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Progress City Home Theater: Tangled

After a decade of troubled development, Disney Feature Animation’s take on the Rapunzel fairy tale finally arrived in theaters last fall. Despite near-constant meddling from executives and marketing mavens during those long years, Tangled scored a hit with both critics and audiences, and is one of the most thoroughly satisfying offerings from Disney animators in years.

While it took Tangled‘s sizable domestic and international box office take to offset the massive costs incurred by a decade of endlessly rebooted production, the fact is that the film was a big hit – which makes it all that much more confusing that its home video release (available on DVD, Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo, and Four-Disc Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo) is so embarrassingly sparse. There are probably about 4-5 different versions of this film that were developed in the last ten years, and barely any of that work is hinted at in this release’s extra features. The apparent disregard by Disney’s home video department for fans and animation buffs is pretty glaring by this point, and the fact that a major new release comes out with barely any supplemental material shows how far things have fallen off at the studio since the glory days of the early 2000s. That being said, the movie is still excellent and well worth your time, so you might as well give into the darkness and check out this bare bones release!

The Film

I would be surprised if a single aspect of this film – save from the fact that it tells the story of Rapunzel – made it through the gauntlet of constant retooling that marked its development. Originally the pet project of veteran Disney animator Glen Keane, and intended to be his directorial debut, the film transitioned early on from traditional to computer animation after it was decided to move all Disney animation to the digital realm. Faced with the success of Dreamworks’ Shrek, the Eisner regime mandated that the film take a more “hip and edgy” bent, and for a while it became Rapunzel: Unbraided.

With Eisner gone, the film returned to its roots and became just plain Rapunzel again, but then came the surprising news in 2008 that Keane (citing “health reasons”) and co-director Dean Wellins were surrendering control of the project. In their place came Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, to whom John Lasseter had entrusted Bolt when it was wrested from the hands of its creator, Chris Sanders.

There was more drama – casting changes, a general confusion at Disney about whether or not they were in the business of making fairy tales, and a last minute, marketing-enforced title change to the less feminine/more confusing title Tangled – but thankfully a great movie managed to emerge nonetheless. One gets the feeling that the film is filled with fleeting references to probably dozens of abandoned characters and storylines, but the narrative that emerges is sleek and far more focused than Disney’s previous fairy tale, The Princess and the Frog (a film that I enjoyed very much).

The roots of the story are simple: a young girl is kidnapped and raised by a wicked old woman who needs the magical properties of the child’s hair to keep her young. She keeps the girl, Rapunzel, locked away in an tower, and fills her young head with terrifying tales of the horrible world outside. Still, Rapunzel wonders what’s out there in the great, wide world and sees enough from her tower window to encourage her wanderlust.

Things come to a head when the improbably named bandit Flynn Rider stumbles upon her tower and tries to use it as a hiding place for his ill-gotten gains. He is surprised and captured by Rapunzel, who eventually manages to blackmail Flynn into taking her on an adventure while the nefarious Mother Gothel is away on a lengthy trip. Naturally, hijinks ensue.

There are many remarkable things about this film. One is the fact that, despite its remarkably smarmy and obnoxious ads, the film plays as very sincere and likable. Rapunzel, voiced by Mandy Moore, is an incredibly appealing character and manages to project a sweet naivete without crossing over into obliviousness. Rider, voiced by TV’s Zachary Levi, was a major concern after seeing the film’s trailers, but all of his most obnoxious moments are dispensed with fairly early in the proceedings. His “smoulder” shtick is never as funny as it seems the filmmakers thought, and there’s the occasional echo of “‘tude” from lesser animated features past, but what came off as irritating in the trailers is much less so in the film itself. Levi is an extremely charismatic guy, and as the “Rider” persona fades into the background his character becomes winning in a way that is very rare for modern Disney male heroes.

The look of the film deserves special notice; it’s colorful and lush, and avoids the plastic look that plagues so many modern computer-animated features. It’s not the “painterly” look that we were promised for so, so long, but the human animation remains leaps and bounds above anything that any other studio – including Pixar – has done before. There’s a lovely organic translucence to everything, and the backgrounds and color design deserve recognition. My only gripe in the artistic department would be with a number of secondary characters who push the bounds of caricature beyond the breaking point.

The music and a handful of songs come from Disney stalwart Alan Menken and collaborator Glenn Slater. The score is reminiscent at times of other Disney classics such as The Little Mermaid, and that helps contribute to the overall feel. The few songs in the film are enjoyable if not especially memorable, although my absolute favorite – the number that Rapunzel sings to kick off the film – is scored in a really obnoxious jangly frat-rock style that clashes completely with the film. It’s a shame, because it’s a really great song and does a fantastic job getting across the Rapunzel character to the audience.

Mention should also be made of the villain, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy). It’s interesting to make your big bad a kind of passive-aggressive, smothery mother – especially since I’ve encountered a few of those myself in my time. Her big production number, in which she combines warnings about the many evils of the outside world with little asides about Rapunzel’s weight, is kind of hilarious in how it plausibly portrays how the girl has been convinced to stay in the tower for her entire life. I have some qualms with the number itself – while the song is fine, the way it’s staged is by far the most “Broadway” moment of the film and, especially considering Murphy’s stage experience, on film it comes off as very “New York” in a way that clashes. It’s funny – I really liked the song when I heard the soundtrack before the film was released, but it’s just a little over the top on the screen.

One last compliment I have is for the animal “comedic relief” in the film, warhorse Maximus and Rapunzel’s pet chameleon, Pascal. In modern era Disney films, wacky animal sidekicks are best when they’re limited to silent pantomime – witness Flit and Meeko in Pocahontas. Rapunzel builds on this tradition by keeping its animals silent, and it really works well.

It’s been a rough decade for fans of Disney animation, and it’s nice to see it end on a high note with Tangled. Much of the studio’s future remains in doubt, but if they continue to produce work of this caliber, hopefully they’ll start to receive the respect and independence they deserve. There are definite nits to pick with the film – many are probably vestiges of its long development, and there’s a particularly egregious deux ex machina towards the end, that should have been finessed in some other fashion, but the long story short is that overall it’s a fun, enjoyable, extremely pleasant film and that’s too often a rarity anymore.

The Discs

Released March 29, 2011 – Rated PG – 100 minutes
Four-Disc Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo – $49.99
Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo – $39.99
Single-Disc DVD – $29.99

The increasingly onerous Disney release model steps up to the plate once more with three different versions of the film available for purchase: DVD, Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo, and Four-Disc Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo. The insanity of this scheme can be seen in the fact that if you buy the most expensive iteration, you’re getting the exact same film on four separate discs in four separate formats, with hardly an extra between them. That’s insanity.

Video & Audio

The film looks great, whether on Blu-ray or DVD, in 1.78:1 Widescreen. The Blu-ray features DTS-HD 7.1 surround audio, while the DVD comes in Dolby Digital 5.1.

Bonus Materials

Here, again, is where the release falls apart. Most of this material is promotional stuff that was released online before the film’s release, and I’m kind of baffled as to why this film didn’t get the respect it deserved. Maybe because it doesn’t feature a jumping lamp?

As usual, DVD viewers get the worst of it; the few extras included on the DVD release are marked with an asterisk below.

Features

  • Deleted Scenes – Three brief deleted scenes are included in storyboard form, with introductions by the film’s directors. They hint at story elements that were cut from the final film.
  • Storybook Openings * – Two takes on a traditional “storybook” opening considered for the film. I wish they had used this conceit, but the information they convey is pretty similar to that contained in the actual film’s introduction. Again, the filmmakers appear to frame the clips – too bad the camerawork is really obnoxious…
  • 50th Animated Feature Countdown * – This clip, released online before the film’s release, runs through each of the now-canonical Disney animated features starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and ending with Tangled. At some point in recent years, it’s been decided to shoehorn 2000′s Dinosaur into the canon, even though it was not a product of Walt Disney Feature Animation. But this revisionist history allows Tangled to become Disney’s 50th animated feature, hence this montage.
  • Extended Songs – Two slightly longer versions of songs from the film are presented via rough, unfinished animation.
  • Untangled: The Making of a Fairy Tale – This is what amounts to the “making of” feature for this release, and needless to say it does not get the job done. Distilling ten years of development into its 12-minute running time would be impossible, but that brevity is made worse by the fact that much time is spent re-hashing the previous 49 Disney features as well as dabbling in other trivia. In fact, this piece feels more like a bunch of promotional web shorts spliced together. The one saving grace are the hosts – Mandy Moore and Zach Levi – who are extremely likable people and come off as charming despite the weakly-scripted material. With these two highly affable hosts, the making-of special could have been exceedingly enjoyable. Instead, it’s just a waste.
  • Promotional Films – The disc does not include the film’s trailers, but it does include nine promotional videos that were produced for television and the web. These are actually pretty funny; some are styled as infomercial-type ads for items from the film, and manage to be contemporary without reflecting poorly on the film.

In Summary…

It’s always great to go see an animated film that pushes all the buttons with success, and it’s especially rewarding to see Disney do well. If you missed this in theaters you need to ignore the advertising and check it out; while Disney’s home video department should be ashamed of the shabby treatment it hahs given the title, the film is still fantastic despite the disc’s lack of extras. Highly recommended.

Click to buy on Single-Disc DVD, Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo, and Four-Disc Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo

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