Monday, April 11, 2011

A Very Short Tangled Review

Tangled was a movie that really surprised me. It currently has an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, while having a trailer that made it look just god-awful. It also had LOTS of animation that didn't make it into the film. In fact, most of the trailer didn't make it into the movie. Odd.

If you couldn't tell from the trailer, this movie is hip. Completely, painfully, desperately, hip. It tries so hard to convince us of its hipness bona-fides that it just gets annoying. Yeah, yeah, we got it. You're just like Shrek. You're poppy, anachronistic, and irreverent.

Unfortunately, while Shrek had irreverence right down the bone, Tangled doesn't. At its core, it's 100% Disney, in all good ways and bad. We have "non-traditional," lead characters who are actually rather traditional. We have a bad-guy who's 100% Disney, and songs that are so completely Disney that they actually seem out of place.

That's not to say that many of these Disney elements don't work, they do. It's the fact that the movie is split at its core. It can't decide if it wants to be Disney or Shrek, and it can't be both, because they are essentially antithetical.

This dichotomy results in jarring shifts of tone. I define the tone of a movie as the system of cause-and-effect that it adopts. For example, Loony Toons has a cartoon reality where cause and effect don't really exist. If you get shot, nothing related to actually being shot happens. The fact that a shift in tone can be jarring can be seen in the Family Guy episode where Elmer Fudd shoots Bugs and actually kills him. It's upsetting!

I don't like watching that clip. I experience a severe amount of anxiety and agitation because it shouldn't be happening. Family Guy has NO concept of consistent tone, with episodes wildly flipping between no cause and effect (Peter crashes a blimp into his neighbor's house), to normal cause and effect (Brian discusses suicide with Stewie).

There is nothing in Tangled that gets anywhere close to that, but it happens, a lot. The movie opens with a serious tone, flips poppy and irreverent, switches to "Disney" funny, back to irreverent, serious, funny, and eventually to a moment so dark and serious that it's completely out of place.

There are some very bright spots in the film. The animation is excellent, even if it's 100% Disney. Rapunzel, if hand-drawn, looks indistinguishable from other Disney princesses, and Flynn Rider is your standard, good-looking protagonist. Disney designs came about because it's hard to communicate complex facial features with simple, hand-animated lines. CGI gives the animator an incredibly powerful brush to fashion details and faces. As it stands, Rapunzel and her mother (both real and fake) appear to be separated by five years at the most. The only way Rapunzel looks young is that her boobs are smaller. How inventive -he said derisively.

There is one seriously cool character in Maximus, the military horse. His animation is spot-on, his facial expressions are the most dynamic of the film, truly, he's the only character that really steps outside of the mold to any significant degree. He's far more entertaining than Pascal, the chameleon, either of the leads, or any of the bad guys. In fact, the inevitable money-grab sequel starring this horse will probably be much more entertaining then Tangled.

All things considered, Tangled wasn't bad. A good deal of it was entertaining, but aside from Maximus, it felt like it is: a minor Disney production that will likely not be remembered outside of the occasional Disney Princess product.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Betty Boop Film Class

It's been awhile. Busy and whatnot, but here I'm back, with some new pictures nearly ready to post. First off, though, is a new film class.

By this point in Betty's history, 1932, she was the biggest cartoon character in Hollywood and one of its biggest stars. Mickey Mouse wasn't nearly the iconic star that he is now. It's not hard to see why Betty remained popular right up until the Hays code took effect; she had actual character. Mickey has always been a shockingly bland creation. He has little personality aside from being the archetypical "good guy." That's not entirely surprising since he was created in an era where cartoons were still something of a novelty. You didn't have time to create character, you had staging, events, and sight gags, all of which had to be delivered in less than ten minutes. Disney's later characters would be much more inventive and dynamic, like Donald and Goofy. Truly, the only character to really rise to the level of genius was Goofy.

For a better comparison, compare Bimbo to Mickey. Bimbo always had more edge than Mickey, but was almost as bland. His construct is similar, with pointy ears instead of round. Both Bimbo and Mickey were creations of their time. Koko was a bit more unique, which is funny since he far pre-dated both Mickey and Bimbo. Hell, Koko was essentially a tech demo for rotoscoping. Still, as far as character went, he was a clown and that's about it. Only Betty would become an icon. She would also become the best cartoon creation until Goofy

I've added a cartoon from Disney, also from 1932, which conveniently is the first cartoon appearance of Goofy. Or, really, a proto-Goofy that was referred to internally as Dippy Dawg. It's interesting to see the difference in the cartoons. Disney's cartoon characters were better animated, and each individual frame was better constructed, but shockingly boring in comparison to Fleischer's cartoons. Disney knew quality, but he had a terrible sense for comedy, timing, and direction. The cartoon isn't bad by any measure, but it is undeniably bland.

Alright, enough comparison. I posted this Betty cartoon because it is the second cartoon to feature a now-famous jazz performer in a role. Fleischer loved jazz music and enjoyed working with them and it shows in the music choices for his cartoons. They were less classically inspired like Disney's cartoons. They were also, again, more lively.

This is also another Fleicher cartoon that gets dredged up for racist accusations. Not as frequently as Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle, but frequently enough. It's also a bit more reasonable to see racism in this cartoon. An idiot, monkey-like savage is directly likened to Louis Armstrong. Still, I think that it's incorrect to interpret this as racism. It was a cartoon where everything was stereotyped for visual boldness. We know that Fleischer himself was not racist, and this is more accurate explained as a jazz singer singing the role of an antagonist, just like Cab Calloway did in Minnie the Moocher. Only in that one, we can't extract any racist interpretation since Calloway is represented as a dancing walrus ghost.

Other than that, this isn't Fleischer's best. The timing is a bit slow, the animation isn't as lively or entertaining, and he almost completely abandoned any lip-syncing. If it wasn't for Armstrong, this wouldn't much warrant a mention.