These are exciting times in the principality. This weekend last I travelled up to Lancaster to stay with my good friend AntBuoy for a few days where the two of us and our other excellent chum Astarico furthered our plans for moving to London together which, all going well, will happen towards the end of March. Whilst there, apart from seeing AntBuoy’s most excellent play Incarnation, he and I happily trundled off to the well-presented Vue cinema in Lancaster to watch Disney’s fiftieth animated feature, Tangled.
When I was a young prince I wasn’t interested in watching films like The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast because those were girls’ films. I was a stupid kid and those are now two of my favourite Disney pics but it looks like Disney have cottoned on to pre-teen boys’ casual sexism with their latest fairytale based on Rapunzel by renaming it the gender-neutral Tangled. It worked, the audience in the Vue screening had boys as well as girls and with Metro claiming the film is ‘for little girls only’ while the kind of movie review sources you should pay attention to (Empire and Total Film) laud it with praise it’s good to see Disney’s latest seeing the success it deserves.
It really looks like Disney are refinding their form. Since the Millenium their animations have lacked creative focus and the kind of inspired sense of magic the studio is loved for and a little bit of me died when the Mouse House declared it was abndoning traditional cel-animation to focus on CG. God bless John Lasseter. Since his appointment as Disney Animation head honcho the studio has been turning things around, returning to both cel and fairytale with last year’s The Princess and the Frog which saw quiet success. That’s why I was confident that this, their first CG fairytale, and the first such in 3D would be a success and I was right.
After a handful of half-decent 3D trailers the best of which was for Disney’s next project, a revival of Winnie the Pooh, and a couple of adverts for 3D TV which, I have to say really improves watching football judging by the clip shown, the show started and it was a breeze throughout. This is one of those fairytales everyone is familiar with but few know intricately so I can’t be sure how close the story is to the original fairytale although I don’t think Rapunzel was a princess until Disney came along. Anyway, late in her pregnancy the queen of a well-groomed, idyllic kingdom falls deathly ill prompting a desperate search for a legendary flower that could save her. Said flower is under the monopoly of an old crone who uses it to stay young and doesn’t take kindly to its removal. The queen is saved but the flower wilts bequeathing its healing properties to the newborn girl and more specifically her blonde hair. Old hag, name of Mother Gothel takes the liberty of breaking into the princess’ bedroom and cuting off a lock of her hair but upon seeing it lose its light and turn brown she realises she needs not just the hair but the girl attached to it and so kidnaps her in a scene that made a sprog along the row cry. Gothel imprisons the infant Rapunzel in a tower in a hidden valley in the middle of a forest and raises her as her own daughter, never cutting her hair which, when Rapunzel sings, will revitalise her youth.
It’s a new direction for Disney villains and the relationship between Rapunzel and Gothel is one of the most interesting Disney have ever weaved recalling Quasimodo and Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. There’s plenty of reason to hate Gothel with her passive-aggressive treatment of Rapunzel forming an emotional prison much harder for the feisty blonde Rapunzel to escape than the tower but although all her motivations are selfish it’s impossible not to get a real sense that she genuinely loves Rapunzel on some level. It’s an original and intriguing setup and drives the whole film well. The character of Rapunzel repeats the young-girl-dreaming-of-greater-freedom story of Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast and really offers very little more in terms of depth but she’s very easy to like and sympathise with given her situation and the fun that’s had with her neverending stream of golden hair is irresistible. So far, so girly.
Things get good for the boys when rugged, cocksure thief Flynn Rider comes on screen with a neat, parkour introduction and some colourful and breathless chase sequences to get their teeth into. Flynn is exactly the sort of arrogant hero everyone loves, completely confident but rubber-faced enough to be funny and likeable while maintaining slightly more depth than most of Disney’s leading men. His brand of cynical wisdom (‘I don’t do backstory’) lends the film with the kind of wit grown-ups will appreciate. Then there are the inevitable comedy animals, both of which succeed, on the one hand Rapunzel’s chameleon buddy Pascal amuses with his silent expressions and on the other snow-white super-stallion Maximus takes the concept behind the Terminator and makes it hilarious.
So Rapunzel and Flynn strike a deal and the two depart the tower in search of the meaning behind the floating lights that have enthralled the former on her every birthday and the film never drops below a high level of entertainment value featuring great action, the best of which involves a breaking dam and some aquaplaning, great laughs such as the hilarious extremes of Rapunzel’s reaction to her new-found freedom and moments of unadulterated joy, namely Rapunzel spreading the joy upon her arrival at the kingdom’s capital in a spellbinding sequence of dancing and lantern-lighting that takes its place as the film’s brightest highlight. The songs are decent but not quite as successful as those of The Princess and the Frog with the opening number concerning Rapunzel’s daily routine falling flat. They pick up from there but none of them, as AntBuoy shrewdly observed on our way out of the cinema, were catchy enough to hum.
The most consistent joy however is the vibrant, colourful visuals which are outstanding throughout evoking the very best kind of lighthearted escapism with its varied pallette and beautiful lighting. Rapunzel’s glowing hair is lovely to behold and all the characters look fantastic at every moment. The 3D was pretty good in general. This being only the second film I’ve seen through those hilarious glasses I don’t consider myself an expert on the subject but the effect of it gave the environments plenty of immersive depth with the moments of objects jumping out of the screen sensibly restrained. It was occasionally blurry but not cripplingly so.
The film rattles on at a nice pace, slowing up only once or twice for some exposition and the like and the ending when it rolls up is surprising and satisfying. The only thing Tangled really lacks is something extra special to raise it to the next level. As it is Disney have effortlessly crafted an engaging tale that is bursting with likeability and a solid, focused and entertaining drive that taps into the wonderful spirit of joyous escapism.
Disney round out their half-century with a thoroughly entertaining piece of fantasy high-jinks that strikes the right balance of appeal for boys and girls alike with plenty of wry jokes to amuse adults. With any luck we could be on the verge of another Renaaissance.