Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
– Dylan Thomas
Tangled is the 50th animated feature presented by Disney, but as this significant milestone, it is a disappointing one. Insistently conceived and storyboarded as a film in 3D, Tangled makes me want to spurt old adages, no matter how clichéd. They just don’t make them like they used to. I like your old stuff better than your new stuff, Disney.
Not only do I have quite an unavoidable problem with characters animated by CGI, with 3D exhibition in mind. In these cases, screening the film in 2D is always a downfall. Quite frankly, the large eyes and angled faces of characters like Rapunzel and Mother Gothel make me think of Bratz. (And Flynn Rider, with that stupid goatee, like Bratz Boyz – something I never used to know existed.) As far as I can tell, no one likes Bratz, especially not people who were not raised with them: they represent all of the worst things about gender stereotyping with blatant sexism and unforgivable brashness. They represent everything that we don’t want to see in little girls growing up. Not to mention that, even though it is a great feat that the filmmakers managed to successfully create Rapunzel’s hair – a notoriously difficult task – in the end, the two romantic leads just ended up with the same hairstyle.
This is perhaps a reflection on the state of animated films today, coming from a place quite clearly overcome with nostalgia for the older, hand-drawn, musically luscious Disney films. Aladdin (1992), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Little Mermaid (1989), all created for my generation, were absolutely my favourite films. I loved and watched them all the time. But I also loved Robin Hood (1973) just as much, and The Sword in the Stone (1963), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) – from the introduction of the dwarves – are also on the list. I knew (and still know) all the words to all the songs and can pretty much recite every scene of all of these films, and I’m sure there are more.
Even the background of each frame is so luscious in this hand-drawn classic
As the most expensive animated film ever made (at the mammoth budget cost of $260 million), I can’t help but think, is Tangled worth it? Beauty and the Beast had a budget of just $25 million, and while I am no good with inflation comparisons, this is a whole lot less for a film that earned 16 times that at the box office. As yet, Tangled has not even pulled in twice of what it cost, and this is even with inflated box office prices and the revenue gained by charging for 3D. Consciousless spending, present in so many film franchises these days, notably Pirates of the Caribbean. I’m not sure that Tangled is worth it, because even though it is visually grand and sometimes spectacular, it might not be that memorable. The soundtrack, and the songs themselves, lack the appeal and musical genius of past Disney films. Not to mention the fact that the first song sung by Mother Gothel is remarkably similar, an admittedly poorer than, ‘One Jump Ahead’ from Aladdin. Both soundtracks were composed by Alan Mencken, which explains the similarity, but this is still not an excuse. Similarities in animation can be understood: this has been going on ever since Disney began, which merely demonstrates the talent of animators and their understanding of human and animal form and movement. (For example, the horse Maximus in Tangled is a sort of combination of the rejected prince’s horse from Aladdin, and the dog Max from The Little Mermaid.)
Part of my disdain for the soundtrack stems from my opposition to contemporary music and musicals. As is the case in the current popular Broadway musical Hairspray, the band is so loud that many lyrics cannot be deciphered. These lyrics, which are actually quite clever, do need to be heard but for some reason the music outblasts it. Do I sound like a grumpy old lady? If I do, it’s just because I share an old-fashioned appreciation for music where a musical composition is the sum of its parts.
This piece is clearly marked by a heavy undertone of nostalgia for my childhood. But also, it has to be okay when unlifelike (cartoonish) characters are offered up as role models for children when they are drawn. Because children can then go and draw characters themselves, by imitation or imagination, and have a chance at what they see on screen. Hand drawn animation is a real treasure of creation, has been part of the world at least since the beginning of cinema, notably with the works of Georges Méliès, and is like building on a seminal part of history. It involves creating something out of nothing. CGI, on the other hand (and I have a problem with CGI in “real-life” films too) involves making things up. Watching films like Tangled almost makes me happy, as it reminds me of a time when all I did was watch Disney films and had heaps of fun doing it, and I wasn’t concerned with gender issues or political incorrectness and whatnot, and finding the ‘SEX’ dust in The Lion King was a really clever moment. But it just raises these memories and evokes pain for the loss of that time. And that, when I take my little cousins and other small people to the cinema it will never be for anything as great as what I saw when I was a child. I re-remember an experience that I have never forgotten and know that it will never be realised again.