“Tangled” is Disney’s best animated movie in more than a decade. And the use of 3D in “Tangled” is so subliminally visually dynamic that the movie should be used as a standard for all others. It may be the most consistently effective use of 3D to date in a mainstream movie.
Disney appears to be set up to have two of the three most popular movies of the holiday season beginning with “Tangled” on Nov. 24, which will likely remain a favorite for kids and families right through the Christmas/New Year holidays, as “Tron: Legacy” makes it a Disney duet starting Dec. 17.
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The studio’s take on the classic Rapunzel fairy tale of a young maiden held captive by an evil woman for years alone in a tower until being found by a handsome young man is full of laughs and charm, especially in the first half. That’s when we meet Rapunzel (voiced delightfully by Mandy Moore) with absurdly long golden hair that is seemingly the length of a football field, and her obligatory Disney critter friend who is gratefully mute but hilariously expressive.
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Rapunzel’s unknowing suitor (voiced well by Zachary Levi, star of TV’s “Chuck”) is typically Disney-dashing but also an Aladdin-like rogue who is introduced with great humor amongst his thieving pals and a palace horse that nearly steals the show with Saturday-morning cartoon-like impossible movements and gestures (see video below). Shortly after stealing a crown belonging to a long-missing princess, the young burglar called Flynn Rider (interesting to give him the name of the character in Disney’s upcoming “Tron: Legacy”) has a first encounter with that missing princess Rapunzel and her frying pan that sizzles with inspired comedic moments.
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And, finally, someone has figured out how to use 3D to great effect in everything from these comedic scenes to the low angles of action sequences as well as the aerial shots above and swirling around waterfalls and palace towers. From the opening moments of the rather lengthy narrated set-up to the story, the Disney Digital 3D presented with the RealD system at last night’s screening in an AMC theater visually enhances and draws you into the movie. Even Rapunzel’s first footstep onto grass has added impact as her toes visibly sink into and behind blades of grass. There is almost never a moment throughout the entire production where the significant depth is not easily apparent — you’ll never be tempted to lift your glasses to see if there is much difference without them; it’s very clear. There is always something or someone prominently in the foreground separated by a great distance from objects or people in the background. And yet, the 3D is never a distraction and never feels like it’s a forced visual gimmick.
Perhaps it is easier to accomplish because it’s a digitally animated movie, but contrary to some who say it’s impossible or a distraction to create a convergence or focal point on more than one element of any shot, everything at every depth is almost always in equal focus no matter its depth in the frame.
Going in with low expectations based on trailers that made the movie look like just another irreverent, over-the-top, anachronistic spin on a familiar children’s yarn, I found that even though it was some of all of those things, I wound up being totally won over and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sure, the characters talk more like modern kids, and the filmmakers have given Rapunzel’s hair magical healing powers (in addition to her healing teardrop, in keeping with the stories of yore) and turned Rapunzel into a princess (of course, it’s Disney) — interestingly, they took away the young man’s Prince status of some of the original versions of the tale.
Although Alan Menken’s songs are serviceable and enjoyable enough, they feel a little familiar — especially the Ursula-like “Mother Knows Best” of Rapunzel’s evil eternal youth-obsessed Mother Gothel abductor and a Gaston-like number with a saloon full of thugs — and none of the songs instantly stick with you like those from the movies of Disney’s modern glory years in the 1990s such as “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” “Pocahontas,” “Mulan,” or “Tarzan.”
The only other quibble is that animators don’t seem to have been able to create convincing human skin, which looks rubbery and way too smooth here, especially in close-ups where there are no pores or wrinkles of any kind.
Although I also enjoyed Disney’s 2008 “Bolt” more than most and the 3D in the opening chase scene, after ten years of falling short of the Disney standard with ho-hum fare such as “Brother Bear,” “Home on the Range,” “Chicken Little,” “Meet the Robinsons,” and even the recent “The Princess and the Frog,” the newest 3D computer-animated movie puts the studio back on the map (no doubt with thanks to “Tangled” executive producer and Pixar founder John Lasseter).
“Tangled” is the best in-house Disney production, excluding Pixar movies distributed by Disney, since “Tarzan” in 1999.
— By Scott Hettrick