April 20, 2011

THINGS I LIKE: TANGLED


I most readily admit that over the past years, I had become very disillusioned with anything that came from Disney, but especially those things that they called "animation". For they were mostly lifeless, bloodless, emotionsless executions in digital perfection, very much like the movies produced by Universal or Fox and Dreamworks.

I call that the Shrek factor. And I admit, I hate Shrek. While there were some splatters of brilliance in Jeffrey Katzenberg's otherwise mean-spirited, blatant rip-off of every single myth in the Grimm playbook, some of them having to do with the mixture of modern pop music to otherwise irrelevant scenes, as movies the Shrek "franchise" (god, there is another word I just hate) are the equivalent of being anally raped with a hot poker. Not just once, but four times.

Disney had followed those models, and even though I did like The Princess and the Frog for its attempt, at the very least, to be more inclusive in modern mythology, to specifically make one of the Disney heroines a black girl, overall that movie fell flat for me as well. Instead of not bring up the fact that the heroine was black, they made a whole thing about it, making it the animated version of a Tyler Perry movie, pretending to be jubilant about black culture by putting the story into the same ghetto black culture has been put in for decades. Oh, look! Vodoo! Oh look! Jazz! Oh look, the girl is a waitress with the dream of owning a restaurant!

Just painful, that was. My friend and often collaborator Edo Fuijkschot disagrees with me on that, vehemently, I might add. He may have a point, but then again, he loves Jazz and Bluegrass music as much as I hate them, so even on that point we are going to be worlds apart.

I have often felt that the last good Disney movies were the ones made in the early Nineties, I call them the Menken trilogy. They include The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. All of them beautiful takes on old fairy tales (and no, Disney, that doesn't mean you own those tales, so whenever your asshole lawayers are running around and tell others, this shit is ours now, no, it isn't, so shut the fuck up, okay?)

All three of these Menken movies had something that set them apart. All three had no fear of bringing forth female characters that were different, were outsiders, even Jasmine in the take on Arabian Nights's stories is a relatively strong woman who doesn't take "no" for an answer.

Nothing that came after those three, and yes, I include the absolute stolenbullshit that is called The Lion King among them, even came close to those three movies.

So it was with quite some trepidation that I approached Tangled.

And for the first time since those early Nineties I was not disappointed. It was light and breezy on the surface, that movie was, and one may be allowed to criticize Rapunzel for approaching a bit too much the way of the Valley Girl, but she is headstrong and what is more important, she has wonderful scenes that condense exactly how a girl growing up today must feel.

The brilliant, incredibly fast intercutting of her after leaving the tower for the first time, literally swinging from incredible high to deepest emotional lows is not only breathtaking, it does what no other Disney movie has been able to achieve in years and year: it rings true.

From "Best. Day. Ever." to "I am a horrible person", these scenes, no, these little moments do more to describe this state of mind than any big drama ever could.

Make no mistake, this is a movie about growing up and literally leaving the nest, especially since Mother Gothel has rightfully taken her place in the line of great Disney villains, bot as the over-protective, smothering mother and in her incarnation of the selfish bitch, who literally wants to live her life through her daughter.

And isn't that something that - especially in the United States - so many teens can identify with, both coddled and pushed by their parents to become a sports star, a beauty queen, a pop star,becoming everything that their parents have failed to achieve, under the mask of "I am only doing this for your own sake, in your best interest? Mommy knows best"...?

Tangled tears off that mask, and it is on that level it connects best with the audience. It is that which is the heart and soul of a story that otherwise could have easily becoming dry and strained, you know, like bad hair (come on, you know there needed to be at least one hair joke in this here, right?)

The male lead is also much more of a rounded character than most of the "princes" that have otherwise populated the Disney versions of fairy tales. Somewhere between boy group and selfish jerk, he does however continue the myth that underneath every asshole you'll meet is basically a nice guy. Let me tell my female readers, that is not the case in real life. But in this, it makes for a good story.

The songs by Menken for the most part sparkle, especially the "I have a dream" set in the tavern, where with the tiniest brushstrokes, you have a whole universe of ruffians and thugs who actually dream of being normal. It recalls some of the earlier scenes in Beauty, only to invert it in a subversive way, stating quite clearly that it is the "good people" you should be afraid of, like Mommy Dearest, and not necessarily the ones who look freaky or weird.

All of it works well together, and the action set pieces - however much they own to Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as Disney's Tarzan (watch for the way Flynn Rider does the slide and put it up next to Tarzan doing the same in the jungle scenes, you'll see they re-used the camera models as well as the way the character moves) - are mostly effective. Especially the escape by Flynn Rider from the castle at the very end, which brings me to the best thing about the movie. Also, in that sequence, watch for that reference to Transformers. It is easy to spot.

But here's what I mean about the best thing of the movie. The name is Maximus. He's a horse. But the brilliance here is that Maximus is not played like a horse. He's played like a dog, down to him sniffing for Rider throughout most of the movie and reacting to Rapunzel calling him a "good boy" in exactly the same way a dog would. It is just one detail, but that detail changes what otherwise would have been a stock character into something with personality that leaves the predictability of the Disney realm and almost enters the territory of old Warner Bros cartoons, which are more much zany and chaotic.

Best. Horse. Ever.

Just for that, Tangled will have a special place in my heart forever.