"Tangled" continues the rich Disney tradition of adapting age-old fairy tales to the big screen. As with most of their animated films, they start with a well-worn fairy tale, in this case "Rapunzel" by the Brothers Grimm, make it a little more modern, add some songs, in this case, all pretty forgettable, and toss in some amusing sidekicks. The twist on this "Princess" (I hope Disney doesn't have the word trademarked) tale is the addition of a male hero who has as much, if not more, screen time as Rapunzel. And, of course, the film is presented in 3-D, which now seems to be required of all animated features.
"Tangled" follows a tried and true formula, the same formula that helps make "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" such classics. John Lasseter, the force behind Pixar, is now in charge of both Disney and Pixar. Thank goodness he recognizes that this formula is necessary and has resurrected it. Disney films will only benefit; they once again have a zippier, funnier pace, more wild and funnier sidekicks and better lead characters. Strangely, these are all of the same things Pixar films are known for.
One of the first things Lasseter did when he took the reigns was to revitalize the animation wing of Disney. How could anyone with even an inkling of childhood magic left within them let such a magical institution lapse? They were no longer going to produce 2-D animation, but Lasseter changed course and the company made "The Princess and the Frog", introducing Disney's first African-American princess. "Frog" is a lively film set in New Orleans in the 20s featuring a lively, eclectic score. It is a very good film but it is also considered a financial flop. I hope they will continue to make more films in the traditional way. It often creates a much more artistically superior film. They just need to ramp up the creative juices and come up with the next "Little Mermaid"-esque hit.
Next up, "Rapunzel"… er, "Tangled" which really shows a lot of Lasseter's influence. While the characters have that classic Disney look, they are created by CGI. But this CGI is actually really good. The animation gives everything a rich, full quality, almost as though you are watching a 3-D film without the glasses. The wild and wacky quotient has been upped, giving Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder an assortment of funny supporting characters. Most of these take the form of a group of traveling marauders the heroes encounter at an alehouse. Ron Perlman, Brad Garret, Richard Kiel (Jaws from the James Bond films), MC Gainey and others give these characters voice. There is also a little drunk man who frequently appears with wings and a harp. It sounds strange, but the bizarre quality of some of the characters helps the story move along at a fast, refreshing pace.
The one thing Lasseter seems to have been unable to help is the handful of forgettable songs included throughout. But then again, the Pixar films aren't known for their songs either. I honestly can't remember a single lyric which is shameful given they were all composed by Alan Menken, one half of the duo who made "Mermaid", "Beast" and "The Lion King" so memorable. Mr. Lasseter, if you can't create enough memorable songs, leave them out all together. A bunch of forgettable songs stick out for all of the wrong reasons.
Also, leaving the songs out might prevent you from using pop music stars that provide less than memorable voice work for the lead character. Yes, I'm talking about you Mandy Moore.
Because of the perceived mixed reaction to "The Princess and the Frog", the focus of the story was shifted to feature more of the dashing hero, Flynn Ryder (Zach Levi, TV's "Chuck"), a bandit marauding through the kingdom, trying to get his hands on anything valuable. Given the "Princess" phenomenon at the Disney marketing machine, they need to have a pretty young girl at the center of the story, but in an effort to also attract young boys, Flynn becomes the narrator of the story and our guide.
After stealing a crown, Flynn runs from the royal guard and soon finds himself in the middle of the glen, deep in the forest, looking at a tall tower. He climbs to the chamber sitting at the top and feels he is safe. But he is quickly knocked out. When he comes to, he realizes Rapunzel, a teenager with seventy-foot long hair, has captured him. Rapunzel lives in the tower with Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), who is away, and the young lady has never left the tower. Flynn desperately searches for his satchel (and the crown) and learns Rapunzel has hidden it. Her ransom? She wants Flynn to take her to see the floating lights that appear every year on her birthday. If he does this, he will get his satchel back. He reluctantly agrees and they are off. Shortly thereafter, Mother Gothel returns and panics. She has her own selfish reasons for keeping Rapunzel in the tower. Along the way, Flynn and Rapunzel run into an odd assortment of characters.
"Tangled" is beautiful to watch, funny, moving at times and a worthy addition to the Disney tradition. Too bad they couldn't come up with more memorable songs to add to the magic.
I really, truly hope this is the beginning of a new renaissance at Disney. It would be so nice to start to see some films that can once again rival the magic of the more recent classics ""Mermaid", "Beast", "Lion King". It would be even more spectacular to see some films that might be able to rival the original classics "Snow White", "Pinocchio", "Bambi", "Lady and the Tramp", "Cinderella". If anyone can pull this off, it is Lasseter.