Title: Tangled (2010; based on the fairy tale Rapunzel by the Brothers Grimm)
The Plot: A princess whose hair possesses magical healing powers is imprisoned in a forest tower; on the eve of her 18th birthday, she escapes and experiences life for the first time, with the help of a wayward thief.
The Songs: "Incantation Song," "When Will My Life Begin," "Mother Knows Best," "I've Got A Dream," "I See The Light," "Something That I Want" (performed by Grace Potter)A Little History: Animator Glen Keane pitched his ideas for Walt Disney's 50th Animated Classic in February of 2003, tentatively titled Rapunzel Unbraided. A veteran of over 26 years at Disney (animating everyone from Elliott the Dragon to Tarzan to Ariel in The Little Mermaid), Keane was initially skeptical of the CG format, feeling it was "rigid" and "unpleasant to look at." In April 2003, however, Keane hosted a seminar called "The Best of Both Worlds," at which he announced his intention to blend 2D and 3D animation together, "to bring the warmth and intuitive feel of the hand-drawn to CGI." The animators were inspired by Jean-Honore Fragonard's 18-century rococo painting "The Swing," and set out to copy its depth and dimension for the film. Most of the technology needed to accomplish this didn't exist, however, and had to be modified or created from scratch. Rapunzel's hair, for example (all 70 feet and 100,000 strands of it!), was almost impossible to render via computer; a team of ten software engineers led by UNC graduate Kelly Ward took six years to write the appropriate code, and in March 2010, were finally able to update their existing hair simulation software, dynamicWires, to replicate the exact sort of movement they wanted. The 3D team took a more aesthetic approach, relying exclusively on a process called "multi-rigging," which uses multiple virtual cameras to create the illusion of depth in a scene. Over 45,000 lighted lanterns are featured during the "I See The Light" sequence; likewise, over 3,000 characters are in attendance at the Kingdom Dance - the largest crowd in any Disney movie. (During the scene at the Snuggly Duckling, Pinocchio can be spotted in the rafters lounging near the ceiling.) Though Keane and fellow animator Dean Wellins were originally hired as directors, Keane suffered "non-life threatening health issues" and had to step down in October 2008, while Wellins moved on to other projects. Nathan Greno and Byron Howard (Bolt) were announced as their replacements soon afterward, and changed the title of the film from Rapunzel to Tangled, to the chagrin of many critics. Composer Alen Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater returned to songwriting duties after previously working together on Home On The Range (2004). Kristin Chenoweth, Dan Fogler and Grey DeLisle were rumored to play Rapunzel, Flynn Rider and Mother Gothel, respectively, until Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi and Donna Murphy were cast instead. The final budget for Tangled is estimated around $260 million - the most expensive animated film of all time. It opened November 24, 2010, in the U.S. and grossed $591 million worldwide. Though nominated for Best Original Song ("I See The Light") at the 83rd Academy Awards, it was (mysteriously) denied a nomination for Best Animated Film. A six-minute sequel titled Tangled Ever After debuted in January 2012, accompanying the 3D re-release of Beauty And The Beast.
How It Broke New Ground: Disney's first CGI fairy tale film to be animated entirely by computer, and the first animated Disney "princess" film to receive a PG rating from the MPAA (all previous "princess" films were rated G). Disney animators also made exclusive use of "multi-rigging" - the use of multiple 3D cameras to add depth to backgrounds, foregrounds and characters in relation to each other.
How It Holds Up Today: And so we come full circle. The studio that heralded the art of 2D animation, celebrated the form for over sixty years, tried (and failed) within that time to shy away from the princess/musical format which made them so popular in the first place, and resisted the temptations of CG animation for the better part of the past decade, now combines their old-school sensibilities with newfangled computer graphics, and wouldn't cha know it, a new kind of classic is born. Tangled has all the benchmarks of typical Disney fare: the reclusive heroine who longs for something "more," the studly romantic suitor who wins her love and affection, the Broadway-belted musical numbers that hammer home all the Big Emotional Moments. But Rapunzel is no mere pushover princess, surviving by her wits and her wiles and positively crush-worthy to boot; her would-be BFF, Flynn Ryder, is both a thief and a fraud (adorably, Rapunzel calls him "Eugene," his real name); and the songs by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater are just as clever/ subversive as their score for Home On The Range. Even the animation itself turns convention on its head, blending 2D and 3D elements together like an 18th-century painting sprung to life (deeper discussion of Fragonard's "The Swing," meanwhile, is bound to bring up all sorts of questions the filmmakers probably aren't prepared to answer.) The movie's loveliest moments, though, are the quietest ones: a nighttime vigil with literally thousands of floating lanterns, a tearful reunion between father, mother and daughter (SPOILER!) in which 18 years of heartbreak are mended in a single embrace. Leave it to Disney to make us fall for the formula all over again, at a time when we needed it most - respecting the glories of their past while pointing us toward a bright and boisterous future.