Welcome to the Disney Revival Rundown! This week, we at Rotoscopers are analyzing some of the most recent Disney animated films, and what makes each one so great. At the end of the series, we will have a fan vote to determine which is the best of them all!
Even though choosing my favorite Disney movie is as hard as choosing my favorite Harry Potter book, as soon as we started talking about ranking the Revival era films, I called dibs on Tangled. I adore Wreck-It-Ralph and its focus on friendship. There isn’t a day that goes by without me listening to a Frozen song. But Rapunzel’s story is extremely special to me for plenty of reasons. I’ll share them with you so you can vote for Tangled when the voting starts and we’ll win this thing, okay?
There are thousands of things I love about this film but the most important ones are how it essentially brought Disney into the modern era and how fresh it feels while still retaining that classic Disney magic, the sheer beauty of the animation, the characters and the music. So let’s dig in!
Bringing Disney into the 21st Century
The most famous Animation Studio in the world had been struggling for years. It was developing another princess movie, the traditionally animated Princess and the Frog, but there were people that thought the genre was dead. What Disney wanted to do next was a kind of satirical animated movie, in the vein of Enchanted, that made fun of Disney tropes. It thought this was the only way to bring Disney into the modern era. Luckily for us, Glen Keane was there to fight for the fairytale, for true love and for good old Disney magic.
The legendary animator thought this satirical, Shrek-like version of the story was okay but had his doubts about making fun of the stuff Disney was built upon. After a long time in development and the arrival of Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, the movie changed directions and Byron Howard and Nathan Greno, having just finished Bolt, took over as directors, with Keane staying as a consultant. And one of the first things Howard did was to go back to the original fairytale.
“Cynicism is easy, because it demands nothing of you. Intellectually and emotionally, sincerity requires commitment and risk”- Byron Howard
The new creative team set out to crack a new story and bring Disney into the modern age of cinema. To do this, they looked at classics like Cinderella and Pinocchio to get inspired but they constantly reminded themselves they were trying to entertain a modern audience. The story moves faster, Rapunzel is much more active and relatable than princesses of old and the entire movie is just full of humor and heart.
Even though Princess and the Frog came out a year earlier and was met with positive critical reviews, it didn’t do too well at the box office. It was Tangled really, that modernized the classic Disney Princess concept. It was beloved by both critics and audiences, it revitalized Walt Disney Animation Studios and it contains what is clearly and objectively the most beautiful sequence Art has ever offered to the human race.
In short, if Tangled had failed or if the people behind it had succumbed to the temptation of being cynical about fairy tales and true love, Disney would surely be in a different place right now. Tangled brought back the magic, it buried the idea that kids nowadays wouldn’t be interested in a princess musical and it gave the Mouse House the confidence it needed to really kickstart a new era. Also, that lantern scene.
A new kind of Princess
Rapunzel was Disney’s first CGI Princess. But it’s not only that she’s made of pixels instead of pencil lines that makes her special. Starting with Ariel back in 1989’s The Little Mermaid, a movie some of you may know, Disney princesses started getting more and more independent and rebellious. Just a year before this version of Rapunzel was introduced to the world, we were walking into theaters to watch Tiana, who not only was Disney’s first African-American princess but also one of the few to have an actual job. She was all about working hard to get what you wish for. It was great.
So how to make a princess that’s spent her entire life locked in a tower into a fun, pro-active character? The creative team behind the movie talked a lot about this and they clearly got it right at the end. Fueled by her desire to see the Floating Lights (and show us the most wondrous animated scene to ever exist), Rapunzel is a great protagonist, always pushing the story forward, solving problems and using her trusty frying pan to defend herself. On top of that, Mandy Moore voices her to perfection and delights us with plenty of new songs to memorize.
Of course, this isn’t only Rapunzel’s story. In one of the most controversial things about the movie, the focus of the promotional campaign was taken off Rapunzel and put on Flynn Rider, the male co-lead of the film. It’s things like this that show you how scared Disney was of people thinking this was just another princess movie. But Tangled did so well that a couple of years later the studio released a little film you might have also heard about called Frozen, which featured not only one but TWO awesome female characters in the lead roles. Rapunzel is feminine,strong, funny, adorable and determined. It was her, in part, who brought back Disney’s confidence in amazing female characters.
Anyway, Flynn Rider. As the story’s co-protagonist, Flynn is simply great. He’s adventurous and fun and just perfect for all of our inner children who still wish we were swashbuckling heroes. He’s also a perfect counterpart for Rapunzel, who has been sheltered for her entire life. Watching these two together guarantees tons of funny conflicts and seeing them learn from each other is extremely satisfying. And again, the casting of Zachary Levi is spot on. He simply oozes charm and charisma with every line.
Amazing cast of Supporting Characters
On top of the main dynamic duo, this film is peppered with a fantastic cast of memorable characters. You have Mother Gothel, one of the villains we wrote about back in October’s Villain Vignettes, as the antagonist and my oh my, does she deliver. She knows exactly how to manipulate Rapunzel and what buttons she has to push to control our heroine. It’s extremely heart-breaking to see how she masterminds the demise of Flynn and Rapunzel’s relationship just after a certain beautiful scene I might have mentioned already.
Then there’s Pascal and Maximus, the animal side-kicks. Pascal is adorable and hilarious, plus he’s the cutest Disney stuffed animal you can buy. But it’s really Maximus’ show. The horse steals most of the scenes he’s in. And one of my favorite details about the entire film concerns him. During one of my recent re-watchings I noticed that when all that water is about to hit the soldiers, they all cower in fear but Maximus stands defiantly instead. It’s only a spare second but it shows how much work was put into character and story by the animators and the creative team.
Then there’s the thugs from the Snuggly Duckling and their truly incredible “I’ve Got A Dream” sequence. That’s just pure Disney magic. And the character design is phenomenal, not to mention the pub itself, which is a place I want to build and hang out in.
Also worth mentioning are Rapunzel’s parents, who don’t say a single word but make anyone with a soul tear up.
IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL
I think I can safely say (with a Floating Lanterns variety of objectivity) that Tangled is the most beautiful film I have ever seen. I can’t think of any other that matches the spectacle this one offers. If you only buy one The Art of… book, please make it this one. It’s drool-worthy. Everything is just so pretty. The forest, the Snuggly Duckling, the town. And let’s talk about that lantern scene.
When the entire point of your story is to see some floating lights and you spend the entire movie focusing on that goal, you better make it worth everyone’s time. And MY OH MY do they deliver. Go watch the scene. Did you watch it? Isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it actually magical? I could write entire essays on the floating lantern scene. But it’s not necessary. Just click on that link.
I’ve already written an opinion piece as long as someone‘s hair and I didn’t even talk about the music. Alan Menken is back at his imperious best and he has no problem gifting us with songs that feel modern and classic at the same time. The fact I See the Light didn’t win Best Original Song at the Oscars is why we can’t have nice things, people. And speaking of the Academy Awards, it’s worth mentioning Tangled didn’t win Best Animated Feature because it was released in an extraordinary year that gave us Megamind, Despicable Me and most importantly, How To Train Your Dragon and the bestest, most incredible animated film ever, Toy Story 3.
But in spite of the competition, Tangled left a legacy maybe even greater than the other movies I mentioned. Because Rapunzel and Eugene (I just had to mention his real name) gave new life to the princess musical. They brought back Disney in a way neither Bolt nor Princess and the Frog quite managed. She paved the way for Elsa and Anna. It was Tangled that confirmed the most famous animation studio there is was back for good. The Studio basically wrapped itself in Rapunzel’s hair and sang this song
Flower gleam and glow,
Let your power shine,
Make the clock reverse,
Bring back what once was mine.
Heal what has been hurt,
Change the fate’s design,
Save what has been lost,
Bring back what once was mine.
What once was mine.
And it worked. Disney was healed; they were firing at all cylinders and they haven’t looked back since.
What do you think of Tangled? Where would you rank it in our Disney Revival Rundown?
Pablo Ruiz is a Colombian filmmaker. Movies like Toy Story, The Lion King and Aladdin made him fall in love with the art form and now he hopes to dedicate his life to telling stories, hopefully for Pixar (if they go back to doing original films).
Some of his ambitions are making a movie as emotionally impacting as Toy Story 3, meeting JK Rowling, and petting a million dogs. Follow him on Twitter (@PabloRV7).