I have to preface this by saying that Disney hasn’t made what I’d consider a decent animated feature in years. After subjecting myself to Bolt, Princess and the Frog and any number of other recent Disney features, I dreaded the prospect of handing over my hard-earned money for Tangled. That’s why it surprises even myself to write that Tangled, directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, was an utterly delightful experience. It represents a fresh new direction for Disney’s feature animation department, one that is rooted in the finest tradition of Disney’s gloried past while pushing forward to an even brighter future. Despite a half-baked story that left me frustrated at many turns, the filmmakers made the audience care enough about the characters and delivered enough entertainment that I left the theater satisfied. I wanted to celebrate this achievement by highlighting five things I enjoyed about the film. Spoilers ahead.
1. THE QUALITY OF ANIMATION, RIGGING AND LIGHTING
Tangled‘s world felt organic in a way that no CG film I’ve seen has ever felt before. The modeling of the characters used shapes that were more sophisticated and natural than I’ve ever seen in a CG film. The translucency of the human skin felt more flesh-like than any other CG humans I’ve seen. (Actually, it had a waxy feel, which while not exactly flesh-like, is leaps and bounds beyond the plasticky skin in most CG films.) The rendering had a soft painterly light that pushed it away from the harsh rendering that I find so off-putting in most CG. And finally, there’s the animation.
The animation of the characters is jaw-dropping. All the leads–Rapunzel, Flynn, Mother Gothel, Maximus–were tremendous fun to watch. This is the closest I’ve ever seen a computer animated film come to capturing the looseness, asymmetry, and caricature of hand-drawn animation. Look at the expressions above. It’s as if every extreme was a custom-built expression or pose in the computer. The clarity of acting in the eyes was also a notable achievement. I have no idea what they did that is so different from the way that Pixar, DreamWorks, Blue Sky, et al. rig their characters, but Disney’s approach is a gamechanger in my opinion. Disney is again leading the pack in technique and technical prowess, and it’s been a very long time since they’ve done that.