Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Title: Tangled
Produced by:  Walt Disney
Release date: 2010

So, when I was growing up I was pretty much obsessed with fairy-tales (which nicely foreshadowed my adult addiction to speculative fiction). One of my favorite fairy-tales of all time was Rapunzel. I couldn't really say why, in retrospect, but I loved this story. And when I was a child I really, really wanted Disney to make a movie of this story. So, when I belatedly realized as an adult that this childhood desire had finally come to pass, I immediately tracked down the film. (I say immediately, I was only two years late, after all!)

Tangled is Disney's adaptation of the Rapunzel story. For the first third of the film, I was largely underwhelmed. The film begin with Rapunzel's mother extremely pregnant and deathly ill. The witch, by contrast, apparently has some magical flower that keeps her eternally young and beautiful (a primary goal of most witches ). Well, word of this flower's existence reaches the king (did I mention that, in this version of the story Rapunzel's parents are royalty?) and soldiers march out to collect the flower. It's taken. The Queen lives. Either the King doesn't realize that the flower belongs to the witch, or decides not to compensate her for her loss because, well, he is the King (so maybe all the land, and the flowers, really belong to him. I don't know). The witch has lost her flower, but somehow discerns that its magical healing properties have been transferred to the Queen's fetus, and so steals Rapunzel away from her royal family in the middle of the night. It's only fair, the flower did belong to the witch, after all. And now, apparently, Rapunzel possesses the essence of the flower, so now that essence probably belongs to the witch, too. Unfortunately, the essence now comes in a baby-package and has to be cared for and raised. Longevity has become pretty taxing. I almost feel sorry for the witch.

And I'm confused about this passing of the flower-essence. Is Rapunzel going to keep aging? She certainly turns from a fetus to a baby and to an adolescent, so she looks like she's aging. What happens to the flower essence when Rapunzel dies? Maybe it gets passed onto her kids?

I know, I know, I'm over-thinking it. Anyway, it's not exactly like the original fairy-tale of Rapunzel was a shining example of air-tight story-telling, or logical thought process. This retelling of the Rapunzel story has a lot of bonuses over the fairy-tale that I loved as a child. For one, the reason behind the witch's desire for the child is clear. For another, the reason behind the witch's desire to lock Rapunzel up in a tower is also clearly explained. Rapunzel is essentially a walking, talking fountain of youth here. She's a rare commodity. So of course you'd want to protect her from thieves once you've rightfully stolen her.

If you don't know the opening of the original Rapunzel story, here is the version I knew as a kid: Rapunzel's pregnant mom gets a strong craving for radishes and feels like she will die without them. This is usually played up as an extreme case of odd pregnancy cravings. So, Rapunzel's dad sees a bunch of really good looking radishes in a garden. He thinks of his poor wife (and his own apparent incompetency as a farmer), and he hops the fence into this garden and steals a pile of radishes. But, in addition to being a poor farmer, he's also a poor thief, and he gets busted by the witch (who owns the garden). She says he can have the radishes if he give her his first born child. (because baddies in fairy-tales always want first-born kids, that's why.) He agrees, and takes the radishes home. When Rapunzel is born, the witch shows up, and dad has to explain to mom where those radishes came from all those months before. Then, having secured the first-born child, the witch locks her up in a tower. Why? I have no idea. Given my experience of fairy-tales, I sort of expected the witch to eat her. Maybe she's saving her for later, okay?

Compare the two intros:

Downside to the original: there is no explanation as to why the witch would want this kid, other than the typical fairy-tale assumption that witches are always out to get babies. (get babies and retain their own youth, do fairy-tale witches know something we don't?) It's also not clear why the witch would lock this kid up, since her parents are peasants and probably aren't going to come storming her house with an army demanding the return of their child anytime soon. Disney's version has the original beat here.

Upsides to the original: Simply put, it's funnier. I enjoyed imagining the scene where the desperate father makes a reckless bargain with the witch to satisfy his wife's cravings. It illustrates that parents can make mistakes too, and avoids any gooey reunion between a parent and long-lost daughter. (Oh come on, you knew that was coming in the Disney film. That doesn't count as a spoiler.) In addition, Rapunzel has the distinction of being a fairy-tale heroine who isn't a princess. She's just the daughter of peasants. That's pretty rare.

So, I was a bit upset with Disney for altering Rapunzel's back-story so drastically such that she becomes a princess, and her parents never made the bargain to give her away to the witch. But these complaints are just the bickering of someone who loved the original. If you didn't love it, or don't remember it, these points won't matter.

Points that might affect your enjoyment of the film:

The hero, Flynn Ryder, is hilarious. Just as Rapunzel has morphed into a princess from a peasant, the prince from the original story has morphed into a con-artist thief. He's an entertaining character and given some brilliant lines. There is also a pretty funny horse who seems to think he is a dog (seriously, a horse that tracks like a blood-hound with his bum in the air and his nose to the ground, priceless). Rapunzel herself is a bit too sugary sweet, (and is even dressed in a pale pink dress with puffed sleeves) but that's mostly easy to overlook. So the hero and horse-dog held my attention and were good for several laughs throughout the film. The other characters in the film were mainly forgettable, but not annoying.

While I gave Disney credit for taking a mostly nonsensical opening to the fairy-tale and updating it so that its actually coherent, this coherence doesn't carry through for the rest of the plot. At one point a bunch of blood-thirsty thieves are all turned into sappy do-gooders based on nothing more that Rapunzel's sugary-sweet presence and a sub-par song. Later in the film, these reformed thieves just happen to show up at the right time to save our hero, though the explanation for why they were able to do this is a bit fuzzy. Wait, actually it's non-existent.

Like most of Disney's film adaptations of fairy-tales, this is a musical. The music is pretty bad, but probably no worse that most of the other films. So if other Disney musical scores didn't annoy you, this one probably won't either. It seems to me to be less imaginative than some of their other musical efforts, but it's fine.

Rapunzel's hair was awesome in this film. I loved it. It essentially dominates pretty much any scene it's in.

Don't read this if you plan to see the film. Skip to the next paragraph now. . .
Okay, if you are still reading, here's where I got upset again. In line with the original Rapunzel story, the witch in this story is killed. What's odd to me is that she's also raised Rapunzel to think of her as a mother. So, essentially, Rapunzel's mother is killed, and Rapunzel is present to see it. But she gets over this pretty quickly, without really shedding any tears. I suppose finding out that you're a princess helps you deal with things like your dead mom. The film spent a lot of time illustrating the bond between Rapunzel and her 'mom,' so I found this hard to believe. Again, I'm over-thinking it. But I wasn't alone in the crowd of people I watched this with in raising an eyebrow when Rapunzel tears up a bit, and then in the next scene is fine.

Overall, I was amused. I think the thing that put me off the most was the music, and the need to transform Rapunzel into a princess. These factors were mostly offset by the hero and the horse-dog. Yes, I found the resolution a bit odd, the heroine a bit sickly-sweet, and the music a bit bland, but this is a Disney film intended for kids. I think kids would enjoy it, based on the hair, Flynn Ryder and and the horse-dog, if nothing else.

1 comment:

  1. I love Disney horses so much. They completely steal the show in every film they're in. Bird brained Pegasus, Rapunzel dog-horse, NO CARROTS! - love them!

    I enjoyed this film, but I did think it had issues, many of which you pinpointed. My biggest disappointment was that the witch was not used as a sympathetic character. It would have been more interesting if she'd initially stolen Rapunzel for the whole eternal youth thing, but then fallen in love with her as her own daughter and so kept her locked up because she was terrified of losing her. I suppose this could have been too morally complex for a Disney children's cartoon, but it still felt like a missed opportunity to me.

    Agree with you about the princess thing too.

    Nice review! :)