Tuesday, April 7, 2015

TANGLED (2010)

RELEASE DATE: Wednesday 24th November 2010

Disney's take on the Rapunzel fairy-tale was a very long time coming! Even after it had officially been put into production, it took eight years to finally reach cinema screens!

First, let's discuss the name. "Tangled." The title-change happened 10 months before the movie was scheduled to open. The name it was supposed to have was, of course, "Rapunzel," which is the name of the fairy-tale on which it is based. One of the reasons given for the change was that apparently during audience tests, not many people outside of America or Germany knew the story of Rapunzel, so they wouldn't have any attachment to the title. (This seems like a very weak excuse to me... I'm sure there were very few people outside of China who had heard of "Mulan," and yet that worked out okay...)

The more realistic reasoning is that Disney was disappointed with the box-office figures from The Princess and the Frog. It's said that because the film's title focused on the princess, young boys were immediately turned away. So with Rapunzel, the title was changed to take the focus away from the heroine, and all of the advertising was sure to focus on both Rapunzel and the leading man, Flynn Rider. You'll also notice that Flynn is the movie's narrator. It starts with him talking about himself, which I find to be a very strange and jarring beginning. It almost feels like it was added in at the last minute simply so that it would be very clear this isn't just a girly movie. I could be wrong, but that's how it feels to me.

I find it infuriating to see marketing interfering with art. This film should be called Rapunzel. That is the name of the story, that should be the name of the Disney film. Just for fun, I used the same naming approach to re-brand a few past Disney classics. Would you be more likely to see these movies with their new titles?

The frustrating thing is that it's purely thinking in the short-term. Disney films are supposed to transcend generations. When kids think of Cinderella, they think of the Disney version. In the future when kids hear something about the story of Rapunzel, they'll wonder, "Is that the same story as Tangled...?" At least it retained the original title in France.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw a little children's book based on this movie that did not use the title "Tangled;" it too was simply named "Rapunzel." I live in hope that over the years, common sense will prevail and Disney will give the film back its proper title...

Moving right along...

Disney's legendary animator Glen Keane approached the Disney big-wigs in the early 2000s with the idea of doing an animated version of Rapunzel which he himself would direct. He was immediately given the go-ahead, but on the one condition that it would be computer-animated. Now, Glen himself is one of the greatest hand-drawn animators in the world. His original intention was to make Rapunzel a 2D film. When he was told it had to be 3D, he began to organise a series of tests to see if he could get the kind of look he wanted from a computer. Keane would draw a series of short scenes, looking in particular at Rapunzel's hair, and then see if the computer artists could duplicate that in 3D. Keane's main ambition was to make the beautiful look as beautiful and lush as a painting. If he could achieve that, he would be happy to go with C.G.I.

The tests all proved positive, so story development began. Unfortunately, the story of Rapunzel proved to be a very difficult nut to crack. How do you make an exciting movie when the lead character is literally sitting in a single room for almost the entire story...? For a while, the film went by the title "Rapunzel Unbraided" and was being developed into a "fairy-tale spoof" movie, a la Shrek. Thankfully, this idea was eventually abandoned and it went back to the classic story.

Years went by, and it soon became clear that Rapunzel Unbraided was quite a troubled production. The talent was all there, but the story just wasn't quite working. What was working was the visual style of the film, which was beginning to look like a beautiful painting, just as Keane had envisioned.

But the story was still proving troublesome. Keane and his team just couldn't seem to make it work in a traditional three-act story. Then, in mid-2008, it was announced that Mr. Keane, who had been working on this project for six years, had been replaced as director. While this is certainly fairly common practice in the animation industry (it happened on Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast and The Emperor's New Groove, to name but a few) it was still heartbreaking to Keane. It was also fodder for Disney enthusiasts who were still in hyper-critical mode after Chris Sanders was booted off of American Dog.

Having watched director Byron Howard and head-of-story Nathan Greno rescue American Dog and turn it into Bolt, John Lasseter chose those two to do another rescue mission, this time with Rapunzel. Glen Keane would stay on as an Executive Producer, continuing to oversee the project, just no longer directly involved.

Fortunately, Byron and Nathan were the perfect guys for the job. They figured out that the best way to make this story work was to get Rapunzel out of the tower, and get her out early. This is quite a deviation from the original story (as is turning the prince into a thief) but it made the story a lot more exciting and interesting to the audience. They also made Rapunzel's hair magical, which added an extra catalyst into the story.

At the end of 2010, Rapunzel (which had by then been renamed "Tangled") was finally released. After a tumultuous and difficult period of development, the world finally got to see the finished product, and it was a hit. In fact, it was a huge hit! One can only imagine the collective sighs of relief around the Disney studios.

 Long ago in a kingdom far away, there lives an old woman named Gothel who manages to stay eternally young thanks to the magic powers of a flower named the rapunzel. When the pregnant queen digests the flower to save her life, the baby princess is born with magical hair. Gothel kidnaps the child, locks her in a tower and claims her as her own.

Years pass, and the girl - now named Rapunzel herself - keeps Gothel young while knowing nothing of the outside world. In her tower, she spends the days occupying herself however she can. Luckily she has a little chameleon friend called Pascal to keep her company.

In another part of the kingdom, a thief named Flynn Rider is working alongside the infamous Stabbington Brothers to steal a crown from the castle. He double-crosses his partners and escapes with the treasure.

Rapunzel desperately wants to see the floating lights that appear in the sky every year on her birthday, but Gothel keeps her terrified of the outside world.

Flynn is closely pursued by the royal guard. One horse in particular - Maximus - is determined to catch the criminal himself!

Stumbling across Rapunzel's tower, Flynn climbs to the top, where he is promptly knocked unconscious by the girl and her frying pan.

Rapunzel does a deal with Flynn. If he agrees to take her to see the floating lights, she will give him back the crown that he stole. He reluctantly agrees, and Rapunzel touches the ground for the first time in her life.

She soon finds herself emotionally conflicted between her joy at being outside and her loyalty to her mother. Meanwhile, Gothel rushes back to the tower to find it empty, except for a crown that was definitely not there before...

Hoping to scare Rapunzel back to her tower, Flynn brings her into a rough tavern called the Snuggly Duckling. It turns out that all of the thugs in the tavern have dreams of their own though, and Rapunzel develops and instant bond with them.

Maximus and the palace soldiers track Flynn down, forcing Rapunzel and her guide to make a quick escape from the tavern. They are caught out the front of a dam, and must use all of their wits to escape capture.

When the dam collapses, Rapunzel and Flynn are trapped in a cave with no apparent means of escape. Only when Rapunzel remembers that her magic hair glows do they find a way out.

Meanwhile, Gothel has tracked down the Stabbington Brothers and forms an alliance with them. That night, Rapunzel heals Flynn's hand with her hair. When Gothel finds her, she discovers that Rapunzel has grown some courage and won't mindlessly obey anymore.

The next morning Maximus finally catches up to Flynn, but Rapunzel convinces him to spare his life for now. The group arrive at the gates of the kingdom. To save Rapunzel's hair from being trampled on, Flynn suggests that some local girls attempt the world's greatest braid.

Rapunzel has the most wonderful day of her life exploring the city. That night, Flynn takes her out on a boat to watch the annual lantern ceremony from a great viewpoint. In the magic of the moment, they both begin to realise that they are falling in love.

All of a sudden Flynn is captured by the Stabbington Brothers and Rapunzel is found by Gothel, who convinces her that Flynn was only after the crown and never really cared for her. Rapunzel sadly returns to the tower with her mother.

As Flynn is about to face the death sentence, Rapunzel has a sudden epiphany. She realises that she is the lost princess, and Gothel's scheme is clear to her. She finally knows who the real enemy is.

The thugs from the Suggly Duckling help Flynn escape his execution. He rushes to the tower, only to be stabbed by Gothel as he reaches the top.

Just as Rapunzel is about to leave with Gothel, Flynn takes a shard of glass and cuts all of Rapunzel's hair off, breaking the spell that had been keeping Gothel young for so long. Immediately returning to her real age, Gothel trips and falls out of the tower window.

Unable to heal Flynn without her hair, Rapunzel cries a single tear on to his cheek. The magic of the flower in her tear heals Flynn. The two of them return to the city and present the princess to her real parents. Flynn proposes, and the two of them live happily ever after.

IRVYNE: If it takes eight years to make a story work as well as this, I wish all Disney movies took that long to make! Tangled can legitimately stand alongside the Disney classics of the Renaissance era: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, etc. - The telling of the story is endlessly entertaining and the pace never lags for a moment. Unlike The Princess and the Frog, Tangled keeps its main characters front-and-centre, and keeps the main plot as straightforward as possible, which works enormously to its benefit.
There is not a single misused or annoying character in the whole movie. The two leads are both wonderfully likeable in their own way. Neither of them is a perfect prince/princess stereotype. Rapunzel is a bit clumsy, a bit goofy, and Flynn is a wise-talking smart alec, but we discover that he actually has a past that he hides from everyone.
The heroes are pitted up against a wonderful villain who has no special powers, only a very sharp intellect and a great knowledge of how to get into poor Rapunzel's head.
The two sidekicks - Pascal and Maximus - are both brilliantly entertaining, and neither of them need say a single word. They both get some brilliant comedy moments in the short sequel "Tangled Ever After."
I love the deviations that Disney made from the original story. The main beats are there: the big haircut at the end, the magic tear, etc., but they're presented differently from the traditional tale. Even though I knew the Rapunzel story very well when I first saw Tangled, I was still surprised by the way events unfolded. 
I think Tangled is one of the best examples of storytelling that Disney has ever produced. It flows exceedingly well and feels effortless in how it moves from beat to beat in the story. Watching the finished product, you'd never guess the turmoil that went into its creation! Top marks.

Tangled is a stunning-looking film. Glen Keane's idea of having it look as lush and colourful as a painting was fully realised. While I am sad that Disney has abandoned its hand-drawn department, Tangled proves that computer-animated characters can be completely Disney-ish without trying to look like Pixar or Dreamworks.

The detail in the forest foliage is incredible. The creators were going for an entirely "classic fairy-tale" look, taking inspiration from past Disney movies - particularly Pinocchio - and also the architecture of the Fantasyland buildings in the Disney parks. One of my favourite segments of the entire film is the festival scene on the city streets. The place looks so idyllic I just want to go there myself!

With all of its beautiful bright colours and classic aesthetic, Tangled does legitimately look like a painting come to life.

The fact that Alan Menken was scoring this animated fairy-tale was certainly enough to get me excited! Always looking to try something new, Menken needed to find Tangled's specific sound that would make it stand out from the other films of its kind. Many of the score's lead melodies are played on an acoustic guitar, perhaps referencing the instrument that Rapunzel is seen playing herself in her opening scene.
Glenn Slater, who had previously collaborated with Menken on Home On The Range, as well as the Broadway productions of The Little Mermaid and Sister Act, wrote the lyrics. While not one of Menken's most memorable collection of songs, the soundtrack is still wonderful and full of very singable melodies.
It opens with Rapunzel's "I Want" song, "When Will My Life Begin." A deceptively catchy tune with lots of quick gags in the lyrics, it's a great opener.
"Mother Knows Best" is a funny, playful song where Mother Gothel scares Rapunzel into staying inside her tower. One verse which was cut from the film but remains on the soundtrack C.D., has a wonderful lyric:
"Go ahead, get trampled by a rhino
Go ahead, get mugged and left for dead
Me, I'm just your mother - what would I know?
I only bathed and changed and nursed you
Go ahead and leave me, I deserve it
Let me die alone here, be my guest
When it's too late, you'll see - just wait!
Mother knows best!"
When the characters reach the tavern, the vicious thugs have a silly and jolly song called "I Have A Dream."
And the big love ballad is called "I See The Light." It's a lovely song, a little saccharine, but it's nice to see that Disney has incorporated it quite a lot into its theme park attractions. Apart from some reprises and the haunting "Healing Incantation" which is sung a number of times throughout the film, that's all the songs.

The score is a wonderful classic Menken piece. My favourite is definitely the Kingdom Dance with its medieval festival feel.

I would not say that Tangled is Menken's greatest score, but it's very enjoyable and the tone suits the story perfectly. It has enough of a different texture that it sounds unique among the other Disney soundtracks. Here's Alan himself discussing a bit of the process.

Tangled is the first computer-animated film that I would say is a genuine Disney classic. The company had finally realised what makes Disney great, and poured it all into this movie. It's not trying to copy any of the other companies, it simply feels like the Disney Renaissance reborn. It's one of the greats, and I could watch it over and over again.

WENDY: I've seen Tangled twice now, and I should watch it more in the future. It's not just a great Disney movie, but a really great movie full-stop.

ANNA: My favourite is Maximus. He's so awesome. And he's an important character in the story too, not just there for comedy.

WENDY: And he never has to speak, which is the best part.

PASCAL: And Pascal is so cuuuute!

IRVYNE: Gee, I couldn't have seen THAT one coming!

PASCAL: I think the two of them are the best sidekicks ever.

ANNA: And the old drunken dude is hilarious!

MALEFICENT: I love how sinister Mother Gothel is.

WENDY: She's completely manipulative.

IRVYNE: That's right. she doesn't actually have any powers. She just does mind games. Psychological warfare.

PASCAL: She's a mental bully.

MALEFICENT: Yeah! The way she gets into Rapunzel's head, convincing her that the only reason anyone would ever want her is for her hair or her crown. She makes her feel worthless so that she's got nowhere else to turn except back to mother.

WENDY: It's a very modern interpretation of the character. In the olden days they wouldn't have had that understanding of psychology. But when Disney has the opportunity to modernise a fairy-tale, they examine the motivations that would cause someone to lock a girl up in a tower, and figure out how you would get the girl to stay there.

IRVYNE: That's right. In the olden days, the story would simply say that the witch locked Rapunzel in a tower, and that would just be accepted.

ANNA: Now people ask, "But why?"

IRVYNE: Exactly. Today's audiences want more explanations.

MALEFICENT: I think the king and queen accept Rapunzel way too quickly at the end.

IRVYNE: Surely they would have seen straight away that she looks just like her mother!

MALEFICENT: But in all of their paintings and memories they know that she had blonde hair.

HAKU: They were probably given the results of a full D.N.A. check before they ran out to meet her.

WENDY: I love the moments where Rapunzel and Flynn see each other for the first time. She sees him climb through the window and clangs him over the head with a frying pan, and when he first sees her, she's emerging from out of the shadows.

ANNA: He ruins it with the smoulder though. Too much like Zoolander.
WENDY: I love that Rapunzel is so clumsy and dorky.
IRVYNE: I like that too. Both of the leads are flawed individuals, but that's what makes them so appealing. They're not at all perfect.

PASCAL: It's great how the entire pub of thugs turns out to be nice as well.

IRVYNE: And the moral of the story children, is it's okay to walk into dodgy-looking pubs and talk to all the scary-looking men.

MERRYWEATHER: The pub has a secret exit to the dam. I'm not sure that the big wooden dam really fits in with the whole medieval Europe theme...

IRVYNE: Surely they had dams back then... The only thing that continually irks me about this movie is its title.

MALEFICENT: Can I just say though, in Disney's defence, that her name - Rapunzel - is a stupid name. And in this version of the story she has no reason to be called that, because in the original story she was named after a radish.

IRVYNE: In this version, "Rapunzel" is the name of the magic flower. It's not mentioned in the movie itself, but apparently that's where the name is supposed to have come from.

HAKU: Well Disney's marketing plan clearly worked.

WENDY: Did it though? Because it's not as popular as Frozen.

IRVYNE: NOTHING'S as popular as Frozen! Frozen is a cultural phenomenon! Tangled actually did very well at the box-office, but nothing has come close to Frozen's ticket sales.

ANNA: I don't understand why this movie isn't as popular as Frozen.

PASCAL: Frozen has all of the girl-power.

HAKU: I think I prefer Frozen as a movie.

IRVYNE: I definitely prefer Tangled.

ANNA: The Tangled songs aren't as catchy. You can't get the songs from Frozen out of your head!

IRVYNE: Yeah, I'll admit that Frozen has better songs.

MALEFICENT: I like "Mother Knows Best."

MERRYWEATHER: It reminds me of the song from Chicago, "When You're Good To Mama."

IRVYNE: I like all the songs, although I have to admit that the pub song, "I Have A Dream," is strikingly similar to another Menken song that was in the Sister Act soundtrack (and has since been removed from the show) "How I Got The Calling."

WENDY: Well the movie looks stunning. It is so much more beautiful than anything else that had come before it.

MERRYWEATHER: All the effects are amazing, like all the water in the dam scene.

HAKU: The characters all have very plasticine-looking skin though.

ANNA: And they have huge anime eyes.

WENDY: They all look like Barbie dolls to me.

PASCAL: But Rapunzel's hair looks so good. It's amazing how it all flows.

MALEFICENT: I love how much control she has over her hair! They really made the hair a useful tool for her.
HAKU: Funnily enough, the hair is the one thing in the movie that really kind of annoys me.

PASCAL: What, because its length keeps changing?

HAKU: No, I know it's supposed to be magical hair, but I keep wondering how heavy it must all be on her head! And why isn't it getting tangled up in EVERYTHING?

MALEFICENT: It's Disney magic. That's all you need to know. When I first saw this, I was thinking her hair would be getting really messy as she's walking through the forest, but then I just thought, "it's magic hair. It doesn't get messy."

ANNA: She also never wears shoes! She runs through the woods with bare feet!

WENDY: Usually with Disney movies I cringe at the liberties they take with the fairy-tales, but with this one, I really like all the things they've added.

IRVYNE: They did change quite a lot from the original story, but it's still definitely Rapunzel; just a new take on it. For me, this is where Disney really proved itself, that it was going to launch into a whole new era of A-grade animated features. The new Renaissance. It was a long and painful road they had to walk to get it finished, but it was definitely worth it.


1 comment:

  1. Those idiots should have learned their lesson after Princess and the Frog. Disney is not friggin Pixar! Disney is meant for 2D ANIMATION! This movie ruined Disney animation in a much bigger way than Chicken Little did. It's THIS movie that made Disney cheat everyone out of the "return to 2D animation" that they promised us and made them force the hand-drawn Snow Queen to be CGI Frozen. This is why Disney can never be trusted with CG movies. If there's one thing I learn from this, it's that CG movies corrupt.