“Once upon a time, a single drop of sunlight fell from the heavens. From this small drop of Sun grew a magical golden flower. It was said that this flower held the power to heal the sick and injured. From this flower sprang a glorious kingdom, ruled by the most generous king and queen, who were soon to have a baby…”
That baby has been the subject of many tales over the years. Walt Disney himself had begun work on an animated feature based on Rapunzel back in the 1940’s. Uncle Walt was fascinated with timeless fairy tales, and they became the studio’s specialty over the years. For one reason or another the film was pushed back and eventually shelved for other titles. But it seems that the studio that still bears his name continues to have the same fascination with fairy tales and fables. Somehow you probably just knew that they would eventually dust off those old plans and return to the story of Rapunzel.
“…The queen became very sick. The entire kingdom knew the legend of the magical flower. At once they launched a search. But, the flower had long ago been discovered by a vain old woman, Mother Gothel, who hoarded its healing power and used it to keep her young…”
But the villagers did find the flower and used it to heal the ailing queen. The child, Rapunzel (Moore) was born and mother and child were healthy and happy. Happiness would not reign for long here. Mother Gothel (Murphy) sneaked into the baby’s nursery and took the child. For the magic of the flower had been transferred to the golden hair of the new princess. Mother Gothel raised the child as her own but kept her locked in a high tower. The girl’s thoughts were filled with nothing but evil descriptions of the outside world to keep her from wanting to leave. Still, on her 18th birthday, Rapunzel was taken by the air lanterns that filled the sky each year on her birthday. They were actually sent by the kingdom in mourning and remembrance of their missing princess. Rapunzel was beginning to yearn for her freedom.
Meanwhile, a young thief named Flynn Rider (Levi) is running from the palace guard. He has stolen the crown of the missing princess. His flight takes him to the very tower where Rapunzel ias kept. He climbs the tower, and Rapunzel comes face to face with the first person she had ever seen except for her “mother”. She hides the satchel containing his booty and forces him to escort her to the light ceremony. He reluctantly agrees, and they embark on a fairy-tale journey to discover who each really is.
It’s not just fairy tales that have defined the legacy of Walt Disney. The studio was known for taking enormous risks and making milestone strides in the advancement of animation. Uncle Walt himself mortgaged his own future to release the first ever animated feature. Snow White would go on to make enough money to bankroll what would become Walt Disney Studios. Disney was the first studio to use computers in their animation. Walt developed a multi-plane camera that allowed his animated films to have dimension and depth. So it seems appropriate somehow that on the occasion of their 50th full-length animated feature, the same studio would take a huge risk. They upped the ante and spent $260 million to create a new standard in computer animation with Tangled.
Was the gamble a huge pay-off? Not entirely. The box office for the film was disappointing, at least in the domestic market. The film pulled in nearly $200 million, a respectable number, to be sure. If not for the surprisingly large $400 million in foreign box office, this one could have been a disaster. Tangled was far better received particularly in Europe where it was often the number one film for weeks in some countries. Now the studio is banking that a high-definition Blu-ray release will put the topping on that success.
What about all that money? Is it evident on the screen? Yes and no. To be sure, Tangled looks absolutely stunning. The animation is fluid, and there are many aspects of the movie that appear photo-realistic. Humans are certainly getting better in the computer animation world. They’re still not quite there. These humans look like Tim Burton stop-motion dolls. They have severely round heads and giant saucer-like eyes. The real achievement here comes with the hair. Naturally, the story of Rapunzel can only be told with a lot of computer-generated hair. It’s one of the hardest things to manage in computer animation. It’s also one of the easiest of things to come out quite badly. If that’s where the money went, it was well spent indeed. Her hair is a character in and of itself. She uses it like a superpower. The hair grabs things and has become a useful tool for the young princess.
Disney also tapped composer Alan Menken for the music. He’s certainly been a bankable writer for the studio. His long-time partner, lyricist Howard Ashman, died while Beauty And The Beast was still in production. It would become the most accomplished work for both writers. Menken still hasn’t lost his touch. He’s teamed up with Glenn Slater, and the results are quite impressive. The songs contain a show-tune style and are still rather memorable for the kids. While this film doesn’t also cater to the staging of a Broadway production, like Ashman insisted for Beauty And The Beast, it wouldn’t really have worked here. Call it a hybrid or crossover. Call it what you will, I suspect a few of these songs will have lasting power along with an entire 70-year history of Disney’s own hit parade.
The voice talent is a bit unexpected here. Flynn Rider is voiced by Chuck himself, Zachary Levi. I have to say I never would have guessed. The performance here is so much smoother than I expected. Mandy Moore appears perfectly cast as Rapunzel, adding a little modern kick to the classical character. The film also contains one of Disney’s best animal sidekicks. Pascal the chameleon has some of the most expressive poses of the film. This silent character is likely to be a standout and favorite for the kids and adults alike. I found myself drawn to his expressions even when he was in the background. He’s a little scene stealer, to be sure.
Tangled is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. It is films like this that Disney brought to the table when they bought Pixar and recruited that studio’s head John Lassiter to run its other ventures as well. The high-definition image presentation is about as perfect as they come. Colors are bright and pop, which is essential in a children’s film. What really stands out here is the level of texture this image provides. The hair elements are quite convincing. You can almost feel those mile-long locks. The film offers wonderful detail and sharpness. Black levels are superior to anything I’ve seen to date. You just won’t find a better image presentation on any format.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is just as inspiring. Half of the film is song. The performances are recreated here flawlessly and with more dynamic range than you might expect on what is essentially a kiddie film. There are exhilarating highs and bone-rattling lows to be found here. The score sweeps you off your feet as effectively as the image. Dialog comes through just fine. While the image is incredible, I invite you to close your eyes and enjoy the audio sensory of a musical number. This is why God created home theater.
All in HD.
Deleted Scenes: (12:36) There are three scenes with an introduction by the two directors. They are all in storyboard stage.
Original Storybook Openings: There are two of these. Each is just about four minutes.
50th Animated Feature Countdown: (2:03) This very swift peak at the 50 Disney animated features is sure disappointing. I would have expected a better look at each film.
Extended Songs: When Will My Life Begin and Mother Knows Best
Untangled – The Making Of A Fairy Tale: (12:28) Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi offer a very bouncy promotion of the movie. They ask trivia questions and play off each other well.
Teasers and Trailer
DVD and Digital Copy
If Tangled suffers at all, it suffers from a rather unfortunate title. When I first heard about the effort, I was not thinking about Rapunzel at all. The original working title was Rapunzel Unbraided. I’m not sure why the studio didn’t stick to the normal straightforward title of Rapunzel. Once you get past the name, it really is an endearing film that lives up to the Disney legacy. The film is charming and moves along at a good pace. Along the way it doesn’t hurt to admire the sheer artistry of the presentation. Disney has set the bar quite high for whatever film follows. “You can imagine what happens next.”