Netflix Instant Pick: Disney’s “New” Princesses

Every week we recommend something we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

Sorry gentlemen, I had the gals in mind when I decided on today’s Netflix Instant Picks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the magic of “classic” Disney! This is especially the case with our first film based on the Rapunzel fairy tale but marketed to both girls and boys as the gender neutral Tangled (2010). Originally titled Rapunzel, filmmakers decided to change the title to Tangled after The Princess and the Frog (2009) failed to draw in crowds a year before. For whatever reason frilly dresses and the word ‘princess’ scare away young male viewers. So they beefed up the male lead role of Flynn Rider (voice, Zachary Levi) to accompany Rapunzel (voice, Mandy Moore).

The film is by all accounts a literal translation of the classic fairy tale, but I can’t remember the last time I fell in love with a non-Pixar, Disney produced animated film. Needless to say it’s been awhile. Mandy Moore is excellent as Rapunzel, a sheltered young girl attempting to break free from her stepmother’s clutches for the first time in her life. The adventure she embarks on with Flynn as her guide is nothing short of pure fun. The music is also something to be treasured, and although it was the song “I See the Light” that earned an Oscar nomination, my favorite song and performance of the film has to be “Mother Knows Best” sung by Donna Murphy as evil stepmother Gothel. Also, artists schooled in the Pre-Raphaelite style will notice its influence in the visuals and color palettes throughout the film. It’s just one of the many ways Tangled blends traditional animation styling with sleek and modern CGI effects.

The Princess and the Frog was released just a year before Tangled and while it earned critical praise, it failed to be the financial success everyone had hoped it would be. The financial failure has little to do with the quality of the film and more to do with the difficulties of marketing an animated film without the Pixar seal. And as stated before, there’s that pesky word ‘princess’ in the title. It’s actually a shame because I did enjoy the film, although I can understand why it actually may have gone over kids heads a little.

Instead of setting the story in a “fairy tale” land, The Princess and the Frog is set in Jazz-era New Orleans in the 1930s. As fascinating a time as this era was, it encompasses very complex social, economic, and societal overtones that are difficult to fully articulate in a film aimed at children, although I was impressed that they existed at all. In the end, I think parents will get more out of a film like this, but the heart behind the character of “Princess” Tiana (voice, Anika Noni Rose) is hard to ignore. The film also boasts the voice talents of Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, and John Goodman. Never a bad thing!

Again the tale is quite straightforward but instead of a helpless ‘princess’ character, Tiana has her sights set on opening her own restaurant. She ends up getting sidetracked when a fateful kiss with a frog prince takes her down an unexpected road. Again, it’s not so much the story that appeals to me as my love for classic animation. The Princess and the Frog possesses some very memorable jazz-infused numbers that incorporate the traditional fantasy montage sequences we know and love from Disney. The artistry is something to be admired amidst the sea of 3D and CGI animated films.

Both Tangled and The Princess and the Frog are solid entries in Disney’s “Animated Classics” line, and proof that there are other viable studios besides Pixar producing quality family entertainment.

Watch Tangled

Watch The Princess and the Frog

Netflix Instant Pick runs every Thursday on Filmhash. Past picks are here.

Tangled: A Modern Fairytale?

I am definitely a fan of animation, and in recent years I had only to look to Pixar to get my fix for fun, rich, storytelling. How to Train Your Dragon was a huge surprise from Dreamworks this year, but I have long wanted Disney to return to form with a great new animated film. And with Rapunzel Tangled, they have done just that.

What is also important to remember is that this really is a fairytale. Unlike the Shrek films, seemingly inspired by Fractured Fairy Tales of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame, which bring a deep sense of jaded sarcasm to the proceedings, Tangled retains a deep sense of being part of the genre and a deep respect for the art form. Overall, I’d say that it has a style similar to Princess Bride or Stardust, having a wink at genre conventions, but maintaining that strong sense of respect for that kind of storytelling which I believe we never grow out of (and Bill Willingham of the Fables comics would agree).

Tangled is really a great movie on all counts. There is action and adventure, well-written leads, and fantastic comedy beats. In addition the voice cast does a great job in both singing and acting. Although the songs themselves aren’t super-memorable like Disney films of the Second Golden Age (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin), they are better than just serviceable, and do a good job integrating with the story. I may not have walked out of the theater singing them line for line, but each musical scene was very entertaining.

The ‘sidekick’ characters of Maximus the horse and Pascal the chameleon are always funny and entertaining and never veer into annoying territory (like Eddie Murphy’s dragon in Mulan). They serve the story well, and add a good deal of the comedy in the story. I think my favorite characters in the film may have been the “thugs and ruffians” that inhabit the Snuggly Duckling.

The animation itself is also a joy to watch. The colors are lush and rich (even in 3D), and the animation is absolutely stunning. It’s very fluid and flowing, and I doubt it would have been possible to blend human figures and a handwritten style in a CGI film like this a few years ago. It really makes it feel like a consistent and fun world, and brings a sense of style that is rare in CGI films.

Anyone who likes fairytales, and fun with a dose of swashbuckle should definitely go see Tangled. There’s not much else out at the theaters that crams this much fun into 100 minutes. Also, I need to get a cast iron pan.