November 28, 2011


Tangled is the kind of Disney fairy tale adaption I usually wouldn't pay any attention to, but Orson Scott Card was totally right about How to Train Your Dragon (one of the best movies of the past decade) and so when he recommended Tangled, I figured I should give it a chance.

As it turns out, he was completely right twice.

Like all good Disney animated features, Tangled has more to say to the adults in the audience than the kids (don't tell the kids that). To be sure, there's plenty of low-brow slapstick involving conking people over the head with frying pans (which I found hilarious) and a horse that acts like a dog (even more hilarious).

The hero (Flynn Rider) and heroine (Rapunzel) are pretty much the same only—well, the same—except with humor, panache, and a keen insight into human nature. These elements come together in a bitingly funny psychoanalytic montage that has Rapunzel harboring second doubts about disobeying her wicked witch of a "mother."

And even the wicked witch is less "wicked" (well, kidnapping and murder aside) than vain, manipulative and self-centered, dysfunctions exhibited under the guise of being "overprotective." If nothing else, Tangled makes for a perfect parable about overparenting.

As Card points out, the climax also contains a perfect example of "eucatastrophe," Tolkien's word for the point in the plot when it is darkest before the dawn, and then redemption springs unexpectedly from utter loss. Or as Milton puts it, "All this good of evil shall produce."

Of course, this is basic, by-the-numbers monomyth stuff, following the classic narrative arc that Robert McKee goes on and on about. Except that sticking to the basics is what makes these stories not only last but often improve in the retelling, like old Neil Diamond songs that get covered by hip bands and take on a new life of their own.

(Consider "I'm a Believer" as a case in point. We now have Neil Diamond covering Smash Mouth covering Neil Diamond covering The Monkees performing a song written by Neil Diamond. It's all good!)

But what again confirmed for me that popular entertainment is the place to find true "artistic genius" is the comic relief, especially Max (the horse). This isn't an actor mugging for the camera, but the writer (Dan Fogelman) and artists dreaming up a bunch of vaudevillian routines and then drawing them (albeit digitally), a skill I truly envy.

These powers of imagination are a tad lacking at the beginning and end of Tangled. The story clunks along getting started—more in medias res would have helped—and stumbles a bit finding the right note to end on. But those are tiny criticisms when the other nine-tenths of the movie is so wonderful.

Labels: , , , ,

# posted by Blogger Th.
11/29/2011 10:54 AM   

I agree. A very pleasant surprise.
# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
12/17/2011 3:33 PM   
Just saw Tangled!

This is a charming movie. I agree that it comes down to the "nuances," as Flynn/Eugene would say. The princess is so adorably and humanly enthusiastic; Flynn is so completely dead-pan and resigned (and bowled over); Maxiumus . . . well, who doesn't love a dog-horse! ("He's a bad horse!")

The most gut-wrenching example of this human touch is a very brief scene right before the lamp lighting (and could anything be lovelier?!) when the king and queen face each other. The tired, pained expression on the king's face brought me to tears.

Speaking of which, I do wish the reunion at the end and the pay-off for Mother Gothel had been drawn out slightly more. Call me Freud but Rapunzel is going to be somewhat impacted by the disappearance of her 18+ years mother figure.

Still, the fan-fiction can take care of that.

I noted that John Lasseter was one of the producers. Is this guy solely responsible for keeping Walt Disney artistically viable in the last 15 years? Sure seems that way. I'd pretty much given up on regular Disney animation!

Last note with spoiler: The end impressed me. I pretty much had figured out what would happen (the set-ups are quite clear), but I wasn't prepared for the sequence of events. It is just gosh darn nice to see Disney allowing a hero to make a decision that saves the girl. Sure, she saves him back. But I honestly didn't expect Flynn to be allowed to make that choice. It was so . . . apolitically correct!