"This is the story of how I died."Flynn Rider, Tangled (2010)
Yes, they pulled an American Beauty.
It's a testament to the timeless charm of Walt Disney's name and the kingdom he wrought that my screening of Rapunzel played to an almost full house on a Thursday at 3:50 pm in the afternoon to a mostly adult and teen crowd. Yes, I shall refer to Disney Studio's latest entry - the 50th animated feature in their Walt Disney's Animated Classics series, by the way - by its rightful title for the rest of this write-up. All things in the cosmos by their proper names, I say. Besides, no one I know actually calls it ugh, Tangled. That made me vomit in my mouth a little. Did you know that the effort at re-branding was to downplay the fairytale, Disney-princessy aspects of the film in hopes of baiting more boys into seeing it? And the uh, like totally radical promotion angle was purposed to draw in the Hannah Montana slash High School Musical teens and preteens? Epic marketing fail.
Fortunately, none of the marketing ploys accurately represented Rapunzel. It's not a teen romance comedy. It's not filled with pop-songs - it's actually a traditional musical in the vein of the Disney greats. And Rapunzel's hair is not prehensile.
Rapunzel is suppose to be Disney's last fairytale-based film in the foreseeable future, so this might be the last one we'll ever get from the Magic Kingdom. While I don't think it's comparable to the truly beloved classics like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, I consider it a memorable entry into the canon. I certainly liked it better than last year's The Princess and the Frog. Before you ask, I'll say yes. Yes, they had taken liberties with the original Grimm Brothers' story the same way they did with most of their other adaptations (did you know in the original Hans Christian Andersen's tale, the Little Mermaid lost her prince to a rival princess, attempted to murder him and ultimately turned into foam at sea?). There's even a word for what they do. It's "Disneyfication". Considering that the original Rapunzel lore had the eponymous magnificently-tressed heroine knocked up and the prince had his eyes put out gorily by thorns, it's an understandable undertaking.
So, in Disney's Rapunzel, Rapunzel's mother was a queen instead of some serf's wife and instead of a pregnant woman's weird craving for some witch-grown vegetables kicking off the whole shebang, the pregnant queen was ill and needed a magical flower which was magically created by a sunbeam hitting the ground - and whoever sings a song to it can activate it's miraculous healing powerz. Okay, you get the idea. It's pretty much a whole different story with a scattering of little nods to the original in it. The central plot deals with Rapunzel, who had been "grounded like... FOREVER" wanting to go out and see the outside world. Mother Gothel, Rapunzel's captor and ersatz mother, did not let her. There are shades of an underlying theme about overprotective parenthood which I wished had been explored further; we would have ended up with a far more complex and interesting villain. What if the witch really started loving Rapunzel as if she's her real daughter? A missed opportunity if there ever was one.
In the opening narration, Flynn Rider (the roguishly handsome thief who replaced the prince character) told us that this is a story of how he died. Since this is a Disney flick, I safely assumed that that will not be a permanent deal. In fact, after picking up a few more plot points in the first um, ten minutes of the film, you can pretty much triangulate how everything will resolve into a beautiful happily ever after. You can assume that Rapunzel will escape the tower forever, that she will be reunited with her real and royal parents, and that she will marry Flynn. That's the hazard of watching a Disney film, I suppose - but an assumption, as Samuel L. Jackson will tell you, makes an ass out of you and umption. The plot turned out to be just ever so slightly more interesting than what I assumed. There's a very, very brief point in the film when I was (gasp) actually unsure of how it will end, and that's more than what I can say for every single Disney film I have watched before now.
Rapunzel is in my opinion, the most attractive of all the Disney princesses thus far. Maybe it's her sunny, perky, almost goofy disposition, her huge green eyes and her adorable slight overbite. Maybe it's her barely-there smattering of freckles on her nose, visible in a precious few closeups. Maybe, it's 'cause she's voiced by Mandy Moore, whom I am inexplicably fond of. I don't know. But what I do know is that her divine mile-long golden locks were gorgeously animated. And she's funny. Did I mention she's funny? The first few minutes after she escaped from her tower were some of the funniest scenes I'd ever seen in a film in many years.
And Flynn Rider is designed to get the oestrogen pumping. No, I'm serious. He's literally designed with that purpose in mind. I read that the artists had all the staff members list all the celebrities which they thought were hunkiest and pretty much made a composite out of their answers. He gets the best, most hilarious lines. He has a lady-killing smoulder. He buckles swashes. He has a cute goatee. I haven't talked to my girlfriend yet - she just saw the film - but I suspect that she's already so in love with Flynn that she's practically pregnant with his twins.
The best thing about Rapunzel is the animation, hands down. Of all the animated film which debuted this year, I think it looked best. When they talked about non-gimmicky 3D which adds depth to the viewing experience, I'm sure Rapunzel is close to what they had in mind. The scenery design was breathtaking and I swear I've never seen colours so alive, so lush. The scene with a million Kongming lanterns taking flight into the night sky over the city by the lake which they spent the better part of the film building up to - that was magical. There's no better word for it. While I was watching it, I found myself holding my breath while my skin raised goose pimples from the sheer chill of being blown away.
Would I call Rapunzel Disney's return to form after more than a decade's drought of wonders? Yes, I dare think I do.
P.S. Oh dear, I can't believe I didn't talk about the songs! They were pretty forgettable. The villain song, Mother Knows Best was pretty good though, and the reprise was electrifying. And so was Rapunzel's little magic song.
P.P.S. Ron Perlman!
P.P.P.S. My thoughts on spoilery stuff here. Highlight within brackets to illuminate: [I just knew that Rapunzel's hair would be cut at some point, but the circumstances surrounding that event caught me completely by surprise and the implication of Flynn's act was genuinely touching. Good show. Immediately after that, I had a split second doubt that Flynn would survive - I couldn't see how. Cue deus ex machina magical healing tears. This bit apparently came from the original fairytale though. And I really dug how Rapunzel looked with short, brown hair.]
Climbed the golden stair,
k0k s3n w4i