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Tangled (2011, USA)

30/05/2011

Director: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard      Starring: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman

Few names are as synonymous with family entertainment as Disney. With almost ninety years of experience in the field they have pretty much cornered the market when it comes to family friendly animated features, even more so since their acquisition of Pixar (even if it does feel more like the other way round sometimes). Strangely, despite my love of animation I am not a fan of Disney’s fare. I find their insistence on making musicals tiresome and their morality heavy handed and their more recent forays into tween-tertainment (High School Musical, Hannah Montana, et al) are positively depressing. Nonetheless, I thought I’d give Tangled the benefit of the doubt as my recent encounters with family friendly CGI animation spectaculars have all been rather satisfying.

In typical Disney style, Tangled is a take on a pre-existing fairy story, in this instance Rapunzel. My memory of the story of Rapunzel is admittedly a little bit fuzzy but here the liberties have been taken all over the shop to try and stretch it to one hundred minutes worth of fun. In this version, Rapunzel’s (Mandy Moore) hair has magical healing properties and she is being imprisoned by the devious Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) who is abusing these magical powers to keep herself young and beautiful. Gothel’s plan to keep the source of her eternal youth close to her is jeopardised when thief-with-a-heart-of-gold Flynn Rider stumbles upon her secret tower when on the run from the authorities. Rapunzel convinces Flynn to take her out to see the world. You can pretty much guess the rest.

There’s a surprising amount to be pleased about in this film. Generally speaking the jokes are pretty good (some of the animal antics are a bit much bet then what can you expect from Disney?), there are some genuinely exciting set pieces as Flynn and Rapunzel try to evade capture and the visual quality of the animation is lovely. The vibrancy of the colours is astounding, even on the DVD version I watched. The Blu Ray version must be amazing. Special mention has to be made of the collapsing dam scene where, in an Indiana Jones style, our heroes must escape their pursuers as the dam releases a deluge down the same canyon. Excellent stuff.

Sadly it has plenty of failings too. Now I appreciate that my inherent dislike of musicals makes me biased (there are exceptions but they are few and far between) but the majority of the songs on show here are feeble at best. Why they felt the need to have a stupid song to be sung in order for Rapunzel’s magic hair to do its thing is a mystery to me. An annoying mystery. A very, very annoying mystery. Like most of the other songs in the film it is a turgid ditty of Hannah Montana proportions, lacking in originality and wit of any kind. The one exception is a moment when Flynn and Rapunzel are in the Snuggly Duckling tavern (no, you didn’t misread that) where there is the single example of a decent song in the whole film. Reminiscent of Monty Python’s Knights Of The Round Table song from Holy Grail and actually quite witty, it escapes the shackles of tween-centric soundtrack album and works really well.

Then of course there is the grim, predictability of the whole affair. There really are little or no surprises and when they summon up the nerve to take the film in slightly more challenging, darker directions the film makers quickly backtrack to within safe Disney parameters. When you compare it to something like the excellent How To Train Your Dragon, that doesn’t flinch at the prospect of death and maiming while maintaining it’s child friendly appeal, it really can’t match up. Perhaps very young children wont be familiar enough with the cliches to care about this but with an audience increasing in sophistication at an earlier age this sort of bland storytelling may eventually backfire on the House of Mouse.

I get the sense that Disney felt they had to do something here to compete with Shrek. A slightly irreverant take on the fairytale with a little bit of contemporary sass. I’m not sure if it entirely works. When they rein in the more over the top animal antics and aren’t singing horrible, horrible songs it’s actually quite a likeable film. Of course it isn’t really about whether or not I like it. It is, after all, a kids film and moreover (at the risk of sounding sexist) a little girls film, trading on the dream of finding out you are a missing princess or maybe Hannah Montana. Either way, this feels like a regression when compared to more recent examples of family orientated CGI.

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