Tangled marks an interesting point in Disney’s evolution. For a decade, Pixar had produced more creative and more artistic films. It had produced more memorable characters and more impactful stories. With that company’s acquisition in 2006, Disney also bought the brains behind Pixar’s magic in John Lasseter.
With Lasseter in charge of all creative for both companies, though, the vision behind each set of films began to meld and slowly become indistinguishable from one another.
Tangled marks a clear beginning of that process. It is the first film that Lasseter oversaw from start to finish. The film was announced a year after Lasseter took hold of the reins and Pixar became part of the Disney family of companies.
With a budget of $250-million, Disney bet big on Tangled being a huge success. Given the box office gold that had come with Lasseter’s previous projects, it was more than likely a safe bet. But it was still $100-million more than anything Disney had spent on a film in the past decade.
The Princess and the Frog, while successful at the box office, was not quite as successful as Disney had hoped. To appeal to a broader audience (read: boys) and bring in more cash, the name of this film was changed from Rapunzel to Tangled. The move was an attempt to stop marketing princess movies to young girls and bring more boys back into the Disney fan base. The move was decried as sexist by many (after all, how many movies with a male lead are renamed to bring more girls into theatres?), and they have a point.
While Rapunzel is a strong female lead, she requires the men in her life to accomplish her goals. Lasseter’s most successful characters — from Woody and Buzz to Marlin and Nemo, to Mike and Sully, and even Carl Frederickson and Russell — lean in a decidedly male direction. Lasseter’s female characters (see: The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Ratatouille, Cars, Up) are mostly sidekicks or tag-alongs. Brave and Wall-E are the few notable exceptions.
Disney’s shift in creative direction away from its classic princesses and into this more male-dominated story-telling is an unfortunate Lasseter trademark.
But on a technical level, Tangled did much to bring Disney into the modern age of computer animation. The quality of artistry in the film is unparalleled, and light years ahead of the Saturday-morning-cartoon styles of Bolt, Chicken Little or even Meet the Robinsons. From a sheer numbers perspective, Tangled pushes the limits of what computers were able to render on screen to that point. Rapunzel has about 70 feet of hair, bunched into about 100,000 strands. The lantern scene has over 45,000 floating lanterns in a single shot. The same sequence shows a crowd of over 3,000 individuals. The technology to govern all these digital objects didn’t exist when Tangled was first green lit, but was instead developed as needed by the studio — something that is true for many of the films Pixar produces.
The story focuses on a young woman coming of age while locked in a tower, only to meet a fast-talking thief on the run from the same palace that she was stolen from as a child. It is not bogged down with needless subplots, like alien invasions or being hunted by family members. Instead, the story is high simplified and focuses instead on the personal developments of individual characters.
Critics fell in love with the film and almost unanimously announced that Disney magic had returned to the studio. Tangled earned a 90 per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and opened in second place at the box office (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 took the top spot). It eventually took in nearly $600-million worldwide at the box office, easily beating out its Dreamworks competitor for the year, Megamind, which took in a relatively paltry $321-million.
Once again, though, Pixar’s movie of 2010, Toy Story 3, blew away all competition by breaking the $1-billion mark and winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.
Tangled does hold a special place in the Disney canon, though, as the 50th animated feature film — an achievement that played heavily in the film’s marketing.
But as Pixar’s revenues easily outpace Disney’s, and competition with Dreamworks becomes an annual necessity, the path to success feels increasingly obvious: Follow Lasseter. As Lasseter’s vision for animation, artistry and storytelling become the core of Disney’s corporate identity, the products of the two studios are starting to become increasingly difficult to tell apart.