Thursday, 24 February 2011

Tangled (Nathan Greno, Byron Howard, 2010) Review

Romance and adventure mix for Disney's retelling of Rapunzel, Tangled (2010)

Somebody shoot the marketing team. For their 50th animated feature in the Animated Classics canon Disney have struck gold with co-directors Greno and Howard, who have performed a minor miracle - essentially they've made a revisionist fairytale that never slips into parody and is equally an action adventure, musical, romance and comedy. And despite the godawful trailers that represent none of those factors it has gone on to become the second highest grossing Disney film of all time. How did they do it? Simple. With straightforward storytelling, lots of heart and some of the most beautiful animation of recent years...

In order to appeal to both girls and boys the title has been changed from Rapunzel to Tangled, which in my eyes is a terrible mistake, placing it into the same cheesy category as the recent Hoodwinked! (2005) - desperately trying to hide its source material in order to appear hip and contemporary. I think titles are very important to a film and Tangled just doesn't do this tale justice - it's a really sad attempt to hide the classical roots of this warm-hearted story, and before you even go into the cinema it just feels... well... cheap. I made a note of saying the film was revisionist - but revisionism is smarter than mere showboating, which is all the obvious and stale Hoodwinked! was. That said the film does a lot in its early stages to ease us into the tale and establish a familiar yet fresh tone. If that sounds contradictory, allow me to explain. The "Once upon a time..." opening narration would normally be read by a voiceover artist, gently setting the scene of a fair maiden who is imprisoned and one day must be rescued by her prince. Except in this tale the opening narration is delivered by Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) - not so much a prince as a narcissistic thief who as well as informing us of his own death, American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999) style, also skips vital narrative exposition with "blah blah blah", in order to get to his part. Indeed, he really has no interest in rescuing princesses - he's too busy dreaming of riches. This also acts as a wonderful comic device, ensuring that the first laugh arrives in the opening minutes. And Levi's excellent performance means that there are many more to come...

The element that Disney seem most scared of is the fact that Tangled is a musical - probably for the fact that they marketed The Princess And The Frog (Ron Clements, John Musker, 2009) as one and it flopped - but that's actually the strongest element. I'm generally not a fan of musicals but I found myself humming these tunes on the way out of the cinema and its all thanks to the genuis of Alan Menken, who essentially scored my childhood with Beauty And The Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and Hercules (1997) - all featuring brilliant songs that I loved in my youth (he also wrote the original score for The Little Mermaid, 1989, a guilty pleasure). Here he provides the soul of the film - all of the songs are catchy (especially the upbeat pop opener When Will My Life Begin) but they're also very funny - anyone who doesn't burst a little bit during I've Got A Dream should probably see a Doctor. The comedy, both in the lyrics and the accompanying visual gags, is spot-on. But the best song comes in the form of Mother Knows Best, sung by the incredible Donna Murphy, a star of musical theatre on the stage. Put simply, the song is an instant classic, and the rest of the score by Menken swells and tinkles with pulse-pounding action and heart-melting piano. The gentle guitar plucking on Waiting For The Lights is also lovely.

I feel like I've already praised the film enough but here comes some more - the animation in the film is absolutely stunning; especially the lighting. The film has a yellow/orange glow in the scenes with Rapunzel (Mandy Moore, a delight) which just illuminates the frame. It's aesthetically pleasing but also informs so much about her character, and adds a classical Disney flavour. There is also real threat to the pitch-black shadows and creeping mist that accompany the scary scenes, and the crisp visuals mean that the exciting action sequences are all spritely and arresting. The most impressive scene comes with Flynn and Rapunzel sailing as lanterns are set into the night sky - honestly, it's hard to think of much in the Disney oeuvre that can match it. But I've saved the best aspect to last - the aforementioned performance by Donna Murphy. Dangerously overprotective and obsessed with her own beauty, Mother Gothel is halfway between Carrie Bradshaw and Margaret White - a true monster who you'll genuinely hate and want to see punished. I can't remember the last time I despised a Disney villain so much, or believed in and cared about the central relationship to the same degree that I did here. Maybe I'm just more of a sucker than I thought, and on the right day a romantic musical is all I need. Or maybe, despite the marketing teams best attempts to convince you otherwise, Tangledreally is just that good. As much as a revelation as the former would be, I'm inclined to go with the latter. Tangled is Disney back on top form. Happy 50th...

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