Friday, May 27, 2011

Tangled: A new take on the Disney formula

Tangled (animation, comedy, family, musical)
Directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard
Starring the voices of Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi and Donna Murphy

Disney / Buena Vista | 2010 | 100 min | Rated PG | Released Mar 29, 2011

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
French: DTS-HD HR 7.1
Spanish: DTS-HD HR 5.1
English: Dolby Digital 2.0

English SDH, French, Spanish

50GB Blu-ray Disc
DVD copy

The Film 4.5/5

Disney has been responsible for some wonderful films since releasing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. I remember being taken to the cinema as a child to see Bambi and The Jungle Book, and anxiously awaiting holiday specials showing classic Disney clips. What’s more, all of Disney’s releases are suitable for family viewing.

While I appreciate all of the above, many of Disney’s classic titles are formulaic. It seems like there’s a princess in every story, although there are only nine official Disney princesses. The movies feature numerous songs and often start with the image of a storybook which is used to set the scene. All of those things work, but it’s a little too predictable for my liking.

Tangled is different.

Instead of using a storybook for the exposition, it uses a narrator. The narrator is Flynn Rider (Levi), our hero, and he’s sarcastic and genuinely funny. There are songs, but they are short, infrequent, and also funny. There’s a princess, but she doesn’t act like one. This is a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It feels fresh and contemporary. Quite frankly, I was surprised and delighted with the whole thing.  

We learn during the opening scenes that an old woman, Mother Gothel (Murphy), possesses a golden flower with the power to heal and reverse the effects of aging. The queen is sick and needs the flower to heal her, so a party of soldiers is sent to find it. It works and newly-born princess Rapunzel (Moore) is infused with the plant’s powers. Mother Gothel wants to appear young so she kidnaps the princess and keeps her in a tower. The king and queen release floating lanterns each year on Rapunzel's birthday and hope that she will eventually be found.

Rapunzel thinks that Mother Gothel is her real mother and that she’s being kept in the tower to protect her from the dangers of the real world. Her main wish is to see the lights that appear on her birthday. Her only friend is Pascal, a chameleon. He doesn’t speak, but does a good job of expressing his feelings through body language.

Flynn Rider is a notorious thief who stumbles across Rapunzel’s tower while evading capture from the king’s soldiers. Rapunzel hits him over the head with a frying pan and locks him in her closet. She’s convinced that the outside world poses no threat to her.

We learn that her hair has many uses. It’s one way into the tower, but she also uses it to pick things up and to tie Flynn to a chair. The two enter into a bargain; he’ll take her to see the floating lanterns and she’ll give him back the tiara he stole. She sends Mother Gothel on an errand and leaves the tower with Flynn.

Flynn takes Rapunzel to the Snuggly Duckling inn which is supposed to represent a sort of biker pub. The patrons aren’t what they seem and end up liking her. Mother Gothel tracks the pair down and Flynn is also found by one of the king’s horses, Maximus. The horse doesn’t speak either, but is one of the funniest characters in the movie. He feels that he isn’t appreciated, but Rapunzel wins his loyalty.

There’s plenty of action during the ensuing chase scenes, and the pair are forced to use their wits to escape all kinds of peril. Mother Gothel is the most evil character in the story, although her selfish actions are understandable when you consider that she’ll die without the effects of Rapunzel’s magic hair.

There’s considerable character development in the story and, being Disney, it has a happy ending. The mix of humor, action and romance works well. The characters are easy to like and there’s always something interesting happening.

Video Quality 5/5
I recently reviewed Megamind and mentioned that, as well as aliasing, the backgrounds appeared unfinished. Watching Tangled, the difference is easy to spot. There is so much detail and depth in each frame. Take a look at the background shots and you’ll see what I mean. Leaves rustle in the breeze, clouds drift and water ripples. This image is comparable to Bolt or the recent Pixar releases. It’s another perfect transfer from Disney.

Audio Quality 5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix also receives a perfect score. There’s a lot happening at times, and every little sound is heard. Background noises such as hooves or running water enhance the experience and you’ll hear things coming at you from all directions. Dialogue and music also receive the correct treatment. It’s hard to fault anything in the presentation.

Special Features 3/5

Deleted Scenes (13 minutes) – Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard introduce this segment and explain how and why certain scenes were changed. The scenes are unfinished and appear as storyboards or partially animated.

Original Storybook Openings (8 minutes) – These are early versions of what may have been and are similar to the deleted scenes.

50th Animated Feature Countdown (2 minutes) – Tangled is Disney’s 50th animated feature. See a brief glimpse of them all, in release order.

Extended Songs (8 minutes) – Full versions of two songs from the movie.

Untangled: The Making of a Fairy Tale (12 minutes) – A light-hearted feature with actors Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, talking about the movie and the history of Disney.

Tangled Teasers (9 minutes) – Amusing fake ads featuring characters from the movie.

Discover Blu-ray 3D With Timon and Pumbaa

Learn How to Take Your Favorite Movies on the Go


DVD copy

Tangled was a nice surprise with its fresh take on traditional Disney themes. There’s plenty here for children to enjoy. The characters are cute and friendly and the action is never far away. Adults will enjoy it too. Disney’s 50th animated feature is one of the best releases the studio has made and its modern animation style is a pleasure to watch.

Overall score 4.5/5

Click here to see where Tangled ranks among my Top 20 animated films.

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