Film Review: Disney’s lovely animated “Tangled”

Watch Disney’s Tangled

Tangled; Disney's best animated effort since 1991's "Beauty and the Beast."

All that about “John Reviews Pretty Much Anything” never said anything about “fast” or “timely,” am I right? Right. Anyway.

Disney’s 50th Animated film, Tangled, was released back in November, and I’m guessing that most of you probably missed it in theaters, which is a shame. I didn’t catch it until (close to) the last week. It’s available on DVD now, and I hope you’ll check it out if you haven’t. It’s Disney’s best effort since Beauty and the Beast. Yes, music aside, it’s better than The Lion King—which, despite that astonishing opening sequence and fantastic score, never did find a middle act. The animation is, in a word, stunning. And learning from their compatriots at Pixar, Disney absolutely nailed both the story and the characters. It’s been a while, Disney animators. Welcome back. You were missed.

The backgrounds have a painted look that would have pleased the famous "nine old men" animators who crafted the timeless Disney classics like "Snow White" and "Bambi."

This is a 3D computer animated film, but don’t let the technology fool you. This is old school Disney, with all the warmth and charm of the very best of the films you remember. The backgrounds have depth and texture and a downright painterly look—those are backgrounds of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio quality. Rapunzel’s forest tower (shown above) is stunning, and the castle alone is worth the price of admission (or, now, the price of a DVD). That castle, with its surrounding hamlet, is old school painted Disney, sure, but the fly-overs that take advantage of newer technology would make Disney’s famous “nine old men,” the last of the old school animators, swoon with envy. Disney has created a rich and textured environment for this film—a world of forest towers, dodgy taverns, and charming castle villages that I found myself aching to explore.

More, the characters actually seem to fit into the environment. While clearly computer-generated, they seem a part of the scene—something that couldn’t be said of some of Disney’s lesser efforts, even when every frame was hand-drawn. While Disney animation’s Pixar siblings raise the bar with every effort, the animators behind Tangled have wrought some wonders with light that will be hard to beat. When (spoiler alert!) Rapunzel leaves her tower for the first time, the sunlight seems more real and natural than anything I can remember seeing in animation, whether crafted by paintbrush or keyboard. A scene with floating lanterns (pictured below) comes close to beating it.

In "Tangled," Disney accomplishes miracles with animated light.

That horse is a Disney horse.

And while I miss the hand-drawn Disney classics, and look forward eagerly to the next one, whenever it may arrive, I have to admit the tool the artists use doesn’t seem to matter. Tangled just feels like a Disney film—not like a Pixar film (and I say that as a huge, die-hard Pixar fan). Oh, the Pixar touch is there—Pixar’s chief creative officer John Lasseter had his fingers in the pie, and it shows. But the result is a better Disney film, not a Pixar clone. In fact, Tangled feels more like classic Disney than the last hand-drawn (and stunningly beautiful) effort, The Princess and the Frog. There’s a horse in this film that has more charm and personality than any Disney animal sidekick since, well, since the prototype, Jiminy Cricket himself.

The characters are wonderful. Somewhere, Walt is smiling.

It’s the characters that make this film succeed where so many recent animated films not crafted by Pixar (and so many films in general) failed. All of them—from principals to it players—have personality and, well, life. There is a moment between Rapunzel’s parents, the grieving mother and father, that carries more genuine emotional weight than I’ve seen in a dozen lesser films. That moment, communicated with a look and a touch, and not a single line of dialog, is heartbreaking. Like all Disney fairy tales, Tangled is a love story, but here, the love grows slowly and feels earned. That makes a difference. The voice talent, especially Zachary Levi from televisions silly, fluffy, and woefully under-appreciated romantic adventure series Chuck (somehow, it always makes me grin).

Despite the familiar story and formula, Tangled actually manages to feel fresh.

The story is as familiar (for Heaven’s sake, if you don’t know the story of Rapunzel, look it up—read the original and see the film) as the Disney fairy tale princess formula through which it is told. Nonetheless, it has an attitude (think The Princess Bride) and a lighter than air panache that makes it seem fresh. There is self-aware irony in the wit, sure, but (again like The Princess Bride) it works as a post-modern comedy and as a romantic fairy tale adventure. That’s a hard balance to achieve, sure, but Tangled pulls it off.

If I have two complaints (that’s not really an “if;” I do have two complaints) they’d involve the marketing and the music. The marketing for this film was, in word, bland. None of the freshness, life, charm, or Princess Bride wit came across—that’s why I nearly missed it in theaters. And does anyone remember any kind of celebration about this being Disney’s 50th Animated film? To me, that’s the kind of milestone that deserves to be celebrated. Heck does anyone remember any marketing at all? In all seriousness, I am sure I saw a trailer or a commercial—I must have. But I can’t remember a single one. Bland is not the secret to a successful, audience-atttracting campaign.

Memorable wit, memorable characters, memorable adventure—and utterly forgettable songs.

Second, the very best Disney films have always had scores that you can hum—usually after hearing them just once. Think Whistle While you Work or Some Day My Prince Will Come from Snow White, or When You Wish Upon a Star from Pinocchio. Or You’ve Got a Friend in Me from Toy Story and When Somebody Loved Me from Toy Story 2. Or Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast. Or heck, anything from Jungle Book or Mary Poppins (that last one isn’t fair, I suppose).

I think the marketing team might have been responsible for the tunes in Tangled. (Actually, that’s not true—it’s Alan Menken, who crafted unforgettable songs for Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, so frankly, the blandness here is just baffling.) Sure, they are pleasant enough. The love duet is pretty enough, I’ve Got a Dream (sung by thugs in a pub—really) is grand fun, and the wicked stepmother sings a song called Mother Knows Best, or something along those lines, that drips with evil wit. The problem is, I can’t remember a single line from any of them, and couldn’t hum a note if I had to. Just try to get Chim Chimney or Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious out of your head. Just try.

Thankfully, neither of those nitpicks ruin a fun little film with genuine wit, heart, and adventure that deserves a bigger audience than it found. I hope it finds new life on DVD. After all, the best Disney films deserve to be shared and passed down. So what did y’all think?

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6 responses to “Film Review: Disney’s lovely animated “Tangled”

  1. My 8 year old has probably seen this several dozen times since we bought the DVD. My first encounter was the soundtrack in the car, and I was less than impressed. Commented to my wife that if the soundtrack was representative of the the movie, then I’d probably skip it altogether.

    Happily, I didn’t. It was an enjoyable watch, and as you say John, the characters were believable and truly made the movie. The animation style as well, had that classic feel, while still having a modern, polished touch.

  2. LOVED this movie! My daughter and I have watched it a couple of times. 🙂

  3. Absolutely loved this movie, but as u guys said I saw it by mere accident with my daughter one night. She asked me to watch it with her and I really didn’t feel excited like I use to with all things Disney. But I watched and to my total disbelief and amazement it was not only good but GREAT! It reminded me of the Disney classics I grew up with. I’m very sad I didn’t see the trailers and go wow that’s a must see and take all my nieces and nephews but the advertising was very BLAND and I missed an opportunity to share this New Disney Classic with the ones I love. It has quickly become my favorite of all time but I almost missed out.! Shame on Disney for not showing the true colors of a magnificent fete. These should be celebrated! Especially since here lately the classic Disney princess movie has been just sloppy repeated/ rehashed same oh same oh.

  4. Very well said, Andee!

  5. I watched this movie with my grandchildren and we all LOVED it! One thing I have to say, the movie was as good (better actually) as the previews – something that doesn’t always happen! Sometimes they take the only good bits and put them all in the trailer; then the movie is a let-down.
    Thanks for a wonderful review, Andee. You really captured the essence of this film which deserves to be a Disney classic.

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