Rapunzel is the first Disney movie I’ve seen in theaters since I was a child. I don’t remember the last one, and I’m not counting Disney·Pixar releases in that tally, either. No, I’ve seen WALL·E, Up and Toy Story 3 in theaters. I’m even gonna go see Cars 2. But really, where I messed up was not seeing The Princess and the Frog when it came to the silver screen. That movie was classic in all the finest senses of the word. It had classic Disney characters, a classic storyline and was set in one of the finest cities and eras of America’s classic age. Let’s see, I gave that one… three and a half stars. A fair rating, I daresay. Rapunzel is decidedly more modern, taking a more post-modern approach to the fairytale, mining genre expectations for humour. Before we start pretending this is an original approach, know that I will never mention the film that stole Pete Docter’s first Oscar.
Now that we’re pretending that it’s original to build gags out of story expectations you have going to see fairy-tale-movies, I gotta say: Rapunzel is plain funny. I’ve seen–okay, I haven’t seen that many fairytale movies, but damned if this one didn’t make me laugh far more than I expected to. From brilliant voice acting from Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi to some of the finest character animation I’ve seen in the characters of Maximus (a horse) and Pascal (a chameleon), this movie is one of the funniest I’ve seen from Disney. It isn’t a mean humour, built on biting sarcasm and contempt for all the stories that have come before it. It’s built on a familiarity–the knowledge that the generation of kids seeing this movie this weekend are the kids whose parents were raised on the classic Disney films of twenty years ago.
The plot is narrated with such delicious snark by Levi’s Flynn Rider that I’m hesitant to summarize it here. I know that nothing I write could really match his wit, which is an accomplishment. However, here goes. Story is, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) has been trapped in a tower all her life by kidnaptive Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy). Mother Gothel stole her as a child from her royal parents in order to feed off of the healing energy of her hair. You see, she has magic hair that glows and heals people when she sings, but Mother Gothel has been using it since before it was in Rapunzel to stay young. One day, Flynn Rider is evading the authorities–he’s a thief, you see–through a stretch of forest that includes Rapunzel’s tower. Climbing up to escape the castle guards who want him dead, his presence in Rapunzel’s life finally gives her the chance to leave her tower and see the lights that float into the sky every year on her birthday in person. She and Flynn set out with a frying pan and a chameleon and a whole lotta hair.
I don’t know if their lines were recorded together or separately, but the chemistry between Rapunzel and Flynn is electric from their first evening together. I wrote of Princess and the Frog that I was glad that Disney are finally making movies about young people falling in love because their personalities complement each other instead of paper dolls falling in love for the sake of the story. I’m glad to say that if Rapunzel is any indication, this trend is growing. These two characters fall in love without any of the manufactured drama of other romances (okay, there might be some). There are no contrived feelings emerging from nothingness–just two people who get along well growing to care deeply about each other and working to guarantee the other’s continued happiness. And that’s what love is.
There’s no transition for this one, folks. But I was told once that a colleague of mine would be going to see Tron: Legacy because it was a “visual feast”. First, they’re making a sequel to Tron? Does this have anything to do with the weird title of that new Daft Punk album? Anyway, more importantly, if you want to see 2010’s visual feast, splurge on a 3D screening of Rapunzel. This movie is one of the best-looking animated films I have ever seen, ranking at the top with WALL·E, Up or Ponyo. There are few people exploring the artistic side of computer generated animation these days. For every WALL·E, there’s a dozen Bee Movies. Rapunzel looks utterly gorgeous from the first frame to the last name in the credits, imbuing its computer animation with a luscious, painterly and beautiful sense of light, colour and texture that should, by all rights, set a new bar for “standard” computer generated animation. If it does not look as good as Rapunzel, I’m sorry. The creative team must not have been trying to make a good movie.
Disney have also seemingly done away with their Bolt-era problem of slow-moving human characters in their stories. Around Meet the Robinsons and Bolt, all I could see in their films is how very slowly all the computer-generated people moved–almost as if they were still working to the speed of hand-drawn animation. Disney embraced a quick-paced style of slapstick humour in this movie and the characters are thankfully fast enough to match. A good example of this is the early fight scene between Flynn Rider and Maximus the horse. By all means, a thief mistreating a horse should not be funny, but slapstick knows neither gender nor species–and the action is finally fast enough to keep up with it. If you want to see a visual feast, I’m saying, make it Rapunzel.
When The Princess and the Frog only made $270 million in domestic gross, Disney deemed it a “failure”. When John Lasseter told Disney that he could use computers to make better movies for the same amount of money at the same speed, they fired him. Mr. Lasseter is Chief Executive Officer of Disney now. I bought a ticket to Rapunzel because I don’t want it to be deemed a “failure”. On my side of the silver screen, Mr. Lasseter, this movie is a resounding success. THREE AND A HALF STARS (now can you please change the movie after Cars 2‘s title back to The Bear and the Bow? pretty please?)