Anomaly Appraisal: Tangled

Note: This is pretty long (1600+ words) analysis of the film. if you’re looking for a much shorter, concise critical review, head on over here to read my friend Emmett’s blog for his thoughts.

Yesterday I treated you all to a review of the film that was written by my girlfriend who has much superior writing skills to myself. Today, you are treated to my poorly worded yet strangely compelling one!

Various other reviews have focused extensively on the film’s troubled gestation; the sidelining of Glen Keane, the re-working of the script, the re-titling of the whole thing, etc, etc. Naturally there was a lot of concern among animation folks and fans that the resulting film would either be a mishmash of styles or a complete load of garbage that was simply pushed out in order to recoup at least some of the costs the project has swallowed.

Thankfully, Tangled is far from the worst case scenario, after all, Disney has put out far inferior films that were completed without any production hiccups. The only caveat to this review is that the projector failed during the screening and we missed approximately 5 minutes or so of footage, but overall, i don’t think it affected my opinion of the film, despite what I tweeted at the time.

So, without further adieu, here’s my comprehensive review of Disney’s Tangled.

The overall plot of the film is a welcome deviation from the traditional fairytale. Sure, Disney has always deviated a little bit from the established story, but in this case, it is almost a re-telling of the classic, which, in fact, works in the films favour in that it has allowed it to follow a different path.

Not necessarily a better path mind you, sadly the writers fell back on the old ‘magic’ chestnut with Rapunzel’s hair. A plot device such as that can be a great boon to a story (as every Harry Potter fan will know) but when it takes a sideline to the main plot, it must be used carefully to avoid appearing like a prop that the writers leaned on when they got into a tight spot with the story. Sadly, this is the case with Tangled, there was one scene in particular (that I will not mention here) that could easily have been resolved without the use of magic. While the scene may work well with kids, as an adult, I could see the resolution the second it began. It does not necessarily smack of laziness, but it does make me wonder why the writers took the easy way out. Perhaps the director’s commentary will provide an answer.

On the whole, the plot is fluid, with an imperceptible transition between the two protagonists backgrounds until the ultimate, if painful, introduction in the tower. Once this has occurred, the tale takes on the traditional film outline with the two characters attempting to achieve a goal while at the same time avoiding the evil Mother Gethals and Maximus the Horse. They get into some adventures, have a laugh here and there, engage in some thrilling action before the ultimate climactic conclusion to the entire endeavor.

What Tangled excels at is the way it has managed to weave modern pop-culture references into the tapestry of the fairytale. Sure they will date over time and in 10 years we may well wonder why on earth they seemed like a good idea at the time, but for right now, they’re good for an enjoyable laugh.

The story as a whole is appreciatively compelling enough to warrant a viewing, although it is the animation where the film really shines.

As smothered in 21st Century CGi as it is, Tangled is rooted firmly in the 2-D past of the Disney films of yore. Presumably that was the aim from the beginning, and thankfully it seems that the team has pulled it off in remarkable fashion. Yes, the colours are eye-popping, although they are well within the range of both the transcendent kaleidoscope that is Yellow Submarine and the sugar rush that is Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs.

The quality of the animation itself is nothing short of amazing. There is just the right amount of quality and comedy that is often so hard to get right. It is a real shame that none of the animators on this film have been highlighted for the individual achievement categories at the upcoming Annie Awards. I think that Tangled is the first movie to make a significant advancement in the field of human CGI animation since The Incredibles.

I would have to say that the direction was overall OK, there’s nothing outstanding about it although the cinematography is astonishing. The richness and expanse of the sets are apparent throughout the film, especially the sweeping camera movements over the castle.

When it comes down to it, however, the one thing that must be perfect (at least for me) is the characters. In Tangled we have a rarity in a Disney film in that there is no outright bad guy. Sure, Mother Gothels has her own selfish agenda, but she is quite unlike, say, Jafar, who has no qualms about outright killing Aladdin. Throughout the film she is portrayed as a vain woman who is also capable of incredibly conniving deeds and straight up lying in order to maintain the status quo. Overall, I found her to be an acceptable opponent for our heroes although her ultimate demise left much to be desired. Again, like the earlier scene, it was far to easy to spot it coming and the way it finished left me feeling somewhat cheated as the result was not what I expected. it would have been better to have left it to my own imagination like every other Disney death.

The comic relief characters, namely Maximus the Horse and Pascal the Chameleon, are your usual Disney characters. Maximus got plenty of laughs and is perhaps the standout character from the film. he is inventive, determined and extremely loyal.

 

Onto our male antagonist, Flynn Rider. In fairness, I liked this guy a lot better before I discovered that the guy doing his voice is Chuck from NBC’s Chuck. Nothing against the guy, but again, it seems like a ‘celebrity’ was found to fit the character rather than a professional voice-actor. In the end, Levi’s performance is fine in that there are no glaring failings.

The character of Flynn Rider himself is an interesting one. Here is this dreamer guy who just happens to be a thief for a living. While the film tries to imbue him with this sense of deep-down righteousness, it takes a long time in the film for this to become apparent. he has a sense of truth about him, even if he does not immediately display it.

As for our main protagonist, I’m afraid there is not much to say that hasn’t already been said. Yes, she is your typical female teenager. She can be whiny, obnoxious, prone to mood swings and unsure of herself although again, by the end of the film, she has become a much stronger person.

I regret to report that she still displays a lot of the usual characteristics of other Disney ‘princesses’. Some have decried the fact that she ‘needs’ a man to rescue here and provide her with a fair amount of her eventual happiness. While this does not necessarily cripple the film, it is disheartening to know that Tangled fails to strike out on its own. I can understand that deviating from the established formula can be incredibly risky, but at this point in time, not doing so can certainly undermine any critical credibility that has been built up.

Interestingly enough, I did not hear Rapunzel’s name mentioned until well into the film. Was this intentional? I’m not sure, but it did make her a somewhat mysterious character for a good chunk of the film, or maybe I missed when it was said waaaay at the beginning.

Naturally, the hair plays a large part in the film, being used as a major plot device. It does not dominate Rapunzel’s character entirely, but it does heavily influence it for the majority of the film. Only at the end can it be said that she truly breaks free from it and we,as an audience, can visualize what she is like as a real person. Such a circumstance is not unexpected, the film is, after all, based on the whole concept of the hair to begin with.

As typical as the film is with the love theme, it is nice to see a character have to come to terms with what it actually means. Plenty of other Disney films have been based on the premise that the girl simply falls in love. Here, Rapunzel clearly has to discover what it is mean to fall in love with someone. Flynn provides the suitable candidate and the scenes where Rapunzel slowly learns the pitfalls and rewards that come along with love are certainly heart-warming.

Overall, I liked Tangled as an entertaining film. I naturally do not consider it to be one of the greatest Disney films, not by a long shot. However, in light of the film’s rocky development it certainly exceeds the standard Hollywood fare. I can only imagine if Glen Kean’s original vision had been followed what I would be writing about today. From what I understand, we would have been watching a much darker, rendition of the tale that may well have provided a more robust and distinct storyline.

There’s no point contemplating what might have been though, perhaps with the second flick to come out of the venerable studio under the watchful eye of John Lasseter we may see the stunning return to form we have all hoped for these past few years. Until then, Tangled will do just fine.

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