Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
December 2010

Visible roots

Disney's 'Tangled' is a charming hybrid of old-fashioned aesthetics and modern sensibilities

Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Nathan Greno and Byron Howard
Screenplay: Dan Fogelman, based on the fairy tale "Rapunzel," by The Brothers Grimm
Starring: The voices of Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C.Gainey, Brad Garrett, Jeffrey Tambor and Paul F. Tompkins
Rated PG / 1 hour, 40 minutes
(out of four)

After years of diminishing quality and dwindling returns from its animation studio, Walt Disney Pictures - under the guidance of Pixar guru John Lasseter and Co. - has taken the old tactic of going back to its roots to gain new inspiration. What that has meant, at least over the last two years, is a return to the princess-centric fairy-tale musicals that helped define the studio's golden age - and even a return to a more traditional style of filmmaking.

Last year's The Princess and the Frog was a largely hand-drawn effort - a process erroneously thought by many to be primitive, purely a thing of the past - and the studio's follow-up, Tangled, is in much the same vein. While it is computer-animated, the style of animation resembles traditional Disney hand-drawn to a large degree.

An even better sign? This time around, the songs - with the exception of the forced, pointless opening number - are better than they were in The Princess and the Frog. The movie as a whole, both musically and stylistically, is more reminiscent of the (mostly) live-action fairy tale, Enchanted, which was basically the best Disney animated movie in a decade-and-a-half except for the fact that it wasn't animated.

Following in that movie's footsteps, Tangled is a bit more irreverent, snarky and playful than recent Disney entries. In that way it's more reminiscent of the original Shrek, which can only be a compliment. Mismatched romantic leads, princess stuck in a tower - although instead of a fire-breathing dragon holding her hostage, it's her fiery, passive-aggressive mother. Or surrogate mother, seeing as how she kidnaped the girl as an infant nearly 18 years ago.

As this incarnation of the well-known fairy tale goes, Rapunzel's hair is imbued with magical healing powers - fixing everything from simple cuts to crippling illness to old age. An old woman named Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy) steals the baby from her palace bedroom - begs the question: Why is security so lax at the kingdom? - and takes her as her own, using her new daughter's hair to retain her vibrant and youthful good looks. The only caveat? Once a hair is cut, it loses its power forever.

As the child grows into an adult, her mother instills in her a fear of the outside world. (Also haircuts.) Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) is cheerfully naive about the veracity of her mother's claims - encapsulated in the film's best number, "Mother Knows Best" - that anywhere outside the secluded tower is full of darkness and danger, full of wretched beings out to destroy the innocent (!). And give them makeovers (!!).

But Rapunzel remains as cheerful as can be about her solitary life. I know what you're thinking - she probably has an adorable, precocious pet that doubles as her closest friend, right? Of course she does.Did you even have to ask?

But I digress. There is one thing outside her walls that does pique her interest - tempts her to rebel, to ask her mother to go outside even though she knows what the answer will be. Every year on Rapunzel's birthday, thousands of lanterns illuminate the night sky - like luminarias at Christmas - an annual remembrance of the princess who went missing so many years ago. Rapunzel can't help but feel some sort of connection to the ceremony, and finally just can't help herself and has to go out and see it close-up for herself.

(I must point out, during a spectacular sequence in the middle of this festival of lights - kudos to the art direction - I couldn't help but think how annoying it must have looked in 3D. Thankfully, I spared myself that misery.)

So when a local thief - Flynn Rider (voiced by Chuck's Zachary Levi) - accidentally finds his way into Rapunzel's tower while on the run from castle guards, she finally has herself a courier. And, with his satchel of riches in her possession, exactly the thing she needs to blackmail him into helping her.

There's been a bit of talk (and more than a bit of whining) about the studio's decision to change the title from the original Rapunzel to Tangled. Twelve-year-old boys won't go see a "princess movie," they say. But in fact Tangled fits the film's style better - whether that was intentional or not. A bit like a screwball comedy, Tangled is a breezy and increasingly complicated road movie that gets . . . well, tangled up in a half-dozen different threads that may collide at the most opportune, or inopportune, of moments. And while the quirkiness may be forced at times, and while the finished product may not be vintage Disney, it is a triumphant return to form nonetheless.

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