Tangled (Greno & Howard, 2010)


Flynn and Rapunzel

Tangled started with two strikes against it in my book: I don’t like 3D, and I had some reservations that the central conflict could reinforce natural adolescent notions that parents really are evil rather than just mean and that maturity means rebellion.

As long as I’m using baseball metaphors, though, I feel constrained to say that home runs hit with two strikes count the same as home runs that leave the park on the first swing.

Three things sold me on this movie:

1) I was sitting next to a kid who looked about ten years old during the advanced screening. He laughed out loud several times. He reached his hand out to try to touch the floating lights. He emoted as the film reached a climax. When I asked him after the screening what his favorite part of the film was, he responded “all of it.” ¬†One might object that there is a different between enjoying the film and enjoying someone else’s enjoyment, and that is true. The boy sitting next to me wasn’t anyone I knew, and I had nothing invested in his pleasure. He was just a reminder to experience the film first as an entertainment and only second as an object of cultural criticism.

2) I like the heroine. I like her emerging character. Within the first third of the film Rapunzel is lied to and basically imprisoned. This provides a structural problem in that she is too passive and too perfect. In the most effective children’s films there is, I think, an element of bildungsroman. Part of maturity means not merely overcoming the obstacle and completing the task but also overcoming oneself. Since Rapunzel is victimized, her dawning awareness lacks a moral component. It is a move from ignorance to knowledge rather than from immaturity to maturity. Yet in the second and third act, once Rapunzel descends from the tower, she does have to make choices, and I was able to root for her because she was good, not just because she was surrounded by evil. (Also, the traditional maturation through reform happens in the character of Flynn Ryder. It is nice to see a film in which virtue and flaws are not quite so rigidly gendered, where each part of the couple grows and grows better rather than just having one save or reform the other.)

3) Max the horse steals the shows. I confess I’m tired of the post-Aladdin tendency to have wild, over-the-top sidekicks that are constantly mugging for attention. Max has a personality but he is blissfully mute, allowing the humans to be the center of the story while still being surrounded by a world full of others than can interact with them without slowing the momentum of the story.

There are plenty of nits to pick if one is predisposed to be down on the film. The music, despite Alan Menken’s participation, feels thin, with the most effective song being given to the villain. An interlude at a tavern feels a bit forced, and the true parents are not really developed at all, robbing the quest of some of its power. Even so, the emotional payoff was pretty high (for me) and earned. The story felt as though it developed logically, and I was taken by surprise at the climactic moment–evidence of the fact that I was engaged enough to just follow the story rather than always being three steps ahead of it. I felt like the best of the design elements were all centered upon Rapunzel’s hair and that the forest setting and scenes at court looked strangely muted. (I’m not sure if this had to do with the color palette of the film, with all its earth tones, or the dimming effect of the 3D glasses.)

There I go, again, though, giving vent to my ananalytical nits while downplaying my experiential pleasure. Disney post-renaissance has always been a bit of a victim of its own success. We tend to judge each new feature against our all-time favorites (I’m partial to Beauty and the Beast) and anything not on an all-time great level is looked at as a failure. Compare a film like Tangled to Shrek or Kung Fu Panda, however, and I suddenly feel much more charitable.

Rightly or wrong, the Disney film because of its historic branding, always has a target on its back. With the rise of VHS and now DVD, we tend to scrutinize these films before we even watch them, because we fear that their primary consumers will watch them over and over and over and over. I’m not saying it is wrong to think about the cultural work that these films do, just that its unfortunate that it feels as though there is less and less time to enjoy them as films first.

I’m not the target demographic. I don’t have kids. But I kinda, sorta, wish I did so that I had an excuse to go see it again.

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