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When you think about all the changes in Disney animation in the last 25 years, you probably start to get a bit numb to it all. One day the studio is reviving itself with a line up of some of the best animated movies ever made with features like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Then this upstart studio, Pixar, changes the game with something that although it had been tried before, had never been done so well in Toy Story. Months later Disney buys Pixar and the whole of Animated movies switches in this direction for years to come.
Every animated theater out there wanted their Toy Story. And while they all chased this dream, and some even succeeded, this push toward heavy completely computerized animation started to kill off the classic hand drawn Disney animation that we had grown up loving. Last year Disney tried to revive the “lost art” with the movie The Princess and the Frog. In a lot of ways this movie was successful, but in many ways it failed too. Disney played it way too safe, like a child wading into the pool for the first time. They forgot that it wasn’t their first time, and the movie suffered for it.
This year however they got smarter with the release of Tangled. If you’ve not yet seen the movie I’m sure you’re doubtful and skeptical. But when people are rushing home from the movies to record their views and posting their love for the movie all over Twitter and Facebook, you have to start to think that maybe something has changed, a corner has been turned. Many are after all the same people who love Belle, Ariel, Jasmine, Cinderella, and Snow White. So just what is it that makes this movie so different.
Well for starters lets look at the animation of the movie. Years back Glen Keane realized something needed to change. That in order to save hand drawn animation, there had to be a partnership made between it and computer animation. He wanted to see hand drawn art begin to be the driving force behind the computer graphics, instead of just creating 3D models and letting the computers drive the look and feel of the movie. Have it become a canvas for the pencil rather than the pencil itself.
One place where this was most evident was the ceilings in Rapunzel’s tower. Ordinarily when you see paintings or walls in animation or otherwise, the wall appears mostly flat. However, here you’ll see walls that aren’t just flat surfaces of color depicting a pattern. These walls have life and a touch of reality built in that was amazing. A porous, uneven surface, colors that showed differing brushstrokes with varying layers of paint. Rapunzel’s artwork was brought to life by Glen Keane’s daughter Claire and the effort showed.
After cutting her deal with Flynn Rider, it’s time for Rapunzel to leave the tower where she’s been locked away since she was a child. In doing this she slides down her hair, and in that moment I realized how truly magical that hair is. And I don’t just mean in the sense that it glows, can heal people, and can make people young again. No, I mean pure computer graphics magic. Hair is a tricky thing to make look real when it’s drawn – whether by a person or a computer. Several years ago, because of Tangled, Keane set out to have his group tackle this problem. What you’re seeing is the result, and that result is amazing – the hair looks real.
Moments later, Rapunzel sets her foot down on the ground and the attention to detail is amazing. There are blades of grass that are distinct and different from one another, moving an reacting appropriately as her feet wriggle in the ground for the first time. Wildflowers are all over as well. It looks real enough that if you couldn’t tell Rapunzel herself was an animated character you might otherwise think it was. This attention to detail and realism show how far along computer graphics has come since Toy Story.
The characters themselves also look fantastic. A happy medium has finally been found between the world of 2D hand drawn animation and the 3D animation we see in the Pixar films. Sure you could have watched this movie in 3D, but you don’t really need to. The benefits are small because the animation itself is that good – it doesn’t need a gimmicky and currently overused crutch of 3D. I seriously think that Disney has reached a point in computerized animation where they’ve achieved Keane’s goal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d seriously miss hand drawn animated Disney movies if they went away, but animation like this is something I could live with as an alternative.
Of course, how the movie looks isn’t all there is to it. The story is fantastic adaptation of the Grimm version of the Rapunzel fairy tale (it bears mentioning that there are several). Aspects of it are woven throughout the story told in the movie, but in very subtle ways. The flower and the tear are two examples, both are there and very similar to the original tale, but changed enough that you might not recognize them. This is, like many Disney animated classics, a character piece. It’s also a story about a girl becoming a woman and meeting her boy who thinks he’s a man, but becomes one instead.
Rapunzel is a bit timid, and a bit shy, but knows what she wants in the world. Or at least she thinks she does. For sure she wants out, she’s been locked up in her tower since she was a child. Each year, on her birthday these magical lights appear, and she’s decided she wants to go see them. She asks her “mother”, Mother Gothel, if she can go. And with a very dark and eerie musical number titled “Mother Knows Best” Mother Gothel explains why Rapunzel can’t go. And naturally she’s upset.
By contrast, Flynn “Eugene” Rider is an outspoken individual who also happens to be a wanted felon. He thinks he’s well on his way to getting what he wants. After all if you can’t earn you way to the top, you steal it instead, right? (wrong kids, completely wrong) Eventually he crosses paths with Rapunzel, and she blackmails him into helping her go see the lights. And from there the movie happens (sorry trying not to spoil too much).
The simple fact of the matter is that both these characters only think they know what they want. What they don’t realize, much like a certain Princess Tiana, usually what you want in life is not always what you need. And throughout much of the story they both spend so much time focused on what they think they want, they don’t realize until a very key point in the movie that right there, before them, they’ve both found what they need. Each other. And compared to that, what they wanted before no longer really matters.
Our story would not be complete without their supporting characters. This movie has two animal sidekicks, a chameleon named Pascal, and a horse named Maximus. Neither character has a single piece of dialog in the entire movie, they both rely on anthropomorphism, pantomime, and facial expressions to tell you everything you need to know about them. Pascal, who is Rapunzel’s pet, is the strong sure of himself sort, much like Flynn, who you can infer has been Rapunzel’s confidant for some time. Maximus is the leader of the horses of the palace guard. He is part bloodhound, brave, and sure. And for me, the most enjoyable character of the movie. The time and effort the animators put into Maximus is amazing, and he shines for it.
And lest we forget the rogues gallery found at that fine establishment the Snuggly Duckling. This group of villainy shows it’s true side when Rapunzel asks them if any of them have ever had a dream. Then, in what is my favorite musical piece in the movie, they break into the song “I’ve Got A Dream” where we learn, in a way very similar to the song “Stick to the Status Quo” from High School Musical, that things are not always what they appear. If Maximus wasn’t such an amazingly strong character, these guys would have completely stolen the show.
I loved this movie. It was really a turning point for Disney’s completely computer animated movies. They’ve really set the standard high with this one. I can only hope that they will exceed it every time and continue to wow us, and I look forward to what Disney has in store for us in the future.
What about you? Have you seen Tangled? What did you think? Who was your favorite character? What was your favorite musical piece? Don’t any of you have a dream?