Wednesday, November 24, 2010


There's a reason I, as a straight male, own a copy of Sleeping Beauty on Blu-Ray.

I am an animation nerd. It's a bit natural, actually. I fancy myself a mediocre cartoonist so it just goes hand in hand with an appreciation for the art form. One of the sad things about the last ten years has been the abject abandoning of the traditional animated feature. Sure, there was The Princess and the Frog, but unless Disney shows me otherwise (and I don't just mean the new Winnie the Pooh that goes back to the well), I'm tending to think of it as a throwback fluke to show that it could still be done. So when I learned that Disney was attempting to create a computer-animated film that tried to retain the look of a 2D feature, I took notice. I felt I needed to check it out and see what the result was, if only for the sake of morbid curiosity. Were they successful? Well, yes and no. But almost all yes.

The characters in the film sometimes retain that common computer plasticity to them when it comes to their skin. On rare occasion, they even seem to be a bit doll-like. However, while the trend in CGI toons seems to make them as grotesque and hard to look at as possible (Mosters Vs. Aliens and Disney's own A Christmas Carol to name a couple), the characters in Tangled are fantastically designed to look like they truly belong in a classic Disney film. Even more impressive is the exquisite facial work that often presents itself in Repunzal herself, the subtle deadpan of her prerequisite animal sidekick Pascal and the film's standout character, the horse Maximus. In fact, it's Maximus that shows just how leaps-and-bounds the film's character animation is over that of a standard computer film. He looks like someone animated him with a pencil and then painted 3D over it. It's outstanding.

He also is probably the most easily distinguished example in the film of how the animators have managed to take a dramatic step forward in something that until now has been utterly disappointing; physical comedy in CGI films. Hand drawn animation has always had one distinct advantage over three dimensional animation in it's ability to use squash and stretch. Films like Meet the Robinsons, Cloudy with a Chance at Meatballs and the new Road Runner shorts produced by Warner Bros. are all films that have tried to incorporate large amounts of traditional cartoony physical comedy and all have failed to one degree or another because they simply haven't been able to reproduce something unique in the artform. But with Tangled, there is finally a film that's succeeded.

Admittedly, the visuals and the technical achievements overshadowed a lot of the other parts of the film for me. I've never been huge on musicals and while there's a musical setpiece or two that I particularly enjoyed, it's not the type of wowing that happened during the Mouse's do-know-wrong period of the early 90s. The voice acting is very well-done. Zachary Levi of Chuck definitely steals the show in this regard with his excellent comedic delivery. Of the actresses trying to be singers and singers trying to be actresses, Mandy Moore has been the clear standout to me, so her presence is more than adequate for the princess. The animal sidekicks aren't overdone and manage to display a lot of personality while still maintaining their non-human charm. Frankly, as far as the film itself goes, it is simple, straightforward and just plain good. It's a definite throwback to the princess films of yesteryear and in a good way. It makes sense that this was Walt's 50th film because it's so representative to the formula that his artists perfected.

One note about the 3D itself, it is utilized well in the film. While most of it will translate just fine if you decide to save a buck or two on the glasses, there is a scene about three quarters of the way through that takes the format and squeezes it for what it's worth, not by wowing with spectacle, but using it to bring focus. It's a moment that likely won't have the same impact when you're watching the film at home for the hundredth time with your kids, so don't feel bad shelling out for it.