel is taken from her royal family, locked away in a tower and oppressed by a nasty woman – there seems plenty reason to rebel. Flynn is also a great leading man character: elements of Phoebus from Hunchback and especially Prince Edward from Enchanted are readily evident in the gung-ho, slightly vain, scoundrel-with-a-heart-of-gold Flynn.

Mother Gothel is also a fairly serviceable Disney villainess, with bits of Lady Tremaine from Cinderella, Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid and even Claude Frollo from Hunchback (the way she warns of the cruelty of the outside world and locks her charge in a tower) plain to see.

The voice acting in the film is actually one of the highlights. Zachary Levi is a revelation as an excellent, excellent voice actor. TV’s Chuck imbues Flynn with a roguish charm and likeability, and does his own singing to boot. Mandy Moore puts across the naiveté  and earnestness of the princess very well, and as a singer by trade she handles the songs well too. Donna Murphy’s voice drips with a dangerous silkiness that every self-respecting Disney villainess should possess.

This is far from the best the studio has produced, but still I laughed, I cried and I cheered. The enchantment that leapt off the screen melted away some of the scepticism, and it’s hard to deny that even when tarnished by meddling executives, this film still has its fair share of magical moments.


Jedd Jong Yue


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