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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

entry arrow10:50 AM | Such Simple Dreams

I didn't realize until so much later that something fundamental was bothering me about Disney's Tangled [2010]. Mulling a little over it, I knew I was not as moved by the film as I should have been, given the shallow joy I usually have for most of the company's animated fare: I bawled at The Little Mermaid, I sighed with Cinderella, I reached for the mighty roar with The Lion King. So how come I was mostly merely satisfied with Disney's fiftieth animated feature offering? Then it struck me: Tangled's emotional reach was a little too small for me. For a girl with magical hair trapped in a tower for most of her life, all that she could dream about ... was to see a flying lantern show.

Of course, those lanterns may be metaphors for something bigger, like how the green light beckons for F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby. They may be totems for our girl, symbolizing the freedom she wants to have. So I guess the problem lies in the fact that her yearning -- and all Disney princess stories are all about yearning -- is not exactly well-established by the filmmakers, including directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard. They haven't rooted in us that sense of urgency for empathy. That sense of yearning has always been hallmark for Disney's films, and they do it either through a splendid screenplay or through the grammar of song.

Granted, the screenplay has been jazzed up to approximate a modern feel without sounding off-putting for a fairy tale, and so it is quite witty and funny ("You broke my smolder!") -- but it's not all that. The music suffers, too, and I have come to believe that without the driving spirit of that impassioned genius of a lyricist Howard Ashman (who died of complications from AIDS in 1991), composer Alan Menken is just a little better than ho-hum. His songs, with lyrics by Glenn Slater, simply do not work. They do not evoke anything more than the perfunctory. The requisite "I Want" song that all Disney characters sing (Ariel with "Part of Your World" and Aladdin with "One Jump Ahead" and Cinderella with "Someday My Prince Will Come," so called because they sing about the one thing they "want" most in their lives, and thus becomes that emotional theme that embodies all that they dream about) is played here like a pop cliche: Mandy Moore singing "When Will My Life Begin" sounds hallow and does not engage.

Which is too bad because I really like the film and its characters despite its faults. It is charming enough, and Maximus the Horse and Pascal the Chameleon are a delight, and the plucky hero, a thief by the name of Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert, is a devastatingly charming roue who is somehow taken by our (surprisingly bipolar) "hairy" heroine. And there are set pieces here that take your breathe away. (Take note of the magnificent flying lantern scene. It rivals the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast or the stampede in The Lion King.)

In the final analysis however, for Disney's highly-touted 50th animated feature, it lacks a little heart and emotional persuasion, and that's sad.

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