The Review: Much has already been made of the fact that this is Disney’s 50th full length animated feature film, which is an incredible run by anyone’s standards. During that time, there have been a number of genuine classics made, but recent years have been more filler than killer (if you think that The Lion King, which feels like a recent classic, is actually 32nd of the 50, you realise how much filler there’s been in recent years). With the rise of Pixar and the move away from hand drawn animation, it seems it’s become more and more difficult for Disney to produce quality animation, so for the 50th film they’ve returned to a staple of the series – a classic fairy tale. While by no means the majority of that 50, it’s the classic stories that have often ended up being the most fondly remembered, so it makes sense to tap that rich vein of storytelling again, this time with a modern twist on Rapunzel.
“Modern twist” might be words to strike fear into the hearts of traditionalists, but rest assured that Disney, this time at least, knows what it’s doing. (Let’s be honest, despite being a Grimm fairy tale, no one really wants to see a prince fall out of a tower and get blinded on thorns. At least, not in a family animation.) So this is inspired by, rather than slavish to, the story of Rapunzel, and manages to put enough of a unique spin on events while still allowing it to hold together as a solid piece of drama. Sensibly, the story requires the main protagonists to get out of the tower after the first act and go on a quest, so there are plenty of characters and plenty of solid moments along the way.
Some modern animation is built around famous faces, almost animating the personalities of well know movie stars and then trying to fit a story around them. While Dreamworks are the most regularly guilty of that, they’re by no means the only ones, and traditionally that wasn’t the Disney way, at least until Robin Williams’ scene stealing performance in Aladdin. Thankfully the Disney tradition these days goes for a middle ground, much in the way that most Pixar movies do, of matching voices to characters of people you’ve probably heard of, but who aren’t quite on the A-list. Mandy Moore voices the hairy female lead, and Zachary “Chuck” Levi gets to play the stooge to the thankfully voiceless animals of the story, all of whom have excellent coming timing. The stand out, though, is Donna Murphy as the scheming Mother Gothel, who oozes menace and manages to recall the best of the evil witches from the Disney pantheon, while being able to belt out a winning tune as well. Character actors and old hands of the likes of Ron Perlman, Jeffrey Tambor and Richard Kiel round out an excellent cast.
Speaking of tunes, the other thing that Disney films used to be good at was their music, hitting a real high point with the Nineties work of Alan Menken and his various collaborators on scores such as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. Menken is back again here and the tunes are again fabulous, and help to round out the overall package. There’s a lot of hallmarks of the best of Disney animation of years gone by here, but also they’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. There are moments of real beauty, but there are also plenty of chuckles and a solid narrative to hang them all from, and if Disney can keep producing work of this standard then it should have no problem turning out another fifty.
Why see it at the cinema: The animation is more stylised than some of the photo-realistic attempts of recent years, and all the better for it, but everything from the action sequences to the mournful gazing is set against dramatic backdrops and works well on the big screen. There’s also plenty of incidental detail to be picked up on the cinema screen.
Why see it in 3D: The 3D is very well structured, with scenes such as the bar being arranged so that you feel the depth of field and it enhances the scene. The main attraction is the lantern sequence, and this should delight children of all ages – even those that have accompanied their children.
The Score: 8/10