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Tangled Blu-ray & DVD Review

Disney's Tangled movie poster Tangled

Theatrical Release: November 24, 2010 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard / Writer: Dan Fogelman

Voice Cast: Mandy Moore (Rapunzel), Zachary Levi (Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert), Donna Murphy (Mother Gothel), Ron Perlman (Stabbington Brother), M.C. Gainey (Captain of the Guard), Jeffrey Tambor (Big Nose Thug), Brad Garrett (Hook Hand Thug), Paul F. Tompkins (Short Thug), Richard Kiel (Vladimir), Delaney Rose Stein (Young Rapunzel, Little Girl), Nathan Greno (Guard 1, Thug 1), Byron Howard (Guard 2, Thug 2), Tim Mertens (Guard 3)

Songs: "Incantation Song", "When Will My Life Begin", "Mother Knows Best", "When Will My Life Begin Reprise", "I've Got a Dream", "Mother Knows Best Reprise", "I See the Light", "Something That I Want"

Buy Tangled from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD • DVD • Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy • Instant Video Download


In recent years, Disney Princess has been one of the strongest brands around. When first introduced around the turn of the millennium, the girl-oriented line was just a unification of the studio's animated heroines (some not quite royal). As time went by, the franchise started to feel like a celebration of the past, with Mulan (from the 1998 movie of the same name) remaining the most recent addition.
Disney had deemed traditional 2D animation outmoded and even before that, it seemed they wanted to move away from the comfort zone that paid off tremendously in the '90s. Meanwhile, the princess merchandise kept selling, with over $3 billion of revenue generated from it in 2006.

That income stream seemed to be the general public telling Disney that princesses were still very cool, even one first animated some seventy years ago. Disney evidently got the message because they've now given the world three new princess movies over the past four years. There was 2007's Enchanted, a predominantly live-action musical/comedy chockfull of homage to the studio's animated tradition. In 2009, The Princess and the Frog paid further tribute to the form, bringing hand-drawn animation back to Disney along with the directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. Then came Tangled, a computer-animated film long in development and much anticipated by Disney fans.

If the ads were to be believed, Tangled (which was conceived as the directorial debut for legendary 2D animator Glen Keane) would not be more of the same. Following the underperformance of The Princess and the Frog (which brought about a title change, from Rapunzel, formerly Rapunzel: Unbraided, eight months before release), Tangled was marketed as irreverent, edgy, exciting, and boy-friendly. The focus was on smooth-talking male lead Flynn Rider, not the one-time title character, and steps were taken to hide the fact that this was a musical. In short, the previews were deceiving and in this case that was a very good thing.

Per her daily routine, homebound Rapunzel does some painting. In the midst of a heist with the Stabbington Brothers, outlaw Flynn Rider takes a moment to enjoy the view from the castle roof.

Not the ironic, rule-breaking romp advertised, Tangled is a fairly conventional fairy tale, though one that is aware that an animated fairy tale is not the novelty it once was. The film opens with vain but charming thief Flynn sharing Rapunzel's story. A princess whose birth created health problems, both Rapunzel and her mother emerged from the experience safely with the help of a magical healing flower. Its rejuvenating powers are assumed by Rapunzel's golden hair, which is not okay with the woman who has been using the flower for centuries to stay young. The woman, Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy), kidnaps the infant Rapunzel and raises her as her own child, keeping her inside a tall, remote tower and never cutting her restorative hair.

Now eighteen years old with hair about 70 feet long, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is content but bored, passing the days with artwork, baking, and chores, and having only passive-aggressive Mother Gothel and pet chameleon Pascal for company. She asks Gothel to reconsider her indoor-only policy but the mother only reinforces the rule with her old rhetoric. While Gothel is out on a three-day trip to get Rapunzel some special paint, Rapunzel takes off with Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi, NBC's "Chuck"), who has sought refuge in her tower after swiping a royal tiara and betraying the Stabbington Brothers, his burly partners in crime.

Flynn reluctantly agrees to take Rapunzel to the nearby kingdom to get a close viewing of the floating lights she sees every year on her birthday (sky lanterns commemorating the long-lost princess). Joining the irresolute Rapunzel and debonair Rider on their road trip is head palace guard horse Maximus.

Rapunzel manages to coordinate a truce between palace guard stallion Maximus and his criminal target Flynn Rider. Mother Gothel lures some cooperation with a wanted poster that doesn't get Flynn's nose right.

First pitched for Disney film treatment in the 1940s, Rapunzel's story spent at least six years and somewhere around $260 million getting made for real. Glen Keane called the shots for about four of those years, but in 2008, he stepped down for unspecified health reasons. Replacing him and slotted co-director Dean Wellins were Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, fresh off of Bolt, on which they served as head of story and co-director, respectively.
Also hailing from that retooled canine comedy was writer Dan Fogelman, one of a dozen people attributed on Pixar's Cars and the only one credited for Tangled's overhauled script.

A long production usually spells trouble, but despite the evident redirection that changed everything from the studio's one-line synopsis and leading voice talent (originally announced as Kristin Chenoweth and Dan Fogler) to the title and marketing strategy, Tangled turned out quite all right. It is minimalist in its storytelling in a way that hints at surely many scrapped ideas. Beyond the three star speaking roles and the two nonverbal animals standing as comedy relief, the film's cast consists of barely-named bit parts unlikely to be singled out with love even from devout fans. That is in sharp contrast to The Princess and the Frog, a movie that piled on characters with few leaving indelible marks.

The more narrow focus recalls The Emperor's New Groove and DreamWorks' Shrek, films that Tangled evokes in only the mildest of ways. Like them, Tangled sort of breaks the fourth wall, with Flynn's sparse narration. It also balances a postmodern sense of humor (offbeat editing, facial hair commentary) with classic cartoon gags (a frying pan in the face). Comedy isn't Tangled's forte, but Fogelman, Greno, and Howard have more success on that front than they did on Bolt. There are a lot of jokes here and none that land with a thud, but Flynn's disaffected suaveness is never quite as entertaining as the film believes.

Of Disney's past princess yarns, this one is most reminiscent of The Little Mermaid. The songs by Alan Menken and his Little Mermaid stage collaborator Glenn Slater remind one of "Part of Your World" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls", only without as memorable lyrics or as invigorating melodies. The characters of Ariel, Eric, and Ursula align pretty neatly with Tangled's pivotal trio. The story of explorative thirst defeating parental shelter in the form of disobedience also resonates similarly, although with less neatly classifiable personalities. As far as villains go, Mother Gothel is particularly complex and nicely handled.

The remaining puzzle pieces -- romance, revelation, and adventure -- are skillfully executed. Helping matters significantly are a few crucial humanizing touches, such as when the film allows Rapunzel a moment to cherish the feeling of her feet touching the earth. No individual element stands out as truly excellent, but the combination of all the parts adds up to one of the most satisfying experiences from Disney's feature animation department in this young century.

Eugene Fitzherbert (a.k.a. Flynn Rider) and Rapunzel share a romantic boat ride under the light of sky lanterns while singing the Oscar-nominated duet "I See the Light."

One of the most significant aspects of Tangled is that it is made in computer animation. It is Feature Animation's fourth time working primarily in CGI (fifth, counting Dinosaur which seems to have been admitted into the official canon to grant Tangled the privilege of being #50) and the technological advances are apparent. Human characters were one of early Pixar's biggest challenges and they remain a divisive subject to the industry as the virtues of realism are debated (sometimes with motion-capture performance as groundwork). Tangled deals out stylized characters with believable physicality to them. There is none of the eeriness that has marked and marred other CGI humans; the design isn't quite infused with 2D animation sensibilities, but it seems like a happy medium between traditional squash and stretch physics and the more photorealistic environments.

Maybe the best thing about Tangled is that it seems to re-establish a sense of identity to Disney Feature Animation. Like everyone else in the industry, the studio prides itself on versatility and, prior to release, high-ranking executives seemed to close the book on fairy tales (as stated in the LA Times article "Disney Animation is closing the book on fairy tales"), a stance said executives later backtracked from. Tangled offers a winning blend of timeless Disney tradition and the spirit to try new things. The sense of Disney's pioneering department being transformed into "Pixar Lite" under the management of John Lasseter and Ed Catmull is faint at best here. The unfortunate Chicken Little now feels like an outlier, with enjoyable subsequent creations being a natural and appealing progression from the past.

At the same time, even a noble, commendable effort like Tangled doesn't fire on all cylinders like just about every Pixar film has. Toy Story 3's expected Best Animated Feature Oscar win was well-deserved and the four-peat it gave Pixar in that category begins to put into perspective how remarkable
and consequential the Disney-owned outfit's ongoing achievements are. With that said, it's unfortunate that the industry came up one film short to entail a 5-nominee Animated Feature category this year. Tangled was every bit as deserving of recognition as DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon. Far weaker cartoons have been acknowledged in the first ten years of that award. Scoring a Best Original Song nomination for "I See the Light", Tangled at least didn't get completely overlooked by the Oscars.

Though it needed foreign earnings to make back its colossal overall production "budget", Tangled performed better at the box office than every other 21st Century Disney Animation release. It currently boasts a domestic gross of $198 million and, more impressively, worldwide earnings of $558 M. Those numbers weren't out of this world: Despicable Me and How to Train Your Dragon both amassed a bit more domestically and a bit less worldwide, while Tangled trailed Toy Story 3 and Shrek Forever After on both fronts. Still, as one of the year's top ten grossers, it was a hit and one Disney welcomed after taking hits on costly live-action tentpole flops.

One question that arises is how Tangled's financial success will be interpreted. Was it a victory for gender-neutral titling and deceptive marketing campaigns? For white princesses? For computer animation? Whatever the case, you won't find any of that in Disney Feature Animation's next release, this July's traditionally animated intended franchise fixer Winnie the Pooh, for whom return expectations are much lower.

Echoing the timing of Enchanted, Bolt, and The Princess and the Frog, Tangled comes to home video on Tuesday. It is offered in a single-disc DVD, a Blu-ray with the same DVD, and a Blu-ray 3D with those same two discs plus a digital copy disc. Disney sent out the Blu-ray + DVD combo pack for review, which we look at here.

Tangled: Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: DTS-HD 7.1 MA (English), DTS-HD 7.1 HR (French, Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Both: Dolby Surround (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Blu-ray-Only: French
DVD Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 29, 2011
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-25 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP), Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray +
DVD + Digital Copy
($49.99 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

I can think of no way to describe the picture quality on the 1.78:1 Blu-ray beyond "perfect." It is hardly surprising in 2011 that a computer-animated movie can be converted to a digital medium without even minor imperfections. But Tangled is truly a visual feast with its stunningly sharp, bright, detailed imagery. While I could prolong this section with superlatives, suffice it to say this is about as good as it gets for hi-def video.

The Blu-ray delivers 7.1-channel sound mixes in three languages, including the default DTS-HD master audio in English. I've only got a 5.1 setup, but the track remained dandy converted for it. I was less blown away by the sound than the picture. There are no problems and it handles songs and set pieces well, but the movie (and by extension, its soundtrack) has less dynamic action than the ads might lead you to believe. Still, it's a solid presentation.

Fortunately, the included DVD does nothing to dilute the picture and sound capabilities of that format. If Blu-ray did not exist, I can't imagine anyone being underwhelmed by the pristine beauty of the standard-definition transfer. It lacks the detail of the Blu-ray, but that's not something you'd immediately notice or lament. There seems to be even less difference in the sound quality, with the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 offering similar (but slightly less potent) results to the Blu-ray's 7.1 mix on a 5.1 system. You can add French speakers to the list of DVD enthusiasts that studios have placed their own interests before; only the Blu-ray disc and the Canadian edition of the DVD contain a French dub. (The US DVD replaces French with the Spanish mix left off the Canada version.)

A fortune-telling monkey cut from the film is preserved in this deleted scene. Rapunzel's upbringing is depicted in this drawing from one of two original storybook openings. Number 28, "The Little Mermaid", may be Tangled's most kindred ancestor featured in the short, but sweet countdown of Disney's first 50 animated classics.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Blu-ray bonus features begin with three deleted scenes (12:36), collectively and individually introduced by directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard.
Watch a clip from one of Tangled's unused storybook openings:
Presented in edited storyboard form, the scenes depict an alternate pub visit with poetry reading, a Flynn-Rapunzel bonding chat, and a visit to a monkey fortune teller.

Next up are two "Original Storybook Openings" (3:57 and 4:02), which use a classic Disney tradition to relay some of the same background information plus some additional details. There's nothing groundbreaking about them or the directors' intros to them, but they're neat to see nevertheless.

"50th Animated Feature Countdown" actually counts up, running chronologically through the 50 films currently considered to make up Walt Disney Animation Studios' 50-film canon, with short, numbered clips from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through Tangled playing to the sound of Brandi Carlile's "Dreams". This 2-minute montage is simple and doesn't identify the films, but it's still a nice way to reinforce the studio canon.

Mother Gothel's dress is a bit more revealing in the unfinished animation of this extended version of "Mother Knows Best." Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, the voices of Rapunzel and Flynn, host the charming featurette "Untangled: The Making of a Fairy Tale."

Two extended songs are provided: "When Will My Life Begin" (3:36) and "Mother Knows Best" (4:17). Introduced by Greno and Howard, these elongated versions consist primarily of crude, unfinished animation, which leaves Mother Gothel looking somewhat undressed in the latter.

Feeling like a television special, "Untangled: The Making of a Fairy Tale" (12:25) entertains far more than most home video featurettes. Charismatically hosted by voice actors Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, this all-purpose piece gives us the short version of the film's long development, etches Tangled a place in Disney Animation's tradition (including another 1-50 canon runthrough), and shares facts regarding some of the technical achievements.

This infomercial for Rapunzel's dual-purpose frying pan is one of nine "Tangled" teasers included on the Blu-ray. Flynn Rider arm-wrestles a larger woman in one of three promotional "Flynn's Tangled Tales" cartoons.

Playable individually and collectively, nine Tangled teasers (9:12) stand as one of the more interesting and unusual bonus features. Three "Flynn's Tangled Tales" promote the film with crudely-animated original stories. The other six assume the airs of a perfume commercial, an infomercial,
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a live news report, a real estate ad, an old educational short, and a prescription drug spot. Some are better than others, but all are more appealing and creative than the film's standard teaser and trailer (which, as usual, are absent here).

Rounding out the Blu-ray are Timon and Pumbaa's short promoting Blu-ray 3D (4:25) and the 1-minute guide to Disneyfile digital copy, two technologies that must be purchased together on this title.

Identical to the disc sold on its own, the combo pack's colorless FastPlay-enhanced DVD sends an unfriendly message to those that haven't made the jump to Blu-ray. Besides the movie, the usual smattering of trailers, and the Disneyfile promo, the DVD contains only the two original storybook openings and the 50-film countdown short, excluding most bonus features seemingly only to encourage upgrading.

The Blu-ray opens with trailers for Cars 2, Tron: Legacy, and The Lion King: Diamond Edition. The main menu's Sneak Peeks listing leads to promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Tinker Bell and the Pixie Hollow Games, "Shake It Up", Winnie the Pooh, Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure, The Incredibles Blu-ray, Tinker Bell and the Mysterious Winter Woods, and Spooky Buddies: The Curse of the Howlloween Hound.

Simple yet satisfying, the DVD's main menu (and Blu-ray's only) supplies a tranquil view of Rapunzel's tower.

The DVD-opening trailers advertise Cars 2, The Lion King, and Tinker Bell and the Pixie Hollow Games. The menu's Sneak Peeks listing repeats them, before promoting Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo Blu-ray, The Incredibles, Tron: Legacy, and Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure.

The Blu-ray's menu stays fixed on a lively, animated view of Rapunzel's tower as birds fly around and chirp and peppy score plays. The DVD's main menu does the same, only with less interactivity. The bonus features menu nicely loops Rapunzel's tree singing and the other menus are static but scored.

Tangled's 2-disc combo is packaged in a standard slim eco-friendly Blu-ray case and topped by an embossed, prismatic cardboard slipcover. The gray DVD and full-color Blu-ray claim opposite sides of the case, with the former being covered by three booklets promoting 3D + combo packs, Disney Movie Rewards, and a variety of Disney and non-Disney products (including an ad for new Special Editions of the two direct-to-video Beauty and the Beast sequels, the more popular of which will be available in a Blu-ray combo pack as well).

Rapunzel joins in the lively musical dream-sharing of the brutish vikings at The Snuggly Duckling pub.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Most viewers will find Tangled an entertaining take on a familiar genre. Though this doesn't immediately have as much impact as Disney's top fairy tales, it easily ranks as one of the studio's best works of recent years.

A movie that many will want to own and revisit, Tangled offers a terrific feature presentation and both Blu-ray and DVD.
As far as bonus features go, DVD customers unfortunately get the shaft like never before. Not that the less than an hour of Blu-ray extras will satisfy this film's biggest fans, but the ten minutes included on DVD especially disappoint on such a big, tumultuous production.

Given that only $5 separate the solo DVD and the Blu-ray + DVD, the latter is clearly the better value. Buying into a format that needs such stunts to inflate its worth, depriving yourself of a quality movie because of weak bonus features, and waiting for a superior release all seem like futile actions for the DVD-buying majority. For those who appreciate Blu-ray, deciding which combo pack's right for you comes down to whether you want to spend an additional $10 to obtain the movie in two additional formats (Blu-ray 3D and digital copy).

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Related Reviews:
New: Yogi Bear • The Tourist • How Do You Know • Wishbone • Bambi (Diamond Edition Blu-ray + DVD)
Modern Disney Princesses: The Princess and the Frog • Enchanted • The Little Mermaid • Beauty and the Beast
Vintage Disney Princesses: Sleeping Beauty • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs • Cinderella
Directed by Byron Howard & Written by Dan Fogelman: Bolt | Written by Dan Fogelman: Cars • Fred Claus
2000s Disney Animation: Meet the Robinsons • Chicken Little • Dinosaur • Lilo & Stitch • The Emperor's New Groove
2010 Animated Movies: Toy Story 3 • Megamind • Alpha and Omega • Despicable Me • Marmaduke
2010 Disney Movies: Alice in Wonderland • The Sorcerer's Apprentice • Secretariat • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Mandy Moore: License to Wed • The Princess Diaries • Scrubs: The Complete Fifth Season • Brother Bear 2
Alan Menken Musicals: Aladdin • Newsies • Home on the Range | Zachary Levi: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel



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Reviewed March 26, 2011.