Tangled

November 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy
Directed by: Byron Howard (“Bolt”) and Nathan Greno (debut)
Written by: Dan Fogelman (“Bolt”)
 
Disney knows a few things about princesses. Beginning with the unadorned appeal of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” over 70 years ago, the studio has since introduced audiences to a collection of distinctive stories featuring a diverse group of animated princesses all vying for the same thing: true love.
 
Sure, the image of a princess has evolved over the years to incorporate the more contemporary, independent woman (Princess Fiona from DreamWorks’ “Shrek” series can kick some serious butt), but at the core, the themes that connect films like “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty” and last year’s less enjoyable “The Princess and the Frog” haven’t changed much.
 
As Disney’s 50th animated film, “Tangled” fits in perfectly with Disney’s previous offerings. It’s a classic narrative combined with creative characters, beautiful computer-generated animation, and a gleeful soundtrack that matches some of the best Disney music since the early 90s. 
 
If “Tangled” really is the last of the fairytale-type movies Disney will make in the foreseeable future (a statement the company made last week), it’s definitely an impressive way to bid a fond farewell.

In “Tangled,” the reimagining of the Brothers Grimm fairytale “Rapunzel,” the original story is given a fresh take while still sustaining elements from animated films like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.” In the latest version, an infant Rapunzel is kidnapped from a king and queen by a witch named Gothel who locks her in a tower and raises her as her own child. Obsessed with staying young forever, Gothel takes the baby when she learns Rapunzel’s hair possesses healing powers and works like a fountain of youth.

Now, held captive in the tower (although Rapunzel believes Gothel is just an overprotective mother) with only her always-suspicious chameleon Pascal to keep her company, a teenage Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), whose extremely long golden hair keeps her mother young, dreams of one day leaving her tower and traveling to the kingdom to see a festival of lights that occurs every year on her birthday. Little does she know the lights released into the nighttime sky are for her and that the king and queen have always believed she would find her way home some day. Guiding her through the kingdom is an Aladdin-type thief named Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi) who scales the tower to evade the king’s soldiers who are in pursuit.
 
Directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno working on a clever script by Dan Fogelman, “Tangled” might not get to the highest echelons Disney has ever reached, but there is a brilliant sense of nostalgia as well as a touch of modern-day sassiness that reminds us even without Pixar there for support the Mouse House can still produce plenty of happily-ever-after moments.

Bolt

November 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman
Directed by: Byron Howard (debut) and Chris Williams (debut)
Written by: Chris Williams (“The Emperor’s New Groove”) and Dan Fogelman (“Cars”)

Leave it to Pixar to inject some much-needed imagination into the recent animated efforts of Walt Disney Studios. As the first animated feature entirely under the watchful eye of John Lasseter (chief creative officer of both studios and director of “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life”), “Bolt” may not win best-in-show, but he’s definitely a charmer.

In an opening scene shot like a canine version of “The Incredible Hulk” or “Spider-Man,” we meet the titular American White Shepherd, who is the superhero star of his own TV show. Not only can Bolt (John Travolta) run at lightning speed, he can also shoot laser beams from his eyes, lift cars between his teeth, and flatten anything in his path with a startling superbark. Eat your heart out Underdog!

While Bolt honestly believes it is his mission to protect his owner Penny (Miley Cyrus) from the sinister Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell) and his band of futuristic foot soldiers, the TV show’s director (James Lipton) insists the entire production crew and actors continue to lead Bolt to believe that he really is a superdog. A bit reminiscent of “The Truman Show,” everyone’s in on the intricate scheme and is able to shoot each episode without Bolt’s knowledge by using guerilla-style camerawork and special effects. The initial premise might seem outlandish (especially for a dog who always seems on script), but for argument’s sake, it works.

But when the director decides to change the show’s format because of low ratings and make each episode end in a cliffhanger, Bolt doesn’t understand what’s happening when shooting wraps one day without the usual defeat of his nemesis. Still believing Penny is in trouble, Bolt escapes his trailer on the studio lot and ventures off to save his “person.” But as Buzz Lightyear discovers in “Toy Story,” using superhero powers during real-world scenarios isn’t too encouraging for the psyche when they fail to produce the same results as in the fantasy.

Coming to the realization he might not be a gene-spliced pup after all, Bolt meets Mittens (Susie Essman of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), a stray cat with abandonment issues who helps him learn what it is to be a normal dog by teaching him how to fetch, dig, and stick his head out the window, and Rhino (Mark Walton), a hyperactive fanboy hamster who religiously watches Bolt’s show on the “magic box” and secretly wishes to become his butt-kicking action sidekick.

Apart from the scene-stealing furry rodent who rolls around in a plastic ball for most of the film and says hilarious things like “I’ll snap his neck” or “I’ll get the ladder” with total seriousness, there are plenty more laughs and soft-hearted moments that make Bolt one of the more memorable family-friendly movies of the year. Sure, “WALL-E” will probably scavenger up most of the animation awards, but there’s no shame for other animated films to aim for silver.