51 Days of Disney (Day 50): Tangled

Here we are, almost at the end of a long journey. At least this is a happy ending. I love Tangled movie with a passion, and it’s actually the movie I have currently seen the most in theatres with a record 6 times.

“This is the story of how I died. But don’t worry, this is actually a fun story and the truth is it isn’t even mine. This is the story of a girl named Rapunzel…”

Yes, those are the first lines of the film. Our hero, Flynn Rider, is also our narrator and he proceeds to tell us a variation on the Rapunzel faerie tale. A magical golden flower was born from a drop of sunlight that had the power to heal anyone. The queen of a kingdom was about to have a baby, but became terminally ill, so the king had everyone in the kingdom go out and look for the magic flower, but Mother Gothel hid the flower and hoarded it’s healing powers. Eventually, she messes up with the hiding of the flower and the palace guards find the flower and heal the queen. Rapunzel is born with a full head of golden hair and to celebrate her birth, the King and Queen launch a lantern into the sky, but Mother Gothel breaks into the castle and kidnaps the princess when she finds out that Rapunzel’s hair now holds the healing power. She tries to merely cut off a piece of Rapunzel’s hair, but that strand turns brown and loses it’s power. Mother Gothel locks Rapunzel in a tower and raises her there for 18 years as her daughter.

Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is, very understandably, bored with her life in the tower and for her birthday wants to go and see the floating lanterns that are released every year on her birthday. She asks Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) to let her go, but Gothel convinces her that the world is a dark and cruel place that will just want to use her for her hair. Meanwhile, Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) and the Stabbington Brothers (one of which is played by Ron Perlman) steal the princess’ crown from the castle and run off into the forest while being chased by the captain of the guards and his horse Maximus. Flynn betrays the Stabbingtons and steals the crown for himself. He eventually escapes the guards by running into a cave that just so happens to lead to Rapunzel’s tower. He climbs it and she knocks him out with a frying pan (a trend that will continue) and hides him in her wardrobe.

Eventually, after tying him up in her hair, Rapunzel convinces Flynn by hiding the crown and not telling him where it is to take her to see the lights, but as soon she gets out of the tower, she freaks out in a good and a bad way about leaving and Flynn tries to take advantage of this and get the crown and leave. Rapunzel holds her ground and the two set off on a journey full of adventure, action, and comedy all to accomplish their dreams.

The writing in the film is fantastic. The scene where Flynn is tied up in Rapunzel’s hair is brilliant considering the fact that throughout half of the scene, it seems like Flynn is more trying to pick her up than escape. Actually, most of the things that Flynn says are pretty hilarious. The same can be said regarding everything Pascal does, and he even has the odd distinction of being hilarious and adorable, but never annoying. The back and forth between happiness and sadness in the scene where Rapunzel is debating whether or not she should have left the tower is great from the sheer distinction of not only the emotions she is feeling, but also the constantly changing scenery and her realistic actions. Also, if I could swing by my hair around a tree, I totally would in a heart beat. The characters are very developed, which really helps you get involved in the fantastic story.

Easily the best scene in Tangled is the “Kingdom Dance” and “I See the Light” boat sequence. “Kingdom Dance” is great because it finally shows Rapunzel actually living a normal life and her and Flynn actually starting to connect in a romantic fashion, which comes to a head in “I See the Light.” It’s the love song/scene for the film, so emotions are already high, but that combined with the fact that the characters are so well developed in this film and the fact that the romance doesn’t really come right out of left field (like it did in Princess and the Frog), it really makes you get caught up in the beauty of the moment. When I first saw the film, I was geeking out heavily about that scene. It is easily one of the most beautiful scenes ever in an animated film, if not film in general. The color and lighting look amazing, and while that is actually something that can be said about the whole film, it goes doubly for this scene. The choice to keep the color palate limited to mostly violets, whites, yellows, and oranges really adds to the general warmth and romantic feelings of the scene.

The score was done by Alan Menken and the lyrics were done by Glen Slater. As stated above, the best scene in the film is the “Kingdom Dance” and “I See the Light” scene. Those are also the best score and song, respectively. My other personal favourite in the song department is “When Will my Life Begin” and it’s second reprise. Some of you are probably saying “But Ryan, there is only one reprise of that song” and you are only half right. The song ended up being cut from the film, along with part of “Mother Knows Best”, but can still be found on the soundtrack for the film. Alan Menken has said that he was going for a sound that sounded like a combination of 60’s folk rock and medieval music for the score and songs of the film, and you can definitely hear some folkiness in “When Will my Life Begin.” Finally, unlike Princess and the Frog and most of the musicals from the 90’s, there is a genuinely good song in the credits. I was never a fan of those soft rock covers of the big song from the film, and the song from Princess and the Frog didn’t even have any context within the film, but “Something That I Want” is both relevant and good. Of course, it doesn’t help that I really like Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (who did the song) and that the credit sequence just oozes charm.

Tangled was in production for around 6 years and went through numerous changes. It was originally conceived as Rapunzel Unbraided and from what I saw of the early production work, it sounded like the writers of Shrek tried to write a Disney film. It was going to be snarky and sarcastic, like a Dreamworks movie, and I am glad that it was rewritten when John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer. The film then became Rapunzel, but it was changed again when Princess and the Frog didn’t perform as amazingly at the box office as Disney thought it would (despite the fact that it more than made back it’s budget). The character of Flynn Rider was developed further and his role was expanded greatly to make him into one of the two main characters in the film along with Rapunzel. The film was made to be a bit more action packed and the title was changed to Tangled. Part of this was to make the film more appealing to boys, who Disney did not think would want to go see a Princess film, but it really seems to have made it into a better film.

The 6 years in production were not just used in changing the story and characters around, the film had a great amount of development behind it on the technological front. It’s John Lasseter’s belief that “art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art” and it is shown very well in the production of this film. Disney took on the challenge of creating an animated film in which the main character has 70 feet of hair, which presented an interesting problem for the Walt Disney Animation Studios. The two hardest things to animate in CG convincingly are people and hair, and Rapunzel is both human and has a mess of hair. Other studios would merely make the hair in sections and would animate each section, but this is Disney were talking about here. They’re not going to just take the easy way out, they are going to develop all new technology to convincingly animate and render her hair. They’re also going to throw away the photo-realistic rendering of other CG animated films and make Tangled look fresh and new. Glen Keane, who returned to the studio to animate Rapunzel, had the ambition of making the computer “bend its knee to the artist” instead of the other way around, having the computer dictate how the artistic style would look due to the limitations of the technology. The long development time of the film combined with the development of the new technology to create and render the hair, made Tangled the second most expensive film in the history of cinema and the most expensive animated film ever with a price tag of 260 million dollars, but it ended up grossing around 591 million dollars in the box office.

Along with the amazing animation, Tangled has some amazing lighting. It should considering the fact that there were around 30 people that almost only worked on the lighting for the film. The lighting is very impressive and is actually able to display various different kinds of light from different sources convincingly. The lighting is the best during “I See the Light” with sources of light coming from millions of different light sources and various colors of light.

The artistic style was made to resemble traditional oil paintings of the Rococo era like the work of Jean-Honore Fragonard. The art direction team mostly used his famous painting, the Swing, as their major reference for the particular art style they were going for. The film also used the art of Claire Keane, Glenn Keane’s daughter, as both concept art and as the paintings that Rapunzel painted throughout the film. Her paintings can best be described as whimsical, with bright and vibrant colors, an over-simplified style that is somehow also extremely detailed and is highly expressive. It’s very reminiscent of Mary Blair’s distinctive style, but still very different. What I find to be very bizzarre is that her paintings are like Mary Blair’s, but her drawings are very similar to her father’s drawings. Their style is scarily similar to one another, but that is to be expected slightly if your father becomes a source of inspiration. An interesting little tidbit is that Glen Keane based the character of Rapunzel off of Claire. So all of it comes full circle.

Here are some other little tidbits about the film. In the scene when Rapunzel is in the nursery, look at her mobile, all of the things on the mobile are relevant to the story. There’s a horse for Maximus, a duckling for the Snuggly Duckling, a cupid for the old thug, a chameleon for Pascal, and a blue bird which can be seen when she first leaves the tower. The scene with the toddler Rapunzel was originally not in the film, it was added when the animators saw the Baby Rapunzel doll for the Disney Store and loved the design.

Tangled is really the return to the Renaissance that Disney was looking for. The Princess and the Frog was fantastic, and it was almost there, but not quite where it needed to be. Tangled has a fantastic story with well developed characters, another good Alan Menken score with memorable songs, and some of the best animation to grace the studio. It’s a modern masterpiece and easily stands up against some of the best films in the canon.

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