I had a chance to see Tangled a few weeks ago and I’ve been biding my time and collecting my thoughts about it. The arrival (in my mailbox) of Jeff Kurtti’s terrific new Chronicle “Art of” book permits me the opportunity to discuss my feelings about the film in a context that doesn’t allow me to be a total downer.
The Film: Tangled has everything you’d expect in an Disney animated musical – and that’s my big problem with it.
Let me be clear: The artwork, the character animation, the settings, the visuals are all absolutely first rate. The artists did great work and it shows. Kurtti’s book is a testament to their achievements. They’ve achieved the effect of a three dimensional classic Disney animated feature here. However, the story itself is a major letdown. I found it trite, cliche, generic. The poster could just simply read “Generic Disney Animated Musical” and that would sum it up. There is nothing in this film you haven’t seen or felt before. For example, when Rapunzel sings her “I want” song, it’s to go “down there”, out of her tower – the flipside of Ariel’s “up there”, Part of Your World.
One thing struck me as new – the film seemed heavily skewed towards a younger, teenage girl audience (the Hannah Montana crowd?). I don’t recall a single Disney feature (save for Winnie The Pooh or the Disneytoon releases) that wasn’t aimed at a general (children and adult) audience. In fact, most modern animated films (Dreamworks, Pixar, Blue Sky, Sony, even Nickelodeon) are aimed as much towards adults as the kids. Not this.
The songs are unmemorable. Even The Princess and the Frog had memorable, innovative song sequences. Say what you will about P&TF, I couldn’t get some of the musical numbers out of my head after seeing the film the first time. Remember the animated opening sequence in Enchanted, which was a spoof of a generic Disney Princess film? This is that film – feature length. I truly enjoyed the visuals in Tangled, but I kept expecting the story to lift me to another place – as most great Disney and Pixar films do – but that “lift’ never came.
Did I like anything in the film? I liked the horse, Maximus. He had more personality than any of the humans and was extremely well animated. He’s the only thing I took home with me. Will you like the film? If you love all-things-Disney, you probably will. Perhaps I’m out of touch… perhaps others will explain what I’m missing. I hate being the party-pooper. I admire the craft, I can see the achievement of replicating the classic Disney “look” to dimensional CGI – but the story, the songs, the humor all seemed safe, familiar and flat. Will it make money? Yes. Because parents and young ones will enjoy a generic Disney musical, no matter how many times they’ve seen it before. Will I see it again? Yes, both to give it a second chance and to enjoy the bounty of rich visuals.
If anything, Tangled underlines the aesthetic differences between Disney Feature Animation and Pixar. The Pixar “braintrust” has a strong point of view, with a progressive approach to storytelling – and this has made Pixar the modern day leader in mass market/mainstream entertainment. The studio is floundering with its Disney choices and there seems to be no easy answer. What’s best to release under the Disney label? Classic fairy tales? Princesses? Brand franchises? CG or hand-drawn? Each new film brings answers and raises new questions.
The Art-Of Book: On the flipside, there’s no question I’m grateful to have received a review copy of Jeff Kurtti’s The Art of Disney Tangled (BTW – I know its a branding issue, but the Disney company’s new labeling of their products with a simple “Disney” logo reads wrong to me. It should be a possessive “Disney’s”. The singular “Disney” just doesn’t look or sound right… but I digress).
The “Art of” book shows, as they all do, what could have been. There are dozens of Glen Keane’s gorgeous pencil sketches, paintings and concept drawings here that point to where the film could have gone. In fact, I’m convinced this film should have been hand drawn after seeing this book. There is no question this was conceived to be a true Disney classic and a feast for the eyes, but its long, tortured, “too many cooks” history may have spoiled the meal…
In addition to Keane’s drawings, the book features numerous beautiful pieces by Disney artists Jin Kim, Lorelay Bove, Kevin Nelson, Bill Schwab, and dozens of others. I do recommend getting the book – and am looking forward to your thoughts on the film. If you’ve already seen it, tell me what you think. For those who haven’t, our traditional “talkback” post will open for your comments on November 24th.