Thursday, 13 January 2011

Tangled: A film review... Why? Because she's worth it.

Blessed and Burdened with the title of Disney’s 50th animation feature and the second most expensive film of all time (costing $260 million), Tangled is the "House of Mouse's" retelling of Grimm’s classic fairy tale, Rapunzel.

For American audiences Tangled is old news having been released prior to the Christmas period and competing well with Harry Potter and The Don’t Bother Watching if You’re a Fan of the Books. Nevertheless, British audiences will be able to ‘let their hair down’ (Ugh, I hate myself for that one) by the end of the month. January 29th to be precise...

The last in a long line of Disney princesses (well at least for now according to recent reports in the LA Times) Rapunzel is everything a Disney princess should be. And as indicated by the very first song ‘When will my life begin’ She’s an all American, singing, cleaning, baking, sewing machine. Well she’s not a sewing machine but you know what I mean. It is this opening, along with Mandy Moore’s sickly sweet middle American accent, the odd adding of ‘like’ to sentences where it’s really not necessary and the accompanying cheery chord strumming of the guitar that had me cringing in my cinema seat. Fortunately for me and the child side glancing daggers at me every time I ‘tutted’ at another lyric about doing the washing up, it didn’t last long. The song is used to sort of lull you into a false sense of security making it appear that everything is just dandy. Until, the pace finally slows out of the infuriating jig-a-jing rhythm and into the melancholy strums that indicate Rapunzel is far from fulfilled, painting, cooking and generally keeping the place looking presentable. I believe in the 'Bizz' this is known as her 'I want' song and so just as Ariel 'wanted' to be part of their world, all Rapunzel wants to do is nip out to the local offy every now and again for a packet of fags. Or something like that anyway.

There’s no getting away from the fact that rather than entertain herself by trying to discover the secret of alchemy or philosophizing over a good book (if it’s good enough for Belle... ) she resorts to filling her time baking a pie or fashioning a pair of ear muffs out of a couple of dead rodents (this is an exaggeration of course, but one I hope to see recreated in animated form someday). The film at this point completely plays into the Disney disposition of feminine representation which was the centre of some gentle ridiculing in Enchanted. And as it happens, early drafts of the screenplay originally set Tangled up as a sort of sequel to the hybrid animation and live action movie Enchanted, which stars Amy Adams as the Disney Princess lost in New York. This is perhaps why this early sequence in Tangled comes across as a little confused not knowing whether to pastiche or stick to tradition. From this point however, the film picks up with Rapunzel eventually setting out armed with a frying pan and a disregard for her own safety or that of her eventual prince Flynn Rider (voiced by Chuck’s Zachery Levi).

Swansong or not, Tangled acts as a pretty good homage to the look and feel of some of the older Disney ‘Princess’ films. You simply can’t imagine Rapunzel’s tower, for example, without thinking of the opening scenery in Beauty and the Beast. The love song ‘I see the light’ is visually and audibly reminiscent of the ‘A whole new world’ sequence in Aladdin as Rapunzel and Flynn sit watching the lantern’s float in the sky just as Jasmine and Aladdin watched fireworks from a rooftop during their romantic encounter. The success of Rapunzel is the trickery of the animation which fools the audience into associating it with such hand-drawn Disney Classics whilst presenting a staggeringly crisp and phenomenally detailed image thanks to CGI technology used throughout the film. The mix of old and new works in what I have to admit is the first 3D film, animated or otherwise which I have seen and did not wish I had instead watched in uncomplicated and comfortable 2D. I am firmly of the opinion that 3D is a gimmick, no matter how popular or ‘normal’ it becomes. It also does not excuse a bad story (I’m looking at you Clash of the Titans, Gulliver’s Travels and yes you too, Avatar). Yet here it provides a spectacle so grand that it cannot help but allow its viewers to buy into the spectacle, the characters and world that Tangled presents.

Speaking of characters, it is once again the job of the animal sidekicks to steal the show, offering up the majority of laughs. These are Pascal; Rapunzel’s over protective chameleon armed with a dry sense of humour conveyed merely through his silent actions and Maximus; the Palace Guards’ head horse whose characteristics are inexplicably akin to a dog.

It is clear that Tangled strives unmercifully to live up to a back catalogue of animation films which reached their peak in the 1990s with such unforgettable classics as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. Coincidentally, these films are the subject of the highly recommended documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty. It is only after watching this documentary that you concede that Disney will perhaps never realise what it did in that decade. It becomes clear that, what was achieved then was consequential to a meeting of minds and talent and cannot be replicated. This does not take away from the fact that Tangled is another good solid Disney movie, a fun and extremely well made adventure film that kids and adults alike will enjoy. The effort and execution by the filmmakers of Tangled to create a piece that sits well inside the ‘Disney Vault’ is truly commendable, as is the admission from the studios that perhaps it is time for something new.