Friday, November 26, 2010


It’s taken all of two films for The Lasseter helmed Walt Disney Feature Animation to make the long dark night of the soul that has been the last ten years (or is if fifteen) for that studio seem like a distant memory. It may be premature, but I wouldn’t hesitate to say we may be in midst of a real second Disney Renaissance.

Lasseter has taken some flack over the last couple of months. The unceremonious booting from the director seat of longtime fan favorite animator Glen Keane from the film, after Lassertar decided to rebuild it from the ground up, rubbed many the wrong way. It sounded like something from The Social Network, it’s easy to imagine Lassetter smirkingly telling Keane, “If you were going to save Walt Disney Feature Animation, you would have saved Walt Disney Feature Animation.” Coupled with the similarly unceremonious firing of Brenda Chapman from Pixar’s The Bear and The Bow (Now The Brave), not to mention the cancellation of Newt, led many to whisper that Lasseter was turning into an iron fisted control freak so terrified of failure that he was afraid to allow any voice but his own into the film. Making even someone like myself, who had previously had nothing but confidence in the man a little nervous about what I'd see coming out of Lasseter's studio.

All I can say is if this it the type of film that draconian absolute power from John Lasseter yields, then "All hail Overlord Lasseter."

But all this inside baseball about the unseemly power struggles behind Tangled, obscures what a delightful, sweet natured, film it is. There’s much to like about Tangled, from it’s beautiful animation, filled with sharp character design (including the greatest Disney horse since Ichabod’s) rich detail (The water color clothing painted in the corners Rapunzel's dresser) and lush Final Fantasy like backgrounds. To the touching story and quick screwball worthy banter (Including a scene documenting Rapunzel’s swings between elation and guilt which is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a theater this year). Mandy Moore and Zacharey Levi do shockingly credible jobs and Donna Murphy does a mean Bernedette Peters impersonation. The rest of the cast is filled out with welcome ringers including Ron Perlmen, Jeffery Tambor and Brad Garrett.

But what really makes Tangled special is it’s control of tone. The WDFA films post The Hunchback Of Notre Dame all felt like movies desperately unsure of themselves. From the anime aping Atlantis, to the Dreamwork’s aping Home On The Range; the films of the time (with a few pointed exceptions like the lovely rambunctious Lilo And Stitch) all seemed baffled at the idea that an audience might want to see a Disney movie from Disney.

And it’s that core idea, that the Disney tradition at it’s best is nothing to be ashamed of, that Lasseter has brought back to Walt Disney Feature Animation. There’s a moment in Tangled when at the crescendo of the Princess’s song a flock of birds appears and soars along with the princess’s notes as the camera pulls back to reveal the full of a sun dappled wood. My Katzenberg warped training braced for the punchline. It didn’t come. As a statement of purpose things don’t get much clearer. Yes we will go there. Yes we absolutely will play that big. And no we won’t wink or acted ashamed for so much as a second.

Tangled isn’t perfect, for those annoyed by the Disney Formula the film follows it to a “t” in a way that makes The Princess And The Frog seem loose and spontaneous. The songs by Alan Mencken seemed unusually flat (though the rest of the audience seemed to be enjoying them, so I dunno maybe it’s just me) and the film has more Mother Issues then Pink Floyd’s The Wall compounded by Psycho.

And yet these flaws are so slight when compared to the pleasures of the film. The Disney Formula is such an easy one to take aim at, because it’s so easy for the film’s to just be paint by the numbers, fill in the blank here lazy.

But when that formula is earned, by employing the quality artistry and storytelling that Disney at it’s best stands for it remains as effective a recipe for films as I know.

Under the Lasseter helmed Disney I expect the company to continue earning it for a very long time.


Marcus said...

Loved it. Yeah, the songs weren't memorable, but that was okay. The story and the animation more than made up for it. And nicely done with the Into The Woods reference, although Donna Murphy sounds more like Bebe Neuwirth lol

Merus said...

Mandy Moore is the secret best pop starlet. If you look at the movies you expect her to be in, based on her background, and then look at the movies she's actually been in, there's a massive disconnect there. Britney Spears would not be able to pull off Moore's performance in Saved!.

Tim said...

Great call on the moment with the birds. I laughed out loud in delight when that happened, annoying the people next to me, but it was so happily unironic that I couldn't contain myself. Wonderful, charming movie.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Marcus: Agreed, with all, but it still sounded like Peter's to me.

@ Merus: Yeah, I haven't seen her in much, just Southland Tales (where she just seemed as baffled as everyone else) really, but in the glimpses I've gotten she always did seem innately likable in the way pre made pop stars aren't.

@ Tim: Glad you liked it as much as I did Tim. Looking forward to The Bolt piece.

Strange Kid said...

Caught 'Tangled' the other day with my daughter and I have to admit that it was pretty entertaining. My only crit is that I wish the Murphy's character was a little more evil... maybe more of a witch than just selfish.

Bryce Wilson said...

I actually like that they played her relatively subdued. She's not the funniest Disney villain, but the way they played her was more "real". After all we're not all going to meet witches in our time, but we'll meet plenty of people who want to influence us for the worse.