The Mouse House: A Look at Tangled and Other Disney Classics

BY ROBERT HAMMERLE, special guest contributor to Hammervision

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The sad but undeniable truth is that most "Baby Boomers," including myself, have had a special relationship with Walt Disney that is impossible to define. Like Konrad Lorenz's famous study involving geese, we were imprinted at an early age.

Just as we hit our pre-teen years in the middle 1950's, along came TV's "The Mickey Mouse Club" and the Sunday night ritual that became known as "The Wonderful World of Disney." For boys, our first love was not the little girl next door, but Annette Funicello. But our love affair with Annette did not stop us from buying mock Flintlock rifles and coonskin caps by the millions after watching Fess Parker star as Davey Crockett in the mega hit mini-series.

Neal Gabler noted in his wonderful biography, "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination," that by 1966, the year of Disney's death, 240 million people saw a Disney movie; a weekly audience of 100 million watched a Disney television show; 80 million read a Disney book; 50 million listened to Disney records; 80 million bought Disney merchandise; 150 million read a Disney comic strip; 80 million saw a Disney educational film and nearly 7 million had visited Disneyland. Disney changed the American landscape, and we "Baby Boomers" changed more than anyone else.

But it was Disney's remarkable films that have had the longest lasting effect. He was literally the father of animation as we have come to know it. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) was the first full length animated film to be released, and it still is extraordinary to watch to this day.

Furthermore, while Disney's animated features were artistically flawless, their storylines inevitably involved a connection to the human condition that adults loved and children viewed with a sense of wonderstruck awe. Think of "Pinocchio" (1940); "Dumbo" (1941); "Cinderella" (1950); "Alice in Wonderland" (1951) and "Peter Pan" (1953) to name but a few. These films are classics precisely because their storylines are timeless.

However, as Mr. Disney aged, or maybe because of it, his movies became more maudlin and sentimental. The above films inevitably involved a sense of pathos, not to mention genuinely scary villains, that made them as magnetic as they were real. To put it another way, there was real danger and heartbreak.

Think of the wicked queen in Snow White; the horrible adventures of Pinocchio as he simply tried to be a real boy; Dumbo's separation from his mother and Cinderella's horrible treatment by her stepsisters. And if you think you cried in "Marley & Me" (2008), what do you think we kids did when we saw Bambi's mother shot and killed by hunters, or Davey Crockett die at the Alamo, or when Old Yeller was forced to be put to sleep after saving his family from a rabid dog?

But while Disney animated films lost much of this edgy spirit in the decades after Disney's death, their studio is gradually rediscovering some of their founder's creative genius. Not only did they release the splendid "The Princess and the Frog" last year this time, but now they have given us the spirited and engaging "Tangled." This is an absolutely splendid, not to mention slightly venomous, retelling of the classic fairy tale "Rapunzel," and you really should see it with or without children.

While I watched it with my two grandchildren, ages 12 and 9, I truly believe that I enjoyed it more than them. Yes, they had a great time, but I was the one frequently laughing more than them.

For those of you that don't know the story, Rapunzel was kidnapped as a baby by an old evil crone who discovered that Rapunzel's magic hair could restore her youth simply by touching it. She isolated her in a tower, raising Rapunzel as her own daughter. Subsequently, a young rogue and scallywag stumbles on to her lofty prison, whereby adventure and romance ensues.

What makes this little gem work so well is its edgy, nasty sense of humor. Rapunzel, voiced by Mandy Moore, is intelligent, feisty and packs a mean wallop with a skillet. Her woeful suitor, voiced by Zachary Levi, gradually transforms from a self-centered, vain rapscallion in the company of his skillet waving companion.

But no animated feature can really work without a credible villain, and Disney has brought us a great one in Mother Gothel, voiced by Donna Murphy. She is both sinister and cunning as a false mother figure who spins her web of deceit, thereby keeping the unsuspecting Rapunzel walled off from the world. She is every bit as diabolical as any of Disney's classic villains.

And for those of you cynics who I can hear moaning, "But isn't there singing?," the answer is "yes," and you will love it. As with all great musicals, the songs are intrical to the films plot, not a distraction. In particular, Ms. Murphy's songs of venomous self-pity and a glorious sequence involving some sinister highwaymen in a tavern are likely to be recognized come Oscar time.

While "Toy Story 3" remains likely to win the Oscar for best animated film of this year, "Tangled" deserves to be in that company. It is both fun and entertaining, and I can't think of higher praise. Do the kid in yourself a favor and see it.

Filed under: Movies, Reviews

Tags: Disney, film, movies, reviews, Tangled

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