Tangled (2010): United States – directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some action

The story might be familiar, but there’s never been a fairy tale told quite like this before.  In a fashion reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction [review here], directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard have taken bits and pieces of a wide assortment of popular media and assembled them into something contemporary and exciting. Granted, some of the tinkering smacks of Disney’s familiar marketing team, but the results are still fabulously entertaining.

The film opens with some back story, as it’s described how a king and queen have a princess with the help of a magical flower.  The flower blossomed from a spot of ground where a drop of sunlight had alit centuries ago.  The flower holds magical properties, as Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) well knows.  She’s used it for years to maintain her youth.

However, when the queen becomes ill during her pregnancy, the flower is sought and found, and used to cure her.  But Mother Gothel needs it to stop aging, and soon steals the infant princess from the palace.  Locking her in a tower in a remote section of the woods, she discovers that a song and the girl’s hair can rejuvenate her.  So she raises the young one, named Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), as her own daughter, not letting her ever leave the tower.

Then one day a rascally ruffian happens by, just after he’s stolen a crown from the palace.  Pursued by his partners, the palace guards, and a horse named Maximus, he manages to find himself at the base of Rapunzel’s tower.  Eventually the pair end up running off together, with a number of motives guiding them.  The end may be predictable, but it’s exactly what a fairy tale should be.

The first departure for Disney is the use of carefully crafted CG to bring the characters to life.  After the relatively disappointing box office performance of the hand drawn The Princess and the Frog [review here], they went for more money with digital 3D.  And, while it may be a money grab, it is still enjoyable.  The 3D is rarely obnoxious, though I’m sure the film would be slightly brighter and crisper in 2D.  However it is viewed, it is undeniably gorgeous.  The color palette is soft and warm, and almost looks like hand-drawn 3D.  There is a glow to many scenes, as though sunlight is almost trying to pour out of the screen.  The animation, too, is excellent, and nearly all of the characters feel fully realized.

The thief, named Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), is where Disney put most of its marbles.  In an attempt to appeal to a male audience, they forewent the title of Rapunzel and decided to focus more on Flynn, at least in the marketing.  In the film Flynn and Rapunzel are given equal opportunity, though the story is solely Rapunzel’s.  Some of their adventures are action-packed, and there are some phenomenal set pieces.  A run through a ravine being swallowed by a breaking dam is particularly memorable.  A late palace scene is also as breathtaking as anything in a Disney film.  At times I was reminded of the wildebeest stampede in The Lion King [review here] in terms of scale and ambition.  Boys will certainly appreciate a great deal about the film.

Girls, too, will enjoy the story of a princess (who doesn’t know she’s a princess) embarking into the great big outside world and eventually finding true love.  Adults will enjoy the technical expertise on hand, as well as the magic the directors have managed to conjure.  The visuals and the story tie together in a way that is capable of creating a powerful emotional response.  The songs are well-placed throughout the film, and though none of them is particularly memorable they flesh out the film as a Disney musical.  The pop songs, and the mannerisms of the various characters, all indicate that they have been adapted to better suit a younger generation of moviegoers.  Though never sassy or rude, they are more attuned to today’s youngsters.

It is a fairy tale, but it’s a fairy tale told well and executed with technical proficiency.  And, even though we know the world doesn’t always work out perfectly in real life, it’s good to occasionally see a film that insists there is hope that the world can be a good place.  In a year filled with such capable animated tales as Toy Story 3 [review here], Despicable Me [review here], and How to Train Your Dragon [review here], it’s great that Disney can stand out with a contemporary version of their classic tale.

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