TANGLED – Blu-ray 3D review

In a virtual roundtable with online journalists, co-director Byron Howard said that they were “initially very disappointed when ‘Tangled’ didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.”

I wasn’t disappointed. I was shocked, because Howard and Nathan Greno did a fantastic job on Disney’s 50th animated feature. The day the Oscar nominations came out, I remember wondering whose parking place these guys took or whose mother they cut off on the freeway, because the whole thing smacked of politics. Sure, winner “Toy Story 3” got a 99 percent fresh rating from the Rotten Tomatoes critics and nominee “How to Train Your Dragon” got a 98 percent fresh rating. But “The Illusionist,” which was also nominated, got a 90 percent fresh rating . . . same as “Tangled.” And while “The Illusionist” got a 7.7 rating at the Internet Movie Database, “Tangled” earned an 8.0 with close to 27,000 fans and over 200 critics voting.

In other words, they were robbed. “Tangled” is a great film that should have been the fourth Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature. It tells a rousing story, it features great music, and the 3D CGI humans are the best I’ve seen of the young and smooth-skinned people that have looked creepy in previous CGI attempts. There’s humor in this story, too, as well as some pathos, a little peril, and plenty of adventure. Alan Menken’s songs make you do a double-take to make sure you’re not sitting in a Broadway theater audience, and the two animal sidekicks–a horse who acts like a dog, and a chameleon who thinks he’s a henchman–are as memorable as can be. They’re fresh–surprising, even.

The late fiction writer Ellen Hunnicutt once said that the most interesting stories develop when writers turn clichés or familiar stories on their heads. That’s what writer Dan Fogelman (“Cars,” “Bolt”) did in “Tangled,” which is based on the Brothers Grimm tale of “Rapunzel.” In the original German fairytale, a commoner’s wife grew very sick from coveting the rapunzel lettuce cultivated by a sorceress who lived next door to them. In “Tangled,” it’s a queen, not a commoner, who’s dying, and it’s the plant that’s magic, not the woman who tends it. The love interest in the fairytale was a prince, whereas in “Tangled” it’s a rogue along the order of Aladdin.

Of course, some things stay the same. Mother Gothel, the woman who shuts Rapunzel in a tower to keep her isolated from the world, still calls out, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair for me,” and she still uses the golden tresses for a rope to gain entry. In Disney’s version it actually makes more sense, though, because I always wondered why a sorceress would need help getting up to the tower she “built.” And that hair? What legendary animator Glen Keane and his team have done with it is phenomenal. It’s not just the way that it’s drawn, so you can see every strand and appreciate the texture. It’s the way they conceived of the hair as another character, and, as it seemed to me, a kind of Swiss Army Hairdo. This kid uses her Guinness Book of Records tresses as if they were nunchukus, duct tape, an Indiana Jones whip, or a bungee cord. As she swings around a tree saying “Best . . . day . . . ever,” you realize how the design really helps to add a modern energy to the old tale. Same with their treatment of the Snuggly Duckling scene, which filmmakers said they conceived of as an 18th-century biker bar.

But as always, it’s the facial expressions that set Disney’s characters apart from others. Even the animal sidekicks display a range of emotions, and the fact that the “stage” for this dramedy is colorfully and gorgeously rendered makes their expressiveness all the more savory.

In a virtual roundtable he did with online journalists, Keane said that Disney “Old Man” Eric Larsen told him “The key to Disney animation is sincerity,” and so “besides the drawing and design elements” he was “also trying to bring to the animators the idea of living in the characters” they animate.

Voice talents Mandy Moore (Rapunzel) and Zachary Levi (Flynn Rider) do a good job of getting inside the skin of their characters, and though, as seems common, they were alone in the recording studio as each did his or her voice tracks, they have great chemistry together. And while Mother Gothel won’t go down as one of the most evil Disney villains, Donna Murphy manages to make her easily the most complex. There are times when audiences can feel slightly sympathetic toward her, and times when she seems more benign than malignant. The filmmakers decided to explore the Gothel/Rapunzel relationship as a controlling mother/daughter, and that creates layers of interest not normally seen in an animated feature. When Gothel does let all that meanness inside her fly loose, like Rapunzel’s hair, it’s not just evil that’s on display–it’s fear of losing control, fear of losing one’s life.

If all that sounds a little intense for younger viewers, it’s not. But what might traumatize younger viewers is a very emotional scene in which the Flynn actually dies-and I’m not spoiling a whole lot here. Flynn opens the film with voiceover narration in which he talks about the time when he died, and at the time it’s a puzzler. But the filmmakers were obviously concerned that it might be too intense without a mention in the early going, so that young viewers will remember (hopefully) that the hero is still alive, or else how can he be telling the story?

That moment of intense emotion is brief, though, and in general “Tangled” isn’t as likely to cause little ones trauma as other Disney animated features. Even the thugs that Rapunzel and Flynn encounter at a tavern are a fun bunch, and Alen Menken and Glenn Slater’s songs (including Academy Award nominee “I See the Light”) keep things peppy and cheerful. As a result, “Tangled” is the kind of film that you can watch over and over again and still see or appreciate new things with every viewing.

“Tangled” is rated PG for “brief mild violence.”

The 3D combo pack comes with a lenticular hologram on the cover. I’m probably the wrong person to review 3D titles, because I don’t see 3D becoming the industry standard. “Citizen Kane” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” in 3D? “The African Queen” in 3D? I mean, 3D was designed as a gimmick to make people feel as if things were breaking that fourth wall and reaching right out into the audience to terrify them, to get them wet, or to tempt them to reach out and grab things floating toward them. But I’ve always found that it detracts from the narrative and emotional experience of a film. It may be cool, but I prefer to watch things like that once for the fun of it and then watch the film repeatedly in 2D. Besides, there’s confusion even among animators like Keane over what’s 3D and what’s 2D. To Keane, 3D is computer animation that gives you a fully sculpted figure to animate, but that’s now being called 2D because of the industry push to sell 3D TVs and Blu-ray players.

The first thing I saw when I watched this on a brand new Samsung 3D TV from Best Buy was the menu screen, which, inexplicably, had a decorative line floating in the foreground. That’s my first quarrel with 3D, is that it’s NOT the way we see things in life, the way the publicity campaign would have us believe–it’s the way filmmakers layer things so that they appear to jump out in order to give audiences the kind of 3D experience they associate with 3D. I personally liked “Tangled” more when the storytelling got under way and there was only a little more 3-dimensionality than on the 2D Blu-ray, without the gimmicky things shooting out at you. Yes, when water breaks out and when lanterns bloom in the night sky there’s that “come at you” 3D effect that most people want, but for the most part “Tangled” just relies on the kind of 3D that the old Viewmaster reels provided. Often that means physical features stand out a bit more than they do when you see them in 2D, and if that’s your aesthetic, you should know that as 3D presentations go “Tangled” looks pretty spectacular, with bold colors that are almost as saturated as on the 2D version. But you should also know that if you like things coming at you all the time, “Tangled” is a pretty tame 3D film that picks its spots for those “fourth wall” moments.

Even so, I preferred the 2D Blu-ray because, as I said, I found it less distracting. Colors are just a little more vivid than on the 3D on the Blu-ray, and because, let’s face it, CGI is all about 3-dimensionality, the 2D version will have enough 3D for many viewers. Things really pop out nicely. Black levels are strong, and it’s all so brilliant, so vivid, that visually it was one of the more immersive home movie experiences I’ve had this past year.

By the time you get to the DVD, you lose a little more of the edge delineation and detail, but not a truly significant amount. So for parents who wonder about popping “Tangled” into the car player to keep the kids amused on a long summer drive, this DVD is sharp enough to withstand side glare and the film itself is such a treat that it would be a good choice.

“Tangled” is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and I saw no artifacts on either the 3D Blu-ray or the standard Blu-ray from the AVC/MPEG-4 transfers.

The “Tangled” audio is the same for both the standard and 3D Blu-ray: a rocking English DTS M.A. in full 7.1, and it’s an immersive, dynamic soundtrack. Bass is rich and resonant, and all the channels are balanced nicely so that the speakers play the way instruments do in a really good orchestra, producing a single experience that you can nonetheless “separate” as you listen, to appreciate certain sound threads. When the Broadway-style songs kick in, you get an especially good range of highs and lows, all clear and distinct as a message from Disney himself.

Additional audio options for both Blu-rays are French and Spanish DTS-HD HR 7.1 and English 2.0 DVS, with French and Spanish subtitles. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that’s considerably less dynamic, with a Spanish audio option and subtitles in English and Spanish. Canadian versions feature French subtitles.

You’d think for a four-disc combo pack there’d be more bonus features, especially since filmmakers document their every move, these days, explicitly for that purpose. But there isn’t a single feature here that’s much over 12 minutes long. If Disney is holding back for yet another edition, I fear it might backfire, because I would think the mentality would be that if you’re buying this substantial package you’re done with this title. I could be wrong, but that’s the way it strikes me. Other than 12 minutes of deleted scenes (some of which are storyboards with audio added), nine minutes of teasers, two original storybook openings of 4 minutes each, a blink-and-you-miss-it 50th animated features countdown, and two extended songs (“When Will My Life Begin” and “Mother Knows Best”), the only thing here is a 12-minute “making of” feature with Moore and Levi leading the way. That’s not counting the Digital Copy, DVD, Blu-ray, or two PSAs for Blu-ray and Digital Copy.

I do like that Disney is packaging all versions in one bundle, because, let’s face it, technology changes, situations change, machines break down, and the more options you have the better the chance of your actually getting repeat play out of this title.

Bottom Line:
“Tangled” turned out to be one of my favorite Disney movies in recent years. I enjoyed it as much as “Toy Story 3.” Although the script for TS3 is more original, “Tangled is also a tremendously entertaining film. But as good as the 3D is, I’m glad this combo pack comes with the standard Blu-ray, because I much prefer it to the 3D. I think for repeat play it’s going to be the 2D, because it never pulls you ought of the experience the way that 3D gimmickry can.