Another crowning glory for the Disney formula ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Another crowning glory for the Disney formula

Rapunzel: A Tangled Tale
My rating:

I gave The Princess and the Frog 4 stars, but rereading what I wrote a year ago, I find the tone of my review incongruously lukewarm. Did I over-rate it, or was I too harsh on it once the time came to sit butt on chair and pound out another review? Hmm, 'tis a quandary. In any case, here is the next Walt Disney animated movie - their 50th, incidentally - and it is in many ways as much a return to the old-school Disney formula as the last one. Spunky heroine, cute animal sidekicks, dashing hero, romance, songs, scary villain, and all based on yet another classic fairy tale. Didn't I say a year ago that I had doubts how much more could be wrung out of this same old same old?

O me of little faith. I never should've doubted Disney - not now that they have John Lasseter at their helm.

A baby girl with beautiful golden hair was born to a king and queen. Her hair had the magical ability to heal all illnesses - and so a witch named Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) kidnapped her, craving her youth-giving magic. The girl, now named Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), grew up believing that Gothel is her mother and has lived in a lonely tower all her life, with no friends except a pet chameleon named Pascal. About to turn 18, she yearns to leave her home-cum-prison, and one day her chance arrives in the form of a thief and rogue named Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi). She strikes a bargain with him to be her guide to the outside world, not knowing that he is wanted by the kingdom's palace guard - and a palace guard horse named Maximus - as well as the Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman), his cohorts in crime. And Gothel herself is not about to let her golden-haired goose get away.

It's even more formulaically Disney than The Princess and the Frog. That one at least took place in a more-or-less real-world period New Orleans, and had an ordinary working-class heroine. This one has an actual princess of a generic nameless fairytale kingdom, the kind that films like Enchanted and the Shrek series had a field day parodying; yet it all seems comforting and familiar instead of tired and clichéd. And it's funny, thrilling, heartwarming, poignant, beautifully animated, and terrifically entertaining - everything a Disney animated film should be and has always been.

It does do a couple of new things with the formula though. Chief amongst them is its updating of the Rapunzel story and making it about a domineering mother and an overprotected daughter - which is an obvious approach for a story about a girl who's lived her entire life locked up in a tower. A lot of the Rapunzel-Gothel scenes are uncomfortably close to real-life accounts of child abuse; you get the impression that Gothel's emotional manipulation and passive-aggressive putdowns are things that many a young girl has received from her mother. Perhaps the movie oversimplifies the issue by turning Gothel into an irredeemable villain who thoroughly deserves her eventual comeuppance - but she was a uniquely, deliciously twisted villain while it lasted.

And then there are the numerous little jokes that seem to poke fun at the formula. Am I the only one who thinks the "I've Got a Dream" song sequence is a parody of the typical "I want" song found in pretty much every single Disney animated film? Yes, there's an "I want" song in this one too ("When Will My Life Begin"), as well as a villain song and a falling-in-love song, but if the movie doesn't subvert clichés, as least it makes efforts to cleverly hang lampshades on them. It's also neat that its hero is a none-too-goody Han Solo-type rogue instead of a bland prince, and that its cute animal sidekicks have personalities on top of just being cute. (And funny. Both Pascal and Maximus get some killer gags.)

But what makes it better than even The Princess and the Frog - which it is, even though they share the same 4-star rating - is how emotionally affecting it is. Halfway through I was beginning to think the Rapunzel-Flynn romance isn't going anywhere, and that they'd have to resort to a montage (an easy shortcut for, well, basically anything) or something. Then the ending came around, and damned if I didn't get more than a little teary-eyed. I think it's because the characters are so well-established, that even if their relationships are broad and formulaic, it still works. Rapunzel is recognizably a teenage girl - gawky, excitable, and full of wonder at being able to finally explore the outside world. I'd put her up there amongst the most lovable of the Disney heroines.

Did you know this is the 2nd most expensive film ever made? It cost $260 million, but every dollar is up there in stunning visual design and animation. And it looks like the gamble paid off; it did very well at the box office even against Harry Potter. I was sorry to hear that The Princess and the Frog was financially disappointing, and that this film was radically reworked because of that. Hence the puzzling title (which gives the impression that it's meant to kick off a whole Rapunzel film franchise) - in the U.S. it's called Tangled, to make it sound less girly. No matter. They can market their movies however they like, as long as they keep making 'em - although sadly, they have announced that this will be the last of their fairy tale-based films. They needn't worry. The formula still works.

NEXT REVIEW: Ngangkung
Expectations: Shaheizy Sam FTW?


McGarmott said...

The Social Network leh?

TMBF said...

@McGarmott: Just watched it. Was great. Review on the way.