Tangled vs. The Fall of Disney Animation
Tangled, a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale from Walt Disney Animation Studios, did quite well for itself this past holiday season. A hit with both critics and audiences alike, it did well at the box office (earning nearly $200 million domestically, and - in its second weekend of release - dethroning Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 as box office champ). It did quite well in disc sales, too, raking in over $80 million in its first week of release. It's ranked in the Top 20 for 2010 on Flickchart, with a healthy 58% win percentage, appearing in 48 users' individual Top 20 lists. It's quite charming, hearkening back to the glory days of Disney princesses, and I found it to be thoroughly entertaining.
But am I the only one who has a problem with this?
As a lover of traditional Walt Disney animation, something about Tangled rankles a little. Despite featuring the touch of animator Glen Keane - who breathed life into such classic characters such as Ariel in The Little Mermaid and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast - Tangled feels like something of a step backward into the new.
Disney Animation vs. The Advent of CGI
In the wake of Pixar's release of Toy Story in 1995, everybody jumped on the CGI bandwagon. Everybody. When traditionally-animated Disney movies started flagging at the box office, the studio incorrectly presumed it was because they weren't making their movies with fancy computers. Instead, they should have realized that the quality of the films' stories was suffering.
Incidentally, I am a fan of these few latter-day Disney animated features: I think both Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet are both wonderful, rollicking adventures that are gorgeously animated and worth a look to anybody remotely interested in sci-fi and fantasy. (They'd make a great double feature.) And I absolutely adore Lilo & Stitch. But the science fiction wasn't clicking enough with audiences to Disney's liking, and other films released in the 2000s - Fantasia 2000, The Emperor's New Groove, Brother Bear - were under-performing, as well. In 2004, the lackluster Home on the Range - featuring a cast of cows voiced by the likes of Roseanne, Judi Dench and Jennifer Tilly - was released, along with the announcement that Walt Disney studios had shut down its production of traditionally-animated feature films in favor of a switch to CGI. (Coincidentally, Home on the Range is the lowest-ranked feature-length Disney Animation Studios film on Flickchart.)
What came next was a slew of CGI films, with Disney trying - and failing - to compete with Pixar on their level. It started with Dinosaur, a film that actually inserted CG characters into live-action environments. Then came Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt. I'm honestly a fan of a couple of those, too. But they are not, nor will the ever be, Pixar.
And here's the rub: They aren't what I think of when I think of classic Disney, either.
Thank God for John Lasseter
When Disney's CGI animated films also were not performing as well as the Pixar animated films released by Disney, the studio had to do something. And when the Mouse House bought out Pixar, that studio's head, Mr. John Lasseter - indeed, the very director of Toy Story, the film that started the whole mess - became the head of animation at Disney. And one of his first official acts was to announce that traditional hand-drawn animation was being brought back to Disney.
This culminated in the release of The Princess and the Frog in 2009. Helmed by The Little Mermaid and Aladdin directors Ron Clements and John Musker, Princess didn't break any molds, but it was a charming return to the classic Disney fairy tale, animated in the classic Disney style. (It is ranked #11 among Disney Animation Studios films on Flickchart - even ahead of classics like Snow White and Pinocchio.) Everything seemed to be back on track, and we had John Lasseter to thank.
Tangled vs. Disney Animation
When I heard that a Disney adaptation of Rapunzel was coming down the pipe, I had assumed it was a traditional, hand-drawn animated film. But when I heard that it was being re-titled Tangled, I also discovered that it was, in fact, going to be a Pixar-style CGI animated film.
Why did I have a problem with this? I adore Pixar. Every single one of their feature films has been at least above average (yes, I've seen Cars, many times), and half of them are genuine masterpieces. Chicken Little, one of those Disney movies released after they abandoned hand-drawn animation, is a movie I enjoy sitting down and watching with my kids. I do not have a problem with computer animation as an art form.
But this was a Disney fairy tale. With a princess and everything. I can only imagine that all that hair is easier to animate on a computer. Yes, the movie looks fantastic, and fantastically detailed. But I don't care. This is not a Pixar film. This is a Disney animated fairy tale, and after what I considered the success that was The Princess and the Frog, I was looking forward to going back there again.
Shouldn't it look a little more like this?
If traditional 2D animation is really going to be revived at Disney, isn't Tangled a step backwards? Doesn't it take what was accomplished by the very fact that The Princess and the Frog even made it to release, and throw it out the window? Especially considering the fact that Tangled has been more successful than Princess.
All that truly matters is the story. This I know, and indeed, Tangled is a pretty good one. It's got the princess, it's got the dashing hero (though, in this case, something of an anti-hero; a nice touch), it's got the songs, it's got the Alan Menken score. It's full of fun, and definitely funny. I acknowledge it is a better film than The Princess and the Frog (though only just). All I want to know is this: Couldn't this same story have been accomplished with pencil, paper, ink and paint, instead of pixels? While filmmakers like Hayao Miyazaki and Sylvain Chomet continue to make critically-acclaimed masterworks of hand-drawn animation, why does Disney push away from the art form it pioneered?
If people had fallen in love with a hand-drawn Tangled, might it have been another step towards restoring Disney animation to its former glory? As it stands right now, I fear that its slickness (and, indeed, beauty), coupled with the fact that it is truly a good movie, might only be another nail in the coffin of an art form I love so much.
Tangled is currently ranked #178 on my personal Flickchart.
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Nigel as johnmason on Flickchart. If you're interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.