Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Tangled - TheAnimationEmpire movie review

UPDATE: We added a few links to our Princess and the Frog review, we explain #4 a little more (we received an interesting comment on this post that you should check out), and we added point #10 about how great of a roller coaster the film is, which starts out positive. =^)

Originally posted 12/5/10.

I think this review will be a work in progress because of the magnitude of what the film represents (as far as Disney's latest attempt at a fairy tale)...

So we saw Tangled, and it brings up a multitude of emotions. Here are our basic thoughts...

1. It's a step in the right direction from A Princess and a Frog. Honestly, I had to fast-forward about 40% of Princess and a Frog for my 5 and unders (demons? and voo-doo? really?). (Plus the P&F characters were interesting, but they were all thrown together randomly as they wandered around, and it was really a frog movie - about 80% of it was them as frogs, and if you're going to do a frog movie, you should do it in 3D and really get us in the world of frogs better.) Read our Princess and the Frog review here. So Tangled is a step in the right direction. I think Tarzan was Disney's last great fairy tale (although Princess and a Frog was "good") and the last one to be so successful. Tangled isn't as good as Tarzan, but it probably fairs better than Hercules, Hunchback, and Pocahontas for me, which means Disney finally got back to making fairy tales the right way again.

2. It's doing well in the box office. More on that later, but the film is probably doing better than any Disney animated film since Tarzan (which isn't saying a ton, but still, it's something).

3. There's only one good number in it. By "number" I mean the combination of music, how memorable it is, and then the fun of what's happening during the song. And that's the tavern song (The Snugly Duckling song about dreams). Compare that to Little Mermaid (3 songs), Beauty and the Beast (4 songs), Aladdin (4 songs), and Lion King (4 songs). You do have to give them points for "Mother Knows Best" in Tangled, but it was hardly as memorable or likable as the Snugly Duckling song or the greats of those other Disney films (such as the Beauty and the Beast tavern song about Gaston or even Scar's song in Lion King; "Mother Knows Best" felt a little too like "let's do this classic song idea bit" rather than anything innovative).

4. Why is this an animation? You've got to ask yourself this. Why isn't this a live-action film? Every animation needs to answer this question. My wife said, "Because kids like those films better." Well that's not a reason to spend 3 times the money on it (and many more years) in order to animate it. But basically that's a rhetorical question that you need to ask during animation development. And I got the hint that they never asked it. That's the premise behind every Pixar film. They say, "What can we do with 3D animation that's hard or impossible in real life? Toys. Bugs. Monsters. Talking fish. Super heroes. Robots. Rats. Talking cars." Take a look at Cinderella (talking mice, Fairy Godmother, Lucifer, and various animals), Little Mermaid (mermaid, sebastian, flounder, Skuttle, etc.), Aladdin (Genie, Abu, Iago, carpet ride, magic lamp), Lion King (everything), Beauty and the Beast (Beast and when working on the film, they/Ashman asked that question, and that's how they came up with the enchanted household items/servants), Hunchback (castle top scenes and the gargoyles that come alive), and Tarzan (talking apes and elephant and some tree surfing effects). And then you have Tangled (magic and long hair effects, and a chameleon and horse with personalities). So in that sense, Tangled doesn't really have much of a reason to be an animation. This was also a problem in Pocahontas (talking tree, and a raccoon, a pug dog, and a hummingbird with personalities). For example, let's compare Timon, Lumiere, Dopey (who didn't talk), Genie, Flounder, Pascal from Tangled, and Mushu from Milan. Who is the most memorable as a character? The ones who talked. I'm not saying talking animals is the answer (Genie, Lumiere, Dopey, and Mushu weren't animals, and Dopey didn't talk), but they all were stronger characters who could express themselves (mostly through voice). Tangled didn't sell us its comedy sidekicks as well as past Disney films did (Tangled had great characters, but they won't be compared to those I listed above).

5. What actually happens? I can't help but leave the film thinking... yes, they filled the time with an interesting ongoing chase and interesting characters. But what actually happened? She was in a tower, left, fell in love, and went back. Hmmm. I really didn't seem to enjoy or get immersed in any one place or any one experience (except briefly in the Snugly Duckling tavern). It was just one ongoing sequence of chasing and backstabbery. That kept me interested, but it doesn't make me want to watch it again or tell my friends.

6. Great characters, but maybe they weren't used as well as they could have been. Despite my misgivings of the film, I loved the characters in Tangled. Rapunzel was darling and charming (even Mandy Moore's light lisp gave her personality), Lady Gothel was a wonderfully wicked villain who used the power of her scheming mind, Flynn was a fantastic hero, Pascal the Chameleon was hilarious and fun, and Maximus the horse was also a fantastic and fun character that made a nice twist. However, I couldn't help but want to see Flynn more before he met Rapunzel, Maximus before he met Flynn, what Lady Gothel does for fun and when she's away from Rapunzel, and even what the almost nonexistent King and Queen do and what they're like. The only character that I felt acquainted with enough was Rapunzel herself. Everybody else made me want to see them more outside this sequence of chases and backstabbery. It seems that if the main purpose of changing the title of the film from "Rapunzel" to "Tangled" was to focus on Flynn and their relationship more, then, well, they kind of failed (except for the title change, of course), because this movie only told Rapunzel's story well enough. Which leads to...

7. Why change the name? Why call Rapunzel Tangled? It was clearly about Rapunzel. I felt like I barely knew Flynn, and it just made me want to see more of his past. Essentially they didn't show us a ton of Jasmine before she met Aladdin. But they showed us a few scenes to get us to like her and understand that she wants to run away. We didn't even get that with Flynn. All we got was the scene where he stole the crown. Sure, it was cool, but it wasn't enough. It certainly wasn't a reason to rename the fairy tale! So why did they? Answer: Because the lack of success from Princess and the Frog scared them. So they figured if you name the film after the princess then the film doesn't do well. WHAAAAT??? That's hogwash. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. Little Mermaid. Pocahontas. Mulan. It's especially laughable because they purposefully butchered the Princess and the Frog name to begin with. It's The Frog Prince. That's the fairy tale. So just don't go out of your way to change the name and the underlying story (and don't make a frog movie that heavily features demons). That's what they should have learned from Princess and a Frog. Anyway...

8. Narrations aren't all that fun. Unfortunately, the movie begins with the narration. Sure, it works okay, but with cuts to the past like that, they could have lengthened out the King and Queen's scene a little for us to get to know them (you know, have them talk and stuff). And it would have been good to get to know Lady Gothel a bit as well. (But I did think it was clever how Flynn said he was d*********** at the beginning and how that played out later in the story.) In other words, the movie should begin with character and personality and emotion, not a narration.

9. Tangled looks fantastic. This could be my first compliment that isn't back-handed. =^)    - No negatives here. They nailed the 3D style of Disney's 2D animated fairy tale humans better than anyone (Shrek, Tinker Bell movies, Pixar, anyone). Hair is notoriously hard in 3D animation, and they pretty much flaunt it through most of the film. So much so that I eventually forgot that I was even looking at 3D hair and was immersed in the film. And I couldn't help but look at things like the singing rats in the tavern and all the people in the kingdom and think, "Wow, they really just made and animated whatever they wanted, even if it was only briefly on the screen." I mean, Pixar made a whole movie about rats, and then Tangled makes a few great ones and just throws them away on a few quick jokes. It's impressive. Okay, so here's a backhanded compliment: I loved the lighting and environments, but the lighting didn't impress me the way seeing the light on the fish above water at the pier in Finding Nemo did. (But no other lighting has impressed me like that did, to be fair.)

10. It's a fun thrill ride. It's a roller coaster and an awesome ride. So I have another positive point to give it. I have to admit it, I have never seen a thriller made for children before (you could probably argue that The Incredibles had thriller elements, but even that was more of an action-adventure, which is a feat in itself). And I never would have believed that it would work to make a thriller for children and families. But Tangled did it. They pulled it off better than I could ever imagine. This movie is one long thrill ride, and it's fun and exciting. Sure, they try to slow it down at parts with some songs, humor, and romance, but the movie never slows down. Previously I argued that the thrill/chase element is the main weakness of the film, and in many ways it is, because we lose the songs, pacing, and oportunities to dig deeper in the characters (as well as opportunities to make more use of the animated art form). Ah, there's the backhand. :) - However, if you take the movie as it is, then you'll find the best thriller made for children and families that could ever exist. Double backhand -- Therein lies a problem and another reason why it probably didn't do as well as it could have. Parents aren't scrambling to get their children to watch thrillers. Personally, I don't mind for my children, but yeah, I admit that thriller isn't my genre of choice for children.

Here's how I'd rank it with the other Disney Fairy Tales for me (1989 and later)...

1. Aladdin
2. Beauty and the Beast
3. Lion King
4. Tarzan
5. Little Mermaid
6. Mulan
7. Tangled
8. Pocohontas
9. Hercules
10. Princess and the Frog
11. Hunchback of Notre Dame
12. Brother Bear

Besting Pocahontas is still a phenomenal feat, but Pocahontas also suffered from a poor answer to "why is this an animation?" Their answer was similar to Tangled... a magical tree and animals that play around. Using animation to give animals personality works, but it doesn't bring characters to life the way the talking mice in Cinderella do, Flounder and Sebastian, Mushu in Mulan, Lumiere and Cogsworth, Chip and Mrs. Potts, Iago and the Genie, Timon and Pumbaa, and others.

And because I'm a Disney nut, here is the list with Disney's older fairy tales. It's hard to decide what a fairy tale is, but I'm basically adding in Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Sword in the Stone, and Black Cauldron. Let me know if you think other films qualify as fairy tales.

So here's the list of my favorite Disney fairy tales (all time):

1. Aladdin
2. Beauty and the Beast
3. Cinderella
4. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
5. Lion King
6. Tarzan
7. Little Mermaid
8. Peter Pan
9. Pinocchio
10. Mulan
11. Tangled
12. Sleeping Beauty
13. Pocohontas
14. Sword in the Stone
15. Black Cauldron
16. Hercules
17. Princess and the Frog
18. Hunchback of Notre Dame
19. Brother Bear

I know, comparing some of these films is like comparing apples to oranges, especially classics without as strong romantic angles, like Pinocchio and Peter Pan. Plus, if you were going to eliminate the ones that were written as "novels" more recently, you'd eliminate Tarzan, Peter Pan (play), Pinocchio, Sword in the Stone, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Black Cauldron. And then, on those grounds, you'd have to eliminate Lion King because it's basically an original tale based on Hamlet, Pocahontas because it's a true story, and Princess and the Frog because it was inspired by the 2002 novel The Frog Princess. So it gets a little fuzzy. =^)

Read our Princess and the Frog review here.

I hope you watch Tangled if you haven't, and then tell us what you think of it! (And how our review stacks up.)

- The Emperor

Popular Posts (of all time)