Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Untangling some twisted fairy tale films

For your family viewing pleasure at the multiplex this Thanksgiving week,the newest Disney animated film with a fairy tale theme is making it's debut. Tangled is a remodeling of the classic Rapunzel story,with Mandy Moore providing the vocals for the now spunky heroine who uses her extra long locks to escape her tower and find adventure in the outside world.

Instead of a prince,her companion is a thief named Flynn Rider(Zachary Levi)who reluctantly accompanies Rapunzel on her quest in order to reclaim the treasure that puts him on the run from the law. The emphasis of this seemingly typical Disney Princess tale is on the humor and action portions of the plot,in hopes of luring a larger audience(i.e.,boys) than their last fairy tale based movie did.

That stratagem may work,as early reviews indicate,and while this may appear to be a radical move on Disney's half,it's really just another entry into the fractured fairy tale formula that has done both well and ill in animated form. Tangled,to it's credit,does look like a good time and is a story that certainly could do with a major makeover:

Disney did take a small step forward in this direction last year with The Princess and the Frog by jazzing up the basic setting of the story(New Orleans in the 1920s)and expanding upon that old sight gag about kissing a frog only to turn into one yourself.

While the film did make a respectable profit and garnered a few Oscar nominations including two for Best Original song,it was still considered to be a letdown. Many of the critics enjoyed the old fashioned romantic musical angles of TPATF,which may have been a turn-off to a strong portion of the targeted market,especially in the repeated viewing category.

Other factors were in play here regarding the overall success of the film(a couple of controversies about the new locale and addition of voodoo into the story line),yet the message that many have taken away from this is that in order to get a broader audience,you need to build a broader platform for your film:

The high water mark for popular off-beat fairy tale films is Shrek,the 2001 surprise hit animated feature loosely based on William Stieg's snarky picture book. By mixing broad humor and tongue in cheek pop culture riffs on traditional children's fantasy characters,Shrek spawned a major entertainment empire.

With three sequels,several made for TV specials and a Broadway musical version,Shrek has gone above and beyond the call of duty in bridging the gap between classic and postmodern appreciation of fantasy lore. The only downside here is the spreading thin of the material over time,that has lost a bit of it's initial charm for even some of Shrek's die hard fans:

Other attempts to copy the Shrek magic have less than enchanting. Happily N'Ever After boasted a serious array of Hollywood talent(Sigourney Weaver,Sarah Michelle Geller and George Carlin,to name a few)to provide the voices for their characters caught up in a scheme lead by a evil stepmother to control the path of fairy tale legend.

However,the combination of poor quality computer animation and a weak as watered down milk rendering of the story made this film a rather dismal outing indeed. How it managed to get even a direct to video sequel is beyond me,folks:

A slightly better offering in this department was Hoodwinked!,which chose to place a Rashomon spin on the Red Riding Hood tale by having each of the characters give their version of the events to the local police. Again,a nice mix of well known actors headed the vocal cast list such as Anne Hathaway,Glenn Close and Chazz Palminteri.

This funky fairy tale received mostly mixed reviews and suffered more from a lack of marketing that anything else here. Hoodwinked does earn a few bonus points for trying to emulate the stop motion style of Rankin-Bass fare and hopefully when the legal disputes over the release of it's sequel are cleared up,the original film can shine a bit more in the spotlight:

While I wish Tangled the best of luck in the holiday box office derby race it's about to enter,I do hope that live action takes on fairy tale fare are still in the running as well. Enchanted proved that such a concept has crossover appeal and can be considered quality goods by the critics.

That could possibly clear the way for a big screen version of Into The Woods to finally get made. The project has been on the back burner for some time now and it would be wonderful to have this incredibly creative take on the folly of fables shared with wider audiences via the silver screen.

This may be a faint thread on which to grasp upon but happy endings are sometimes possible even in the real world arena of pop culture wonder. There are worse wishes to make,after all:

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