Tangled: Disney Unravels A Magical Tale That’s Fun For Everyone

24 11 2010

Disney’s Tangled is its 50th animated feautre-length film and, reportedly, the last one to feature a princess. Here’s the breakdown:

Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) lives with her mother (Donna Murphy), alone in a tower. Her flowing golden locks provide healing and life and her mother has stayed young and beautiful thanks to Rapunzel’s gift. But when Rapunzel encounters a wandering scoundrel (Zachary Levi), she embarks on a quest to find out where she really comes from and learns the values of family and love along the way.

The Monkey: The animation is gorgeous. From the stylized character designs to the intricately detailed sets, Tangled is a masterpiece of CGI and digital animation. For that reason alone, the movie should be seen in 3D or at least in a theatre that offers digital projection.

The voice acting is superb. Mandy Moore brings an innocence and vibrance to Rapunzel that sets her apart from what could easily have been another generic princess. Zachary Levi brings equal parts Han Solo and Robin Hood to Flynn Ryder, the suave scoundrel with a heart of gold. Finally, Donna Murphy, as Mother Gothel, delivers a performance like no other Disney villain, bringing a humanity and uncomfortable familiarity to an otherwise evil character.

Speaking of Mother Gothel, this was one of the most interesting Disney villains to date. Her role as Rapunzel’s mother prevents the audience from dismissing her as pure evil from the start, like so many one-dimensional villains. Instead, Gothel is a bitingly subversive, verbally abusive and ultimately misguided villain, giving her far more layers than her previous counterparts. While most Disney films stick to the “sacrificial single parent” model, Tangled flips this notion on its ear, telling the tale of a dysfunctional family and how damaging it can be to make excuses for wrongful behavior, even from the ones you love and claim to love you. Sound deep? It is, but not stiflingly so – this is a layer of storytelling that will be missed by most younger audiences (despite its positive message) but adds a maturity to the story that older audience members can appreciate.

Composer Alan Menken (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid) is back and the songs in Tangled are wonderful. From a rowdy bar song involving thugs and cutthroats (“I’ve Got A Dream”) to a beautiful, romantic duet (“I See The Light”), Tangled delivers the magical musical moments that you remember from the most classic of Disney films. Mother Gothel’s signature song (“Mother Knows Best”) is the standout performance, recalling the spectacle of Aladdin‘s “Friend Like Me” as well as the villainous belting of The Little Mermaid‘s “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.

The magic of Tangled doesn’t stop there. The film includes enough humor to keep kids (and adults) laughing, thanks to the movie’s animal pals, chameleon Pascal and horse Maximus. They were wonderful secondary characters that were used for well-placed laughs without being overdone.

The Weasel: While it can’t really be helped with a fairy tale story, Tangled is pretty predictable. No one of importance dies, it all ends happily, etc. This could be one of the reasons why Disney is “discontinuing” fairy tale princess stories from here on out…there’s just not much that hasn’t already been done.

Another point of contention: the number of songs. I can think of six amazing and distinct songs from Aladdin, yet Tangled only offered up three really memorable tunes. This is a case where less does NOT equal more. The existing songs are exceptional and it would have been nice to have several more.

I have to say, I’m not thrilled with the title. It was originally called Rapunzel, but in an effort to appeal to a male audience, the name was changed. I think it shows a lack of faith, on Disney’s part, in the finished product. If this truly is the end of the princess genre for Disney, they should have gone all out, title and all.

There have been some complaints about the 3D making the screen very dark. It does darken the screen, so if you have a theatre that offers 2D digital projection, you won’t miss much by skipping the 3D; however, there are one or two particular scenes that are quite thrilling in three dimensions.

With great voice talent, wonderful animation and classic music, Tangled delivers the Disney magic like I haven’t seen in a long time.

4.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Will Tangled rank among some of the best Disney animated movies? Do you think the title change was a good decision? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Burlesque: You’ve Seen This Song and Dance Routine Before

24 11 2010

Cher returns to the big screen and Christina Aguilera makes her film debut in this holiday season’s musical extravaganza Burlesque. Here’s the breakdown:

Ali (Aguilera) is a small town girl looking to make it big in Los Angeles. Her dreams start to become reality when she begins working at the Burlesque Lounge, owned by veteran dancer/singer Tess (Cher).

The Monkey: Cher and Stanley Tucci were excellent. They played off each other incredibley well and brought humor, sass and reality to their roles that made them stand out. Cher reminds audiences why she has an Oscar; while her role as Tess is hardly award-worthy, she was consistent, believable and truly enjoyable to watch. She had just the right amount of attitude and vulnerability to be a watchable, three-dimensional character. Stanley Tucci was relegated, in most instances, to comic-relief duty, but his character Sean (stage manager of the lounge) acted as Tess’ sounding board – always there with words of wisdom and a funny quip. Alan Cumming played the doorman and was shamefully underutilized. I would have loved to see a  movie focused on these more mature characters.

The songs written for the movie were catchy and the music throughout the film gave the lounge that underground, sexy, Parisian feel. Christina Aguilera certainly has some pipes on her (nothing new) and she uses them to the fullest extent throughout the movie. A particular standout moment for her occurs when she sings live after the dancers’ lip sync track is disconnected. She ramps up the vocals, ramps up the band and ramps up the crowd for one of the movie’s most rousing numbers.

The film ends with a stellar performance, both visually and vocally.

The Weasel: Aguilera is never quite able to make up for her lack of acting ability. Sure it’s a musical, so singing counts, but, even there, Burlesque falls short; instead of songs meant to mirror the drama, songs about events happening in the movie, most of the songs (80% sung by Aguilera) are nothing more than an excuse to show off her vocal prowess and parade a bunch of scantily clad women across a rather drab looking stage. And this could even have been forgiven, except for the fact that most of the numbers left much to be desired. Audiences have become increasingly used to extravagant dance and song numbers in movies and TV recently. Take Nine, Chicago, Moulin Rouge! and even Glee for example. Burlesque had the opportunity to wow audiences with crazy stage performances never seen on film; instead, it delivers lackluster performances that aren’t even worthy of an episode of Glee.

Aguilera’s acting ability is evenly matched by her co-star and onscreen love interest, Cam Gigandet. The movie knows exactly what he’s good for (his looks) and it takes every opportunity to remind the audience of that: putting him in pouring rain wearing a white shirt, having him shirtless most of the time, even throwing in an unnecessary (but decidedly steamy) striptease…I dare you to eat Famous Amos cookies the same way again.

Burlesque attempted to make Kristen Bell and Eric Dane the villians, but a bitchy dancer and rich real estate mogul (respectively) both failed to illict any emotion or connection to the rest of the story.

Aguilera was at her best when she was being snarky and cold to fellow dancer and rival, Nikki (Bell). This is a classic case of miscasting. Think of Mandy Moore: known for being the goody two-shoes, she wasn’t taken seriously until her amazing performance as villainess extraordinaire in 2004’s Saved!. If Aguilera was given the chance to break out of her mold, she might surprise audiences; as it is, she brings nothing to her Burlesque performance other than her vocals.

One last note: I’m surprised the filmmakers haven’t received a call from the makers of Coyote Ugly for copyright infringement. Burlesque is uncomfortably similar to the 2000 film starring Piper Perabo. Small town girl moves to the big city to make it big in the music industry/rents a crappy apartment/apartment gets broken into and all the money that was hidden away is stolen/girl works for feisty club owner/girl not given a shot until she proves her worth singing/girl gets nickname based on her hometown/girl dates guy who writes music/guy performs striptease….I could go on, but you get the picture…yikes.

Cher, Stanley Tucci and Alan Cumming should have made their own film about running an underground Burleqsue club. Instead, audiences are treated to an age-old story that doesn’t even bother trying to cover it up with decent song and dance numbers.

2.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did you enjoy seeing Cher back on the big screen? Do you think Christina Aguilera has what it takes to become a movie star? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Easy A: A Witty Tribute to Teen Movies Everywhere

17 09 2010
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter gets a modern twist (with a bit of John Hughes infusion) in Easy A. Starring Emma Stone (Zombieland), Easy A definitely will appeal to younger audiences; but with razor wit, a nod to the angsty teen flicks of the 80’s and a stellar cast, Easy A just might break beyond the teen demographic. Here’s the breakdown:

Olive is a typical, invisible high schooler. That is, until rumors start that she’s more of a bad girl than she really is. But instead of quelling the increasingly outrageous rumors, Olive uses her newfound attention to help out her friends in need – but at what cost?

The Monkey: Emma Stone is a relatively recent rising Hollywood starlet, and Easy A is proof that she has staying power. Stone carries most of the movie, providing a fantastically dry wit to her scenes, both with fellow cast members and during the many narrative monologues the film employs.

The script was pleasantly original, not something you see too often these days in the teen high school drama genre. The jokes were genuinely funny, fully earned, not relying just on sex and juvenile antics. It’s clear the filmmakers greatly respect the rich history of this genre, in particular the John Hughes films of the 80’s – it’s no surprise, then, when these films are referenced several times.

While Stone did a great job as the lead, the adult cast members almost stole the show. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play Olive’s free-spirited and accepting parents, with Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow playing a teacher/counselor married couple at Olive’s school. These four actors do an amazing job of lending credibility to the movie; due in part to their wonderfully written characters, each of these performers brings just the right balance of weight and levity to the story. In particular, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are hysterical as the non-judgmental, ever-loving parents. Their scenes are thoroughly enjoyable and sorely missed once over. A movie strictly about Olive’s family would be a watchable and hilarious movie in itself.

The Weasel: As stated above, most of the cast was great…most. But, there were some less than stellar performances. Amanda Bynes played the stereotypical Bible-thumping-bitch, set on converting everyone in sight while maintaining her holier-than-thou attitude. Unfortunately for Bynes, Mandy Moore already played this role to perfection in the 2004 indie hit, Saved!. Several of Olive’s high school classmates also failed to impress, notably Aly Michalka as loud-mouth Rhiannon and Penn Badgley as the token love interest. Whether it was the script’s inability to give these characters anything worth working with, or their lack of screen presence, who knows – either way, they failed to shine next to their superior castmates.

Easy A tries to leave audiences with some kind of moral, some kind of lesson to be learned that one can only learn in the context of the high school hierarchy. Unfortunately, you’re never really sure what that lesson is. Don’t lie? Don’t spread rumors? Only spread rumors that can help people? Look out for yourself? Needless to say, it’s a bit unclear. This is the part where Easy A really stumbles. It’s too bad, because if the filmmakers had put just a little more substance into the ending, just a little more thought into what they wanted audiences to walk away with, Easy A would be a welcome addition to the Teen Drama Pantheon.

A refreshingly witty high school comedy with a talented cast. If you’re a lover of John Hughes, a lover of the high school dramedy, or even just an Emma Stone fan, Easy A won’t disappoint.

3.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did Easy A have a clear “moral of the story”? Will it be added to your list of favorite teen movies? Share your thoughts in the comments! Also, tell me your favorite teen movie – one of my favorites is 10 Things I Hate About You…what are some of yours?

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