Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rapunzel gets more done in one song than I get done all day! : A Look at Tangled

Tangled is wonderful.

I went to see it out of pure obligation, all ready to hate it because of the CGI and the fact that it looked nothing like Rapunzel, but it won me over. I loved it. I have now seen it twice. I even paid the ridiculous price and saw it in 3-D today as a reward to myself for winning NaNoWriMo (*bows head proudly*). I laughed a lot. I squealed with joy. I got chills and leaned forward in my seat and cried. The animation is beautiful, the songs are splendid and the story is good. It's not Rapunzel as the Brothers Grimm told it, but there were enough references to keep me happy--one in particular which I would tell, but then you would have every right to kill me. Going in, I was especially curious to see how they handled one of the story's more infamous plot points.

In the fairy tale, the Prince visits Rapunzel in the tower at night when the Witch isn't there. And at the end of the fairy tale, there are twin babies, even though there was no wedding. It was a fun day when little Erin realized this meant they had had sex during those nightly visits. The Brothers Grimm got a lot of complaints from parents about that one and had to do their fair share of moral clean-up, but it's there. Needless to say, Disney cut this. And even though I would have liked to see the House of Mouse pull off late-night tower trysts and premarital pregnancy, maybe now is not the time. Besides such a thing would most likely make the planet fall of its axis, and we wouldn't want that to happen.

I did quite a bit of griping when the trailer first came out because this clearly was not the Rapunzel I knew and loved. But Tangled knocked me off that high horse but quick. I enjoyed it too much. The fun thing about fairy tales (besides the gore and the Jungian archetypes) is that they belong to a colorful, fascinating tradition. Through the centuries, storytellers passed fairy tales down to the next generation changing details, adding twists and putting their mark on them. Disney has gotten a lot of flak for tampering with their source material, and yes, when it's a book or a literary fairy tale (hello, Little Mermaid), I get the griping, but when the story's from the oral tradition (as Rapunzel is) Disney's doing what storytellers have always done. After all, at its most basic, what is Rapunzel about? A girl with hair long enough to climb spends her days locked in a tower, the prisoner of her overbearing foster mother, until a man comes to the tower and rocks her world. And that, at its most basic, is what Tangled's about. The difference is in the details. If I hated Tangled because it isn't exactly like the fairy tale, I would also have to hate Revolting Rhymes, Ever After, The Company of Wolves, Kissing the Witch and Ella Enchanted (the BOOK), and I love all those things--note I said Ella Enchanted the BOOK. Besides the nice thing about this post-printing press, post-Internet world we live in is that you can still read the Brothers Grimm version any time you want.

"Oh, don't mind us. We're just going to stay in and have illicit relations that will scandalize parents for generations to come. You two enjoy your adventure."

Anyway. With that off my chest...

In Tangled, Rapunzel is a fully developed character, torn between obeying her mother and becoming her own person. She fulfills her fair share of princess stereotypes (pretty, sings while she cleans, animal sidekick), but her main focus is not a prince or true love, it's becoming a woman in her own right and discovering the world on her terms. Also some kind of miracle must have gone down at the Disney studio because they managed to produce a love interest who is not simply a love interest, but ALSO a fully developed character. His name is Flynn Rider, and I have a big crush on him. I am always a sucker for boys and girls working together on an equal plane, and this movie delivered that: two fully developed characters working in tandem, being equal partners, having awesome adventures AND actual conversations before they fall in love. Someone sound the trumpets! My biggest problem with The Princess and the Frog was that the romance between Tiana and Naveen felt way too rushed. One minute they hated each other, the next they were in love. Rapunzel and Flynn actually become friends during their adventure. And it's fun. Yes, the main action of the movie goes down over the course of three days, but I still felt like I knew them and they knew each other.

Speaking of which, Tangled seems to have sorted out a lot of the problems I had with The Princess and the Frog. Don't get me wrong. I like The Princess and the Frog. The animation is beautiful, and Tiana is kickass, but now when I watch it, it feels a little...preachy. Disney was way too aware of its reputation making that movie. I'm thinking primarily of the Charlotte's princess obsession, and Tiana's father's speech about "it takes more than wishing." I could practically hear the Disney people saying "See! See! We know what we've done in the past, but loooooook! We have a head on our shoulders now!" That doesn't make the animation less beautiful or Tiana less awesome, but it does take me out of the movie when I watch it now. I had a few teeny, tiny problems with Tangled's story, but for the most part it's good and tight. I got completely lost in it both times. The commercials made Tangled look like a Dreamworks knock-off, but it isn't. It has the heart of ten Shreks plus two. It feels like a Disney movie.

As for the voices: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi and Donna Murphy are the headliners as Rapunzel, Flynn Rider and Mother Gothel (the villain) respectively. When I heard Mandy Moore had been cast, I was concerned that come movie time, I would only see and hear Mandy Moore and not Rapunzel (such is often the case when famous people do voice work). However, I need not have worried. Her voice fit the character to a tee. It's a credit both to her performance and the strength of the animation that I only ever saw and heard Rapunzel. Donna Murphy, an acclaimed Broadway actress, does a deliciously evil turn as Mother Gothel. I had a few issues with this character (which I would go into if they didn't totally spoil the movie), but Murphy's performance was not one of them. She has one of those voices that can bring out a myriad of sounds in one word, adding a lot of life and nuance to the character. And boy can she sing. Zachary Levi was the real surprise here. Evoking Errol Flynn (the character's namesake), he makes Flynn sarcastic but never smarmy, lovably arrogant, very funny and refreshingly genuine. Brad Garrett, Jeffrey Tambor and Ron Perlman are a few of the familiar voices that add to the fun. And everybody does their own singing! Yay!

As for the animation: I'm a sucker for hand-drawn. I will always love hand-drawn. I will always resent that Disney felt the need to abandon the artform that gave them their start, the artform American animation was built on. I've never understood why computer animation is considered a higher level of animation, as if hand-drawn evolved into computer animation. They're two different kinds of animation, two different means of creating art. I enjoy both as long as there's a well-told story behind it all, but I still nurse an aching loyalty to hand-drawn. Until Tangled, I always felt that as moving as Pixar's films are, there's an intimacy and warmth to hand-drawn animation that CGI can't imitate. Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3 did their part to challenge that, but Tangled pushed me over the edge, probably because it is a Disney movie (not a Pixar movie being released by Disney) and I no longer felt the need to be defensive. Throughout this movie, you can see so much life and emotion in the characters eyes. You can count individual blades of grass and almost feel the sun on your face. Rapunzel's hair looks real. And there's one scene (again I can't spoil it), that moved me to tears, because of the combination of everything: music, story and animation. The scene was so astonishingly beautiful, I couldn't help crying. I was just so happy to be a part of it.

As for the music...whew, this review is getting long. Let's just say I bought the soundtrack as soon as I got home, and I've been playing it non-stop. If "I See the Light" doesn't win the Oscar for Best Song, I will be one unhappy camper.

There's been a lot of hoopla about how Disney has decided to move away from fairy tales and princess movies in the coming years. They actually changed the title of the movie from Rapunzel to Tangled to assure audiences that this wasn't (GASP) a GIRL'S movie (shudder). On one level, I agree with the title change, because this isn't a straight retelling of Rapunzel; it's a completely new take on it. It would be damn confusing if every retelling of Cinderella were actually called Cinderella. However, Disney's REASON for the title change makes my blood boil. Flynn Rider's prominence over Rapunzel in the advertising was another result of this blatant sexism (and Disney, I love you, but it is sexism). My theater was PACKED with boys AND girls, and everybody seemed to be loving it. Put that in your market testing pipe and smoke it, Disney. Not to mention the fact that there are LOADS of fairy tales with boys at the center. Or that there are LOADS of NON-fairy tale stories you could tell about girls. Or that it's flat out wrong that boys apparently have to be catered to and bathed in testosterone every time they go to the movies, while girls are expected to enjoy anything--even though girls are consistently and repeatedly forced to serve as tokens or love interests in movie after movie. Tangled is not just a princess movie. It's the story of a young woman's coming-of-age. And so far, it's pretty darn successful--the most successful opening weekend a (non-Pixar) Disney animated movie has had since The Lion King in 1994. I know it's not just Disney. It's all of Hollywood, but I hope Tangled does its part to prove that audiences want and need movies about girls, fairy tale-based or not.

In short: Go see Tangled. It's very good. That is all.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Silly old bear.

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.

Obviously, I have to turn in my mouse ears because I did not even know this was in the works. A hand-drawn Winnie the Pooh based on the original A.A. Milne stories!

I love Winnie-the-Pooh. I love the books, and I love the Disney cartoons. These cartoons, starting with the first animated short "Winne the Pooh and the Honey Tree" in 1965, purposely imitated the look of E.H. Shephard's classic illustrations. They include numerous short subjects, feature films, and TV series. I've been reading and watching Winnie the Pooh forever. I cried when I learned that Disney had lost the rights to use Christopher Robin for their TV series and had replaced him with a girl character. So when I saw this trailer for a new movie to be released in 2011, I was struck dumb with delight.

First of all, it's hand-drawn. That alone would be cause for rejoicing. I'm excited for Tangled (even if it looks like no version of Rapunzel I ever read), but Tangled is CG. As much as I love Pixar, hand-drawn animation feels like home to me. Second of all, Christopher Robin is back. From the start, the tears were biding their time, but as soon as Christopher Robin appeared (a little taller if I'm not mistaken), the floodgates burst open. Also the new movie is based on Milne's stories and features the "book format" of the original Disney-Pooh cartoons.

Did I mention it's hand-drawn? Beautifully hand-drawn too, from the looks of things. The combination of Pooh and old-school animation is almost too good to be true. Pooh needs to hand-drawn. There's a warmth and melancholy beauty to the Hundred Acre Wood that hand-drawn animations brings out so well. I am a slave to nostalgia (especially Disney nostalgia), so this well and truly made my day. I officially can't wait.

In the meantime, if you ever want to know why "pooh" is the best thing to say to swan, I will happily tell you.

P.S. That uncannily appropriate song in the background is Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know."