Disney has had a long history of creating imaginative retellings of classic fairytales in a way that no other production company has managed to pull off. Often times these stories that are well known are taken and tweaked, adding musical elements and a level of detail rarely afforded to otherwise small stories. The Disney Princess line of products and films is one of the most lucrative business models on the planet, because of this the company is always eager to expand that universe. While, arguably, the messages behind the stories are dangerously optimistic, few can deny that when they’re on their game, Disney Animation studios manages to give the world entertaining stories of extreme optimism with fantastic attention to detail. Tangled was released in 2010, expanding the Princess universe to include a computer animated counterpart in Rapunzel. The film managed to capture most of what makes the classic animated films so great, namely beautiful animation, quirky humor, and catchy musical numbers.
Tangled retells the story of Rapunzel, the princess who is locked in a tower for, what she assumes is her own protection. Her most noticeable attribute is, of course, her incredibly long hair. What she doesn’t know is that the woman she believes to be her mother is actually her captor. She was kidnapped at birth for her hair’s magical ability to rejuvenate the elderly and wounded. When the dashing thief, Flynn Rider, enters her life, they embark on an adventure together filled with one liner quips and bouncing musical numbers. As things progress, the villainous “mother” attempts to reclaim her prisoner, while Rapunzel begins to remember her true family.
Computer animated films are filling a void left by traditional animation. This higher saturation of CGI, has created an expected amount of mediocre films, which is exactly what I expected Tangled to be. These cartoons are huge money makers for the studios that produce them. What I loathe about Pixar, happens to be their single largest cash cow, and that is the Cars franchise. What I was unaware with this particular project, was the amount of money it cost to produce. To date, Tangled is the second most expensive film ever made, costing an incredible 260 Million dollars. While that kind of money is never a guarantee for quality, it appears that it was put to good use.
Few movies activated my imagination as a child the way The Rocketeer did. My mother would tape two 2-liter bottles together and attach yarn for shoulder straps so that I could pretend that I had a rocket pack of my own. The movie that so influenced my play time was made, naturally, by Walt Disney. The title refers to the protagonist after he finds an experimental jet-pack created by Howard Hughes and develops a “super hero” persona. Cliff Secord is a stunt pilot in 1938 LA, it is he, along with his mechanic friend, who discover the rocket-pack stowed away in the cockpit of a plane. What starts as an innocent experiment to get the pack working, quickly turns into a game of cat and mouse. While Cliff aims to fine tune his ability with the Jet-Pack, the Nazi party wants nothing more than to get it’s hands on it so they can reverse engineer it and use it in the war effort.
It’s a high-flying underrated adventure that manages to captivate the audience with convincing visuals and likeable characters. The period-piece feel ads to the atmosphere in a very “Indiana Jones” sort of way. A good chunk of what makes the movie work so well is the attention to details and set design. The premise alone lays the ground work for an exciting ride, and with solid performances from it’s entire cast the set pieces can easily meld into the story, just the way they should. The jet-pack itself offers many opportunities for creative uses of special effects to take center stage. As this movie was made in the early 90s CGI was nowhere near as advanced as it is today. Industrial Light and Magic did a fantastic job in not attempting to show us amazing feats that would have been impossible for them to convincingly show the audience. Also, it should be noted that although not the most colorful, The Rocketeer himself has one of the coolest super hero costumes ever.
The past few decades have been filled with various renditions of super hero movies and, with the exception of the Superman franchise, They have relied on the dark nature of comic books in an attempt to convey a sense of seriousness to the film. The Rocketeer, on the other hand, forgoes the dark and gritty and replaces it with an adventurous and almost innocent sort of fun in the face of great peril. The lighter tone was one of the biggest caveats that critics of this movie point out; in my opinion it is one of its many strengths. Few comic book movies strive for a PG rating, but The Rocketeer was able to give us a fun and visually engaging feature that was enjoyable for younger children as well as adults.
Certain human experiences will always transcend time. They make themselves prevalent throughout life, becoming visible not only in first hand accounts, but through art, literature and music created by people wishing to express the way they feel about a particular emotion. If film has done one thing it has popularized the streamlining of ideas by taking something that someone feels and repeating that sentiment over a multitude of flickering moving pictures. No one has accomplished this better than Walt Disney; their message of “follow your heart” has been repeated continuously for the last few generations. While that message is almost always given with a healthy dose of “magic” often relying on the supernatural elements of their stories to emphasize the ability of the heart, one particular film stands out due to it’s use of fantastic musical numbers, but a complete lack of anything truly magical. I am referring to, of course 1967’s The Happiest Millionaire.
I should clarify; though The Happiest Millionaire is devoid of magic, it is certainly not lacking in the absurd. The story follows the life of the Biddle family through the eyes of the newly hired Butler, John Lawless (Who is played impeccably by Tommy Steele.) The Patriarch of the family, one Anthony J Drexel Biddle (Fred Macmurray) is a man that is as eccentric as he is rich; and he is extremely rich. Among Mr. Biddle’s hobbies is boxing, mixing Bible study with exercise routines, raising alligators in the conservatory and singing opera. Biddle is forced to face certain realities, particularly with his socially awkward Daughter Cordy. While she is on the cusp of becoming a woman, she has been raised with two brothers. She is interested in boys, but knows more about boxing than she does about flirting. The film progresses to her eventual courtship and engagement to a young and equally rich gentlemen, and follows the complications that arise from having such an odd family.
The Sherman brothers have created more music for film than any other song writing duo. Which is why their involvement in this movie (which is similar in style tofilms like Marry Poppins) comes as no surprise. The score, along with the narrative musical numbers in this film help explain the emotions and thoughts of the characters perfectly, which is no easy task when considering the range of characters within the film. Tommy Steele in particular is fantastic as the newly immigrated butlerand narrator of the story. It’s a blast to see him weave through the sets, often times breaking the fourth wall.
It’s a fun and meaningful story that is connected by sweet melodies and meaningful lyrics. While certainly not gaining as much notoriety as some of the more well known live action Disney musicals, The Happiest Millionaire certainly upholds the Disney standard. As I said before, it’s devoid of “magical” elements, though it lacks no charm and only adds to the fact that the Biddle family actually existed, and Mr. Biddle was just as eccentric as Fred Macmurray was in this film.