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"Tangled" mixes modern movie storytelling with old-school Disney drawing style

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"Tangled" mixes modern movie storytelling with old-school Disney drawing style

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In many ways, "Tangled" is a return-to-the-1990s for Walt Disney Animation Studios. In that this film is a feature-length fairy tale that features a score by Academy Award-winner Alan Menken as well as animation supervised by the great Glen Keane (i.e. the industry legend behind Ariel in "The Little Mermaid," the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast" as well as the title character in "Aladdin").

While at the same time, this new cinematic version of Rapunzel couldn't be more different from all the Disney fairy tales that preceded it. Given that "Tangled" is being done in CG and Disney Digital 3D. And did I mention that the decade during which this animated feature was in development was a time of extreme upheaval at The Walt Disney Company?

Byron Howard (left) and Nathan Greno, co-directors of Disney's "Tangled." Copyright
2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So given that "Tangled" was a product of both Disney's past & future, how did Nathan Greno and Byron Howard (i.e. the co-directors of this upcoming WDAS release) decide which was the proper way to go with this particular production? V-e-r-y carefully.

At Thursday's "Walt Disney Animation Studios: Character Creation!" panel at Comic-Con as well as in follow-up interviews that they did onsite at the San Diego convention center, Greno and Howard talked about the deliberate & thoughtful approach they took towards "Tangled." How they'd sometimes borrow creative concepts from "The Little Mermaid" (i.e. how, just like with Ariel, Rapunzel is supposed to be the girl next door) as well as production techniques from "Aladdin" (i.e. just as they did back on that 1992 Walt Disney Pictures release, "Tangled" directors consulted all the females working at WDAS about which facial features they liked best on what actors. So that they could then combine all of these elements to make Rapunzel's love interest - the notorious thief Flynn Rider - as attractive as possible to today's audiences).

Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But Nathan & Byron were keenly aware that times (more importantly, audience's tastes when it came to entertainment) had changed significantly since the 1990s. Which is why it just wouldn't do to have Rapunzel rescued from her tower by some handsome prince.  Which is why they opted to go with Flynn Rider instead. Hoping that - by pairing a handsome rogue with the extremely-long-haired girl-next-door, street smarts versus book smarts - Greno and Howard might then be able to put an interesting new spin on this classic fairy tale.

Of course, you can't tell the story of Rapunzel without making this character's hair a huge element of your story. And given that - at least when it comes to CG films - animators tend to shy away from hair because of all the technical issues involved ... To suddenly be saddled with a character that's sometimes hauling around 70 feet of hair was a huge challenge for the team at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But Nathan & Bryon embraced this challenge. They made Rapunzel's extremely long locks one of the more magical elements of this motion picture. Which is how her hair became something that Rapunzel would wield like a whip in one scene and then ride on like a swing in the next.

Which is admittedly a lot of fun. But Greno & Howard also knew that - if today's audiences were really going to embrace "Tangled" - they had to get past Rapunzel's long hair and the tower that she was trapped in and turn Flynn & Rapunzel into characters that today's audiences could empathize with and ultimately grow to care about.

Glen Keane at the 2009 Comic-Con International. Photo by Nancy Stadler

Meanwhile, from Glen Keane's side of the fence ... Well, working with character creator Jin Kim, Glen kept pushing to make sure that "Tangled" had some connective tissue with all the Disney fairy tales that had preceded it. That this cinematic retelling of the tale of Rapunzel (just as "Snow White" & "Cinderella" and - later -- "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty & the Beast" and "Aladdin" did) had the same sorts of "golden poses" that Disney's Nine Old Men had labored to create. Those beautifully staged pieces of animation where character & story come together in such a special way that they kind of melt your heart.

Mind you, when it came to "Tangled," inspiration would often arrived in interesting ways. Take - for example - when Disney Consumer Products came through the Sorcerer Mickey building to show off a doll that they'd fashioned to look just like Rapunzel as a toddler. Though this version of the character initially only appeared  in the film for a brief moment, Glen Keane was so taken with the winsome look of this "Tangled" doll that he kept one of them in his office at WDAS for inspiration. Which is why - over time - the toddler-version-of-Rapunzel got more & more screen time in "Tangled." And - as a direct result - audiences then became that much more empathetic & sympathetic about Rapunzel's predicament far earlier in this film.

Photo by Nancy StadlerAcademy Award-winner Alan Menken. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, another way that Disney typically gets the audience on the heroine's side is through her "I Want" song. And in "Tangled," Rapunzel has one doozey of a "I Want" song in "When Will My Life Begin?" Which is supplied - of course - by Alan Menken.

Now, when they talked about Menken's work for "Tangled" last week, Nathan & Byron were quick to point that - while the songs that Alan created for this film are similar in quality to the tunes that he'd written for "Mermaid," "Beast" and "Aladdin" - Menken labored mightily to make sure that the music that he'd created for Disney's cinematic take of Rapunzel was something fresh, something new.

Academy Award-winner Alan Menken. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So - in the end - what you've got with "Tangled" really is something that really does take the virtues of the past (where superior storytelling and good draftsmanship came together to created those timeless animated features that have been entertaining audiences for decades now) and then mixes them together with WDAS' ambitions for the future (where the combination of CG and Disney Digital 3D results in this new fairy tale film where the magic seems to spill off screen and then out into the audience).

But when you get right down to it, what makes the very best Disney fairy tales work is the characters. Which is why Greno & Howard made sure that the interaction between the very worldly Flynn Rider (who - up until now - has been able to charm his way / talk his way out of every difficult situation) and the good-hearted-if-somewhat-sheltered Rapunzel was always smart and funny. So that moviegoers would then be rooting for this rather odd couple to ultimately come together

Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which is why - come November 24th - audiences are in for a real treat when "Tangled" finally opens in theaters. Thanks -- in large part -- to Nathan Greno & Byron Howard's new-style storytelling as well as Glen Keane & Jin Kim's old-school drawing style.

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  • I am excited about "Tangled" coming out soon, but the animation and the characters looks like they would be in a Dreamworks movie to me. I know that Disney is trying to do both animation and 3d stuff and it's different but it doesn't look like a typical lovable Disney movie. But anything that involves Alan Menken as the song writer will be good! But I guess I'll have to wait and see :)

  • Disney--What I've heard is that the "Dreamworks" goofiness is just for attracting little boys. It has been confirmed through the people who saw the movie in a early screening that "the hair vs. Flynn scene" is just test animation for the movie. Also, the people also said that Tangled reminded them of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Best, and its 100% Disney Classic. So, don't worry ;) Can't wait 2 see this!

  • The trailer left me deciding to avoid this film. It looks like a by the numbers Disney Animated flick. The little comic relief green thing turned me right off as this will simply be a by the numbers disney flick where the song kicks in right where they always have and the little comic relief character will get plenty of closeups with poorly thougt out "laughs".

  • Everyone I know thinks the trailer looked absolutely terrible, but hope springs eternal...

  • I'm with those who say that the trailer looks awful.  Honestly, I think that the buzz for this movie is so poor that unless it's brilliant--you know, Toy Story 3 brilliant--it will arrive DOA.  A kinda good movie might've been saved by solid marketing.  But a kinda good movie can also be sunk by marketing.  I'm not sure that the marketing team can really undo the damage of its current trailer--a trailer that has been now viewed (as a lead-in to TS3) by pretty much every family in America.  Which is sad as, long ago, when Glenn Keane was at the helm, I was excited by this project.

  • "Tangled" is such a bad name change for the movie. There's nothing wrong with Rapunzel. I am familiar with the story. The change of the name is premature. People will figure it out.  Movies like "Mulan" and "Lilo and Stitch" were previously unrecognizable (at least to most people).  You described as a "classic fairy tale".

    This movie is a bit like "Princess and the Frog".  It's boring. It feels compromised corporation style. It's movie designed by committee, which completely squeezed out the original source material.

  • > "In many ways, "Tangled" is a return-to-the-1990s for Walt Disney Animation Studios."

    And this is different from "Princess and the Frog " how ?     Return to the 90's , looking backwards,  we're so inspired by Disney films of the 50's   (Peter Pan, Lady & Tramp, Sleeping Beauty)  , blah, blah, blah ... how many times can they keep saying this with a straight face ?   Why is it all about looking back ?  How is this any different than the stale "What would Walt have done ?" attitude that held the studio prisoner in the 70's and early 80's ?

  • I hated the trailer too, but interestingly my young adult children AND my 17 year old all really liked it.  And they liked much better than the P&TF trailer last year.  And if that nonsense with Flynn fighting the hair is just test footage, then maybe, just maybe I am feeling a little anxious to see it after all.

  • DId PATF have a title problem? Yes, but how many Disney films have had the word Princess in the title? A female title isn't the problem- we've had Alice in Wonderland do quite well this year, as well as plenty of Disney films with the female lead's name as the title. It's using a marketing line in the title that's the problem.

    And the whole toddler doll issue... PATF had a prominent toddler scene as well, with dolls made by Mattel and the Disney Store. Now, I like these dolls- the toddler Beast being one of my faves, but I wonder if they're being shoehorned into scripts.

  • Thank you so much for putting this up Jim! I've been craving Tangled news and footage but it just seems like Disney's doing barely anything for this one :( I hope marketing picks up soon or else they're gonna have issues...

  • Another vote against the trailer, but I also thought it looked like a twentysomething smoothie is putting the moves on a mentally-challenged 13 year-old girl...sure, that's realistic for the time period, but modern audiences probably won't go for it.

  • I've always felt Jim Hills assessment of PATF underperforming was WAY off. His claim was the "Princess" in the title was why people ignored a very good movie, but I think PATF's problem was Not race or gender, but rather two overlooked things.

    "Placism" - New Orleans due to how uninteresting the characters where, New Orleans is a tough place to depict on screen to the general public. The accent is so strong, the environment is cool to older people but a bit drab to young. And overall it was pretty unmemorable sights.

    Boring Characters - White, Black, Green or whatever, Prince Naveem and even Tiana  were BORING. Fascilia was a great villian but he seemed to outshine the main characters in personality and presence.

    Tangled suffers from the same problem. Both the leads are very dull and once again we're in a forest. A boring overused forest that looks like a setpeice from dozens of other movies. A year ago I felt Repunzel looked awesome but once they changed the name to Tangled then I lost all interest (along with many others). It just doesnt seem fun anymore because it looks to be latching onto cliche rather than anything new so I agree with the whole Dreamworks associations with this. We should expect more from Disney.

  • It still won't live up to what Disney USED to be.  The animation looks great though!

  • Alright, here is a question- Will Rapunzel be considered a new Disney princess? Because she might odd next to all those other 2d princesses?

  • We saw the trailer this weekend and both my boys - ages 9 and 5 - immediately said 'I want to see that movie!'  So if the trailer is intended to lure the boys in, its working with my guys.  In contrast, they were pretty reluctant to go see PATF, although they did ultimately enjoy it.  I have high hopes for this movie, and who cares if its called "Tangled" or "Rapunzel"?  Sleeping Beauty should more properly be called "Briar Rose" and "Beauty and the Beast" should be called "The Singing, Soaring Lark" if the name of the film needs to stay "true to the source material" as one commenter suggested.

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