Friday, December 17, 2010

3D Film Review: Tangled 3D

(to watch the video in 3D, press play, then select a 3D format from the bottom right menu)

First up in our series of stereoscopic film reviews is Disney's Tangled, a re-imagining of the Rapunzel story. Fresh off the critical praise yet commercial disappointment of Princess and the Frog, Disney visits the fairy tale genre one last time with a picture marketed to both girl and boys alike. Their 50th animated feature is an enjoyable film, but is not without its flaws. Note: spoilers ahoy!

The plot has little to do with the Brothers Grimm version of the story (itself a derivative of earlier women-locked-in-tower fables) other than the fact there's this skinny blonde named Rapunzel who has a ton of hair. In Tangled, Rapunzel is trapped by the emotionally abusive Mother Gothel, who forbids her from leaving the tower so she can use Rapunzel's magical hair to stay forever young. Rapunzel escapes by happenstance when Flynn Rider, a thief, promises to lead her to the source of mysterious annual floating lights in exchange for stolen goods he stashed in the tower. Hijinks ensue!

The animation was beautiful. The designs, the color palettes, and the use of stereo all combine for a visually-captivating experience. For many years I have been adamantly against CG and have always preferred Disney's 2D animation (with the exception of the Pixar films) because I felt the overtly technical nature of the medium removed the artist's touch, but films like this show that computer generated cinema doesn't need to sacrifice the style and grace of hand-drawn animation. The fluidity of Rapunzel's epic hair alone was stunning from a technical standpoint. Still, very hard to achieve without a team of hundreds and hundreds of talented people working under a director with a strong vision.

Rapunzel is not your typical damsel-in-distress; she's intelligent and independent, can kick ass with a frying pan (this in and of itself deserves further analysis), and manipulates Flynn into guiding her only because of her lack of experience in the real world, not because she thinks she needs a man. The love story (of course there's a love story in there, it's a Disney princess movie) develops as a result of their adventure; it's not the driving force of her character. Of course, she's never even seen a man when we first meet her, and she ends up falling for the first one who climbs in her tower. Sure, she escapes from captivity and becomes a fully-actualized individual through her misadventures, and she is more interested in exploring the world than she is in the fact she's a princess, but ultimately we get the same predictable ending.

Okay, so you're probably only here to read about the 3D part of this. In terms of use of 3D, this film was top notch. The depth arcs along with the story, and the story is perfectly suited to do so. Rapunzel's room in the tower is very shallow, and when she ventures into the outside world, it becomes much more deep, echoing the vastness of new territory to explore. The depth through the rest varies depending on the emotional impact of each scene. At no point did I feel any eyestrain (aside from the shoddy converted commercials that played before the feature), didn't notice any crosstalk, and the overall use of stereo is the kind of technical perfection one expects from a massively high-budget CG film where the perils of live-action stereography are easily avoidable. The use of depth was mild throughout and I can't recall any real in-your-face gimmicky shots. It made excellent use of floating windows, which I hadn't even noticed until I carefully analyzed the trailer, because its use was so subtle through the film. Robert Neuman (stereoscopic supervisor on Bolt and Meet the Robinsons, neither of which I have seen in 3D to compare this to) did a fantastic job with the use of 3D. The 3D effects didn't call attention to themselves, it worked to enhance the emotional beats of the story along with the soundtrack and color grading.

The humor felt reminiscent of a Dreamworks picture, with all the characters expressing a brand of witty banter not usually associated with the House of Mouse's lack of irony and meta-humor. They don't delve into the realm of potty humor or quickly-dated pop culture references, but one expecting full-on classic Disney might be disappointed by the heavy usage of snark and slapstick.

The musical numbers were excellent, for the most part. All were well-produced, thanks to the talents of Alan Menken, who composed the scores to Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast. But one in particular felt unnecessary: "I've Got a Dream", the song she sings to the bar. The song is not bad out of context, but the scene itself felt rushed; Rapunzel's been trapped in a tower all her life and conditioned to fear everyone, yet she befriends an entire bar in seconds who turn from stereotypical brutes to singing and dancing about their dreams. The song comes too quickly, and the reveal of the true nature of the surly men, ironically, felt cliche.

This is a great movie for kids, with an entertaining ensemble of characters, great spectacle to keep them entertained, and nothing offensive aside from some light cartoon violence. It's also a decent date flick, progressive enough to spark a friendly debate about the subject matter. It's got a nice mix of classic Disney musical and post-Shrek fairy tale wit, of princess movie and action flick, and top quality 3D. In terms of cinematic quality, this is one of the better Disney productions of recent years. Its undoing is that the hodgepodge of elements at times feel more like commercial calculations than elements essential to a story about a princess.

Film Rating: 3/5
3D Rating: 5/5

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