by D.W. Lundberg

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


So there's a new Disney cartoon out in theaters. It's called Tangled, about a rogue-ish thief named Flynn Rider who climbs a tall tower in the middle of a pastoral field and finds a barefooted girl with wicked-long hair extensions living inside. Hilarious adventures ensue, in which Flynn and his horse encounter ruffians in a forest, all the while accompanied by said girl who giggles a lot and swings from trees and other assorted things by said hair.

Did I mention the story's actually a modern spin on Rapunzel, that age-old Grimm's Fairy Tale your parents read to you as a child, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair" and all that? You probably gathered as much from the previews you've seen on television, only... why aren't they advertising it that way? Before the movie was released last weekend, I don't think they even mentioned Rapunzel by name in the trailers. If you haven't ventured out to see it yet, you might even be surprised to learn it's also a full-scale Disney musical, complete with show-stopping numbers by Alan Menken (of Little Mermaid / Beauty And The Beast fame) and all.

So why all the secrecy? It's simple, really. After the so-so $104 million Disney's The Princess And The Frog earned last year in U.S. theaters (can somebody please tell me how $104 million these days is considered "so-so"?), studio execs were afraid that advertising Tangled as a "princess movie" would hurt its chances with audiences, particularly young boys. Understand, your job within the movie marketing system is to get as many butts in theater seats as possible, so it makes sense to play up the "rogue-ish thief" angle, and toss in random images of that girl who vaguely resembles Rapunzel just so you’d nab the attention of all sexes involved.

Well, suck it up, kids. Tangled is a princess movie. And a musical, in the standard Walt Disney Studio tradition. Flynn Rider? He's a supporting player – Prince Charming with a twist. The movie follows the familiar Disney format, of girl trapped in mundane existence; sings of her longing to be free; makes life-changing decision, sings about it some more; embarks on life-changing adventure; meets exciting new characters (cue quirky musical number in which said characters get to strut their stuff); falls in love with hero, sings duet with him; and all while avoiding the clutches of the villain, who gets a sinister solo all his/her own.

In short: Been there, done that. But you know what? It works. Even after all these years, it works. It’s the energy of it, I think. This tried-and-true Disney formula is the equivalent of today's Romantic Comedies: the beats are the same, the outcome's the same, but what really matters is the journey that takes you there – the speed and vitality by which the filmmakers tell the story.

Tangled is the studio's 50th animated film and their first CG-animated princess story, and it looks remarkably fluid for all that. (The characters' faces lack the hard edges and creepy, photo-realistic definition of recent CG features, adding to its fanciful fairy-tale feel.) A few priceless comedy bits stand out, specifically a montage in which Rapunzel volleys wildly between bouts of utter joy over her new-found freedom, and her guilt over disobeying her mother's wishes. And that love duet (called "I See The Light") is a lovely capper to an already beautiful centerpiece sequence involving thousands of paper lanterns released into the skies. I also liked that our heroine isn't such a pushover, like so many princesses before her; she's able to figure out a crucial piece of information late in the movie, all on her own, that has a direct impact on the rest of the plot.

Still, as happy as I was to fall in love with that ol' Disney magic all over again, it got me thinking: What if our older Disney classics had been advertised the same way? What if, from the very beginning, studio executives had been equally conflicted over how to market these types of films to audiences the world over? How would our beloved princess stories be sold to us then?

So, a mini-quiz. Just for kicks and giggles, I've re-jiggered the plots of three beloved Disney classics, to reflect our turbulent times. Can you guess what they are from these alternate plot descriptions? Imagine, if you will, how these titles might have played had they actually been told this way:


1) A group of close-knit, characteristically-diverse miners of less-than-average height live a happy, idyllic existence. They sleep where they want, eat how they want, they whistle while they work, and they never have to worry about how they look, smell, or what anyone else thinks of them. That is, until some pale-skinned black-haired beauty moves into their cottage, organizes all their stuff, and forces them to bathe on a regular basis – the kind of motherly-type influence they were hoping to avoid in the first place. Begrudgingly, though, each miner learns to appreciate this beautiful stranger in their own way, despite her odd craving for questionable produce.

2) A prince, minding his own business in his jewel-encrusted castle, refuses to let some mangy old hag enter his home and dirty up his carpets during a freak thunderstorm. He is then punished for his cleanliness, as the hag turns out to be a witch of some sort, and curses him to live out his remaining years covered in matted fur, until he finds someone who will love him. Years later, an old man breaks into the castle (what is it with these elderly people, anyhow?) and tries to make off with the prince's prized clock and candle set. In the nick of time, the old dude's smarty-pants daughter arrives on scene, and offers a trade: she will stay with the prince for eternity in exchange for her father's life. Fair enough. Could this girl be the one to finally break the curse?

3) The story of a kindly, middle-aged woman raising three daughters on her own, one of them a step- child from a previous marriage. The woman tries her best to nurture all three equally, but it doesn't help that the step-daughter, who's volunteered to do all the household chores, acts so ungrateful, constantly talking back and forgetting her place in the family hierarchy. When the woman finally has the chance to marry off her eldest daughter at the king's royal ball, wouldn't you know it, it's the step-daughter who sweeps the prince off his feet instead. Which leaves our heroine no choice but to ground that wicked girl to her room, where perhaps she'll finally learn her lesson.


Should be easy enough, yes? So easy, I'd hardly even call that a quiz. Don't let that stop you from neglecting to chime in, though.

1 comment:

  1. 1 - Snow White
    2 - Beauty and the Beast (I loved your plot for this one by the way)
    3 - Cinderella