Ah, Tangled. Such an apt name for a film that is at once beautiful, evocative and cynically money-minded. The naked consumerism utterly comfortable in the art at display. In short, a typical masala film.
As you ease into the comfort of your cinema seats, Steamboat Willie (one of the first Mickey appearances, and likely the most famous Disney film) starts to take form in front of you. As you marvel at the simplicity and beauty of that little vignette, a logo appears: Disney's 50th animated film. It's a glorious thing - Disney has long been the arbiter of beautifully-animated films, full of colour, song and joy. The non-Pixar quality has varied, but after last year's Princess And The Frog
, the direction was right, and the purpose true.
Tangled benefits from Disney's earnest attempt to do right - to steal back some of the thunder that Dreamworks, Pixar, and new upstarts like Universal have stole from the house that The Mouse built. Unfortunately, the reality of this directional shift is also apparent - make a cute flick with easily marketable characters and merchandise-able looks, with the stakes never so high that the twee audience feels any real sense of danger.
The film skirts a lot with real situations as a fairy tale being told in 2011 must do - but there's never any real sense of danger. Just as the lovable rogue (Zachary Levi) tries to convince a credulous Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) of the dangers of the world in a bar full of warm-hearted goons, the movie tries to create moments, but with a safety net that keeps us from being at the edge of our seats.
And just like the Hook Hand Thug (played by TV's Brad Garrett), a goon who really wants to be a concert pianist, the film is cute but too familiar to anyone who has seen any animated film in the past 20 years.
Despite the commerce dictating a safe tone and a plethora of cutesy characters who never really amount to much, the film is lovely to behold, and due to some stellar art direction, uniformly gorgeous. The story of a princess stolen by the evil Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) and never let out of a tower for fear of discovery might have been given extra adventure by including Zach Levi's Flynn Rider, but the story quintessentially remains Rapunzel's.
This, ultimately, is the film's biggest strength. Despite an excellently-animated cast of a horse and chameleon companions, and the man-of-action Flynn, this is resolutely the story of a girl who takes her own decisions and then tries to change her life as best she knows. Even the realisation of the deceit that Gothel has been inflicting on her is hers alone.
Speaking of Gothel, Donna Murphy is simply fabulous as the witch with a plan, and her solo song extolling her knowledge of the world stuns in its voice work. Brilliant stuff. While the rest of the cast is adequate, the painting like soft hues and colours mixed with a clean Saturday morning vibe for the character art makes the film glorious to behold. Disney, as always, has cracked what it is to make a 3D film look timeless.
By the 3D, of course, I mean the three-dimensional tech used to make the film, and not the 3D rendered on to your glasses, which is junk. Watch it in a regular cinema, and watch it with as many kids as you can muster that are important to you. They will love every minute of it, and it might thaw your cynical little heart after a while too.