Cartoon Corner: Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure Review

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What’s the Story?

Freed from the tower and the clutches of her kidnapper/abusive parental figure, Mother Gothel, it looks like Rapunzel finally has her happily ever after. She’s reunited with her real parents, has the man that she loves, Eugene, in her life and the whole kingdom of Corona to welcome her home, what more could she possibly want? Whatever it is that’s missing it’s enough to convince her to take a late-night trip out beyond the walls with her new handmaiden, Cassandra, to where the Sundrop Flower once grew. Now there are indestructible black rocks growing out of the ground where the Sundrop fell, and when Rapunzel touches one they suddenly begin to grow. That’s not the only effect though as the magic inside Rapunzel is reawakened, giving her back her incredibly long golden hair and brand new magical abilities. Adventure is calling for Rapunzel, it will take her to the Dark Kingdom and back, test her closest friendships and even see her facing a near-immortal evil from Corona’s past. Nobody said being a princess was easy…

The Review

I love Disney, always have always will. Doesn’t mean I won’t make fun of them or call out the machinations of our corporate overlords, but when the business suits get put away and the creators and talent working behind the scenes can just do their thing, Disney produces some of the best in the business. That brings me to Tangled the Series (also known as Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure from the second season onwards). I’ve talked about this show a couple of times before on this blog, which you can check out HERE and HERE, and I am very much in love. Is it the greatest cartoon that Disney has ever produced? No, that’s a three-way death match between Gargoyles, Gravity Falls and the latest DuckTales cartoon (potentially the Owl House, but we’ll talk more about that next week). That being said, Tangled the Series genuinely inspires me as anyone who’s ever visited the Disney folder on my Deviantart account will probably be able to tell. (In fact, to save you the trip I’ve put some of my favourite pieces throughout this post!)

This show is proof that it doesn’t matter what your idea is, what matters is how you do it. I have no idea how this series got the initial green light. You want to make a series following on from Tangled? A film that pretty succinctly wrapped up its plot, has no dangling plot threads left over and even has a short to give us all the wedding scene we wanted. Also you want to set the series in-between the film and said short so we know for certain nothing is going to happen to any of the characters that appear in the short, because they have to be there. What are you supposed to do with that? If it was me I’d have thrown my hands up in defeat at the first script writing session, but luckily I wasn’t on staff for this series because they did have a plan. Not only that, they pulled out literally all the stops, bringing back Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi to voice their characters again and putting Alan frickin’ Menken on music. Tangled the Series is what happens when you take an idea and pour as much talent and passion into it as possible.

Let’s talk about the animation, which is another highlight of this series for me. I’ll admit it took me a few minutes to get used to it, but now I’m fully onboard. Disney’s been trying out this style in some of their shorts for several years now, it’s this weird mix of 2D and 3D where I’m not sure if it’s 3D models textured in such a way that they look 2D, or if it’s 2D characters somehow ported into a 3D space, or a mix of the two. Whatever it is it really works, even on a meagre TV budget. There are certainly some shots where you can tell that something is off, but then there are other times when the animation is free to dive into these big sweeping shots that just take your breath away. Add on the utterly gorgeous backgrounds and the storybook look to everything and it’s like you’ve stepped into a Mary Blair sketchbook. (FYI, Mary Blair was an artist/animator who worked for Disney back in the early days, think Sleeping Beauty and you’ll get the look I’m talking about. Also, check out her concept art because it’s all gorgeous). When I’m in love with a series’ art style I often say I want to take each frame of animation and hang them up on my wall, well, for this series I want to cover every wall of my house with frames from this show. I love it and, honestly, I’m praying that Disney will try this style with a big budget film some day.

What about the story though? It’s all well and good bringing in all these talented people and making everything look really, really pretty, but it’ll all fall flat without some substance behind it. Thankfully I love the story of this series as much as I do the artwork. What took me by surprise the most was the attention to character detail. Admittedly I was just expecting this series to be silly princess hijinks in the capital, which is how the series starts, but there’re little bits that show just how much the creators get these characters. Rapunzel’s reaction to returning to the tower for the first time, her dad waking up in the middle of the night, terrified that he’ll lose his daughter again and the things that fear makes him do… all of it is spot on.  Rapunzel is by far the most interesting Disney princess to me, she’s spent her whole life trapped in a tower, she knows nothing of the outside world and is probably the most child-like princess in the Disney canon. She’s never had to make difficult choices, she’s never had responsibility, but now she does and we follow her as she struggles along that journey. Honestly it’s been a joy to watch her grow up as she’s tackled everything from friends betraying her to ancient evils and shocking revelations about those around her.

That’s something else I have to give this series credit for. It effortlessly adds and expands on the mythos of the film, turning it from a fairy tale story about a flower with healing properties into a grand adventurous epic. I mean I never expected ancient wizards, goat-headed demons and alchemists’ robots to turn up in a Disney princess story, but somehow it all works. The only real complaint I have about the story is the amount of filler episodes it has. Tangled the Series works very much on the tent pole format, where there are several episodes in each season that progress the series’ arc and need to be seen, but all the ones in-between just tend to maintain the status quo and keep things chugging along. The tent pole episodes themselves are all fantastic, and I love them, but the filler are a bit more hit and miss. Don’t get me wrong, some of the filler episodes are my favourites in the series, but others are very much just padding. Fun padding, but also obviously padding. It’ll probably be less of a problem on a binge watch, but watching it week to week it can wear you out waiting for the story to get properly going again. It’s not a major problem though and I do enjoy if not outright adore 99.9% of this series.

On a final note, I can’t leave this review without mentioning the music of the series. As I mentioned earlier they got Alan Menken back and I am so glad that they did. The songs of this series, in my opinion, are actually better than the movie’s. Nothing against Tangled’s songs, I do have a great deal of fun with them, but nine times out of ten, the ones in this series pack so much more of a punch. From the sheer joy of songs like ‘Wind in My Hair’ and ‘The View from Up Here’, to the heartbreak of ‘Waiting in the Wings’, the Broadway power of ‘Nothing Left to Lose’ and the epicness of ‘Ready As I’ll Ever Be’. These songs are scattered throughout the series, mostly in tent pole episodes and the majority of them knock it out of the park, especially the villain songs (though personally I think of them as ‘antagonist songs’, but I can’t talk about that without spoilers so I won’t). Just go listen to them, you won’t be disappointed, though some songs may come with spoilers so be warned.

The Verdict

All in all, Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure is a fantastic series and a true testament of what you can do when you put talent and passion into your idea. Combing a clear understanding of the characters with a dramatic storyline, expanding mythology, breath-taking art style and some toe-tapping songs, it’s been a joy to watch. I’m still sad that this series has ended now after three brilliant seasons, but I’m also incredibly grateful that I’ve gotten to go on this journey with these characters in the first place. It’s not perfect, but this is the series that cemented Rapunzel as my favourite Disney princess, potentially my favourite Disney character period. Check it out, maybe you’ll have had as much fun as I did.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

There’s one last stop for the Disney train this year as we take a look at one of Disney’s latest productions, Next Week…

Take a trip to the Boiling Isles!

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Tangled the Series Queen for a Day

Blog Tangled Queen for a Day Review Title

“That is one determined horse.”

I’m four years old! Well, the blog is and to celebrate I’m getting indulgent again and looking at a franchise I love, and this year I’ve picked Tangled! A little while ago I reviewed the TV movie Tangled Before Ever After (you can read it HERE) and to sum up, I loved it! Tangled is the film that got me back into Disney and it will always have a special place in my heart, and whatever my initial worries about the TV series were, I’ve gone from pleasantly surprised with it to blown away. It takes a little while for it to properly find its footing, but when it does it’s really good. It’s smart, it’s funny and its wormed its way into my heart in much the way the original movie did. (Seriously, Disney, release the whole series on DVD, I will buy it in a heartbeat). That brings me to today’s movie, though movie isn’t entirely accurate. Really this is an extended episode of the series (episode sixteen if I remember correctly, though don’t fear, this works perfectly fine in isolation and is suitably epic enough to be released by itself), but enough waffling I’d better get on with the review!

Now while you don’t need to have seen any of the series to watch this film, you will need to have seen Tangled Before Ever After, but in case not, here’s the main stuff you’ll need to know. Rapunzel is out of the tower and struggling to acclimatise to life as a Royal and all the rules and pressure that brings with it. Needing a bit of breathing space Rapunzel and her best friend Cassandra went beyond Corona’s walls and came across some strange, indestructible black rocks. Upon touching one of these rocks Rapunzel’s hair started to glow and returned to how it was in the original movie, i.e. blonde and seventy foot long. The black rocks started to chase after Rapunzel, but she got away.

This story picks up in Old Corona, where the village there is being torn apart by the spreading black rocks. We’re introduced to Varian, a young alchemist who wants to study the rocks and his father, Quirin, the head of the village who wants everyone to stay as far away from the rocks as possible. Varian is, in a word, adorable. He’s the perfect mix of goofy and sweet, he’s like a puppy that you just want to hug, seriously the joy in his voice as he says he’s going to make sandwiches is infectious. Rapunzel meanwhile is shadowing the King and Queen and learning all the royal duties she’s one day going to have to take on, like listening to the worries and complaints of her subjects. In fact Rapunzel is going to get a trail period for her future role as the King and Queen plan to go on a two-day vacation for their anniversary, meaning that Rapunzel is going to be Queen for the day! (Title drop). Unfortunately Rapunzel is soon to learn that being in charge isn’t as easy as she thinks.

That’s what I love most about the Tangled the series (or Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure as the series has been renamed in season 2), it’s not afraid to progress the characters. Rapunzel is probably the most child-like Disney princess there is, which is understandable. She was locked up in a tower for eighteen years, never given a chance to grow up or get any experience with other people or the outside world. Back in the original film she makes the assertion that she never, ever, breaks a promise, and however much I love Rapunzel, that is something a child would say. Unfortunately for her this story is here to teach Rapunzel that sometimes promises get broken.

Now, back to the story, where a vicious snowstorm is blowing into Corona. At first Rapunzel is super excited seeing as how she’s never been outside in the snow before, but things start to get dangerous as the winds pick up and the temperature drops (Anyone else getting the urge to sing Colder By The Minute from the Frozen musical? No? Just me, okay). Though the rest of the cast aren’t having a much better day, the King and Queen get into an accident, their carriage going over a cliff. Meanwhile Varian is experimenting with the black rocks and ends up slowly encasing his father in amber. That’s one of the things this episode does well, it may have a fair amount of plot to jungle, but you can’t deny it does a good job of ramping up the danger again and again until things are as dire as they’ve ever been in Tangled.

Anyway, Eugene and the pub thugs convince Rapunzel to let them go out into the storm to find the King and Queen, Eugene showing that he may make a good king one day after all (character growth, love it!). Then comes the moment. This is the moment that this episode and the series as a whole went from pleasantly surprising (with the odd amazing episode, seriously go watch the Pascal one, it’s heartbreaking.) all the way up to mind blowing. You see Varian comes running in, begging for Rapunzel to come with him and help his father. She has some kind of connection to the black rocks and is the only hope Varian can think of, plus she did promise to help him. On the other hand though, the whole kingdom is in danger. This blizzard is threatening everybody on the island and if Rapunzel doesn’t stay and figure something out, that’s a lot of people that’ll be in trouble. Rapunzel has to make a choice and no matter what she picks, someone is going to get hurt. In the end Rapunzel picks her kingdom, meaning the girl that swore she would never, ever, break a promise, finally does, Varian having to be dragged away by the guards.

Character growth aside, that’s not going to stop a blizzard, but maybe an old legend can. Another thing I love about this series is that it’s unafraid to expand and add to the mythos of the original film. This time we get a legend about an evil warlock and the engineer who defeated him with a combination of magic and science, all of which leads Rapunzel to a machine hidden deep under the Corona Mountains. Of course we can’t just get the machine turned on and sort this out, no we have to risk the life of Pascal, who sacrifices himself in an overly dramatic, yet at the same time heartfelt way. The machine starts and its no surprise to anyone that Pascal survives. The series is maturely written, but that doesn’t mean a Disney cartoon is going to kill off a character (not unless their a parent anyway, actually it’s a wonder that Rapunzel’s parents have lasted as long as they have).

After all that the storm disappears and the King and Queen return home in one piece, all’s well that ends well, right? Well, Rapunzel is a little traumatised, over the course of the episode she’s sent her boyfriend out into a deadly blizzard, turned away a desperate friend, risked the whole kingdom on a legend and almost got her oldest friend killed, so, yeah, she’s not feeling super. In fact Rapunzel wonders if she can ever be a queen, though in a really sweet scene Eugene is there is comfort and encourage her (I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned, but Eugene and Rapunzel are probably one of my favourite couples, period, they have terrific chemistry and are always there to support one another, as a good relationship should be). Even that isn’t the end though because the episode decides it wants to step things up even further as we return to Varain. Feeling betrayed by Rapunzel and with his father completely encased by the black rocks, he swears that he’ll find the answers to free his father, no matter who gets in his way. Wait, did a side character, my cute puppy dog Varian, just turn into a villain? He did! In a Disney cartoon no less! Okay, I’ll admit, I know Varian’s story isn’t over yet, but Varian has the potential to be one of the greatest Disney villains ever. I can’t even think of a time that Disney has done the whole friend-turning-into-a-villain thing, they normally either stick to cackling, pure evil like Maleficent, or surprise villains like Hans in Frozen. There’s a lot of dramatic weight and story potential with Varian, and while I’ve seen some of what they’ve done with him, I can’t wait to see where else his story has to go. Again, it shows how this series isn’t afraid to evolve and grow things in a natural way, which is a heck of a lot more than I was ever expecting from this series.

Just to pull back on the praise of the series for a second, I do have a couple of gripes with the episode, most of them are pretty minor, but it just stops the story reaching perfection. For starters, while the episode makes the most of its run time, giving the main characters quiet, emotional scenes for them to grown in, this does come at the expense of some characters. Cassandra hardly gets anything to do in this story, outside of a couple of lines and a bit of a song. Considering she’s on the cover of the DVD I feel that’s a little unfair to her (I’ll admit I didn’t like her character that much at first, but she’s grown on me). Also because there’s so much going, a few scenes and plots feel a bit squeezed, I mean we’ve got to deal with the blizzard, Varian’s story arc, Rapunzel dealing with being a queen and Eugene going to rescue the King and Queen. It’s not a major problem, but I feel like a couple of scenes could have used a few more seconds to let them breath to get a bigger impact out of them.

My last quibble isn’t really the stories fault and more one of how this episode has been released (i.e. as a standalone with no sign of the full series being released any time soon). Now the story works perfectly fine by itself, you can jump straight into it after Before Ever After, but I do feel it’s so much better if you watch it as part of the series, as intended. As a part of the series you get introduced to Varian before this story and get to spend a few episodes getting to know him and even the Pascal fake out is better because the series genuinely made me care about the little guy prior to this point. Also the episode does leave a few things hanging, like the secrets that Varian’s father has been keeping and what Varian is going to do next, so you’ll have to watch the series to find out what all that means (though not everything has been revealed yet). Minor quibbles though as I said.

On the whole, I love this episode as I love the series. The characters, voiced again by some superb talent, and the story is allowed to grow and evolve in natural ways (something I appreciate so much). The animation is bright and energetic, it’s well written and it has a couple of really catchy songs. Rapunzel’s ‘I’ve Got This’ is toe-tappingly infectious and Varian’s ‘Let Me Make You Proud’ is stunningly sung by Jeremy Jordan. Worth it for any Tangled fan. Now, Disney, about that full series DVD release…

As I mentioned at the beginning this is my four-year anniversary of running this blog and I just want to thank everyone that has commented on, liked or even just read one of my posts. I still get an immense amount of pleasure out of just rambling on about shows and films that I love and shows that frustrate me and I thank you for putting up with me while I do it. It means a lot to me, so here’s to the next year, I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Infallible Fish Reviews: Tangled Before Ever After

Blog Tangled BEA Review Title

“Piece of cake! Have you not seen the seventy feet of my-father’s-going-to-kill-me growing out of my head?”

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Disney fan and Tangled in particular is a favourite of mine (it’s on my top 10 Disney films list HERE). Tangled was the film that got me back into Disney after those dark teenage years were I thought Disney, and even cartoons in general, were just for kids (I can only admit that I was an idiot and throw myself on the mercy of our Mouse Overlord). Tangled was, and still is, smart, funny, gorgeously animated and Princess Rapunzel herself was brave, hopeful and strong in all the ways that’s needed.

Yet, when I heard that Tangled was getting a TV movie and even a series to follow, I will admit to some trepidation. On the one hand its great to have a chance to further explore Rapunzel’s world, however, Disney sequels tend to be notoriously…bad and we’ve yet to get to Frozen 2 or Wreck It Ralph 2 (please be good. Please be good.), so I didn’t know if the curse was broken. That and it’s a TV movie and no offence to the TV branch of Disney (you’re wonderful people, keep up the good work), they don’t have the budget or the full might of Disney animation backing them up, so, yeah, I was nervous.

The DVD has finally been released over here in the UK though and I am so glad to report that this is a good movie. I just slipped right back into the world and it was as if I’d never left, probably helped by the fact that Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi are here to reprise their roles as Rapunzel and Eugene respectively. Sure things look a little different that the original movie due to a new animation style (I’ll come back to this in a minute), but the characters and the world are all as they were and yet more at the same time. The characters get to evolve in logical and understandable ways, we even get a bunch of new characters to add to the cast, the script is smart and funny and we even get a quick look around Corona with a little bit of added history and plenty of mystery.

The story picks up six months after the film, and before the short Tangled Ever After, with Rapunzel finally returned to her loving family, getting used to being a princess in a fancy castle and with her boyfriend, Eugene, always by her side. Things couldn’t be more perfect, or could they? Something doesn’t feel right to Rapunzel and while she loves her family, she can’t help but feel restrained by all the rules and expectations now placed on her as the one-day-to-be-Queen. You can’t help but wonder if Rapunzel has just traded one tower for another. Things aren’t made any better when Eugene puts her on the spot and proposes! Rapunzel can’t take this and storms out. She just needs to breathe. She just needs to get out! Luckily Rapunzel’s new friend Cassandra has a way to sneak her outside.

Which just about brings us to the songs. There are two new songs in this film (well, technically three, but the last one is a reprise of the second) and in an example of how the creators behind this film really wanted the best for it, they got the Alan Menken back to do the songs. He’s really on form with ‘Wind in My Hair’ and ‘Life After Happily Ever’, both are catchy and great and brilliantly preformed, especially by Mandy Moore. I really love some of the lyrics, with them ranging between poignant and funny.

Back to the story though and I do have to commend how it treats the characters so maturely. This could so easily have been such a clichéd story, but it’s the writing and the performances that really raise it above the bar. My hat especially goes off to Levi and Moor who effortlessly fill their characters with such familiar warmth its as if they never left. Moments like the King stood at the window, hearing the night that Rapunzel was taken from him all over again, help you to get inside his head. Yeah he’s being harsh and frustratingly overprotective, but you get why. He’s afraid. He doesn’t want to lose his daughter all over again and he’ll do whatever he deems necessary to protect her. There’s a beautiful line where he admits that the night she was kidnapped the best part of him died.

Even Eugene is handled maturely, admitting that while he doesn’t understand why Rapunzel turned down his proposal, he’s going to keep trying until he figures it out. It’s nice to see an actual relationship in Disney that goes past the initial honeymoon period, with a few bumps in the road, but that doesn’t dent their love for one another. Well done Disney.

Anyway, plot, Rapunzel and Cassandra sneak out and find a bunch of mysterious black rocks that are unbreakable. What’s more, once Rapunzel touches them, the rocks start multiplying, growing out of the ground and chasing after the two. Then Rapunzel’s hair starts to glow and grow until she’s back with the long golden locks she’s known for. They manage to escape the rocks, but now Rapunzel has the small problem of hiding her, now unbreakable, hair from her family, something she can’t do when a bunch of thugs crash her coronation party and try to kidnap the king. This is my only real complaint about the film, the villain. While Lady Cain is a good villain, she’s a threat and has a good motivation (hinting further at the tyrannical rule of the King of Corona, but that’s for another day) the problem is she’s hardly in the film. She hardly interacts with Rapunzel and her motivation is something that we never get to see, it’s just told to us. I couldn’t help but feel she’d be a much better antagonist if the film had an extra twenty minutes to give some time to her.

Finally, the animation, I will admit it took some getting used to, but I like it. It’s simple and clean, very much looking like a flash cartoon, but in a painted style and is done in these gorgeous pastel colours. It moves well and there are a couple of shots and camera movements that are just breathtaking. It’s very much 3D animation masquerading as 2D and if this is the way Disney is going I’m on board with it. The greatest strength this movie has though in the visual department is its use of colour. There are some achingly beautiful uses of colour in this film, from the bright and vibrant colours of the castle and the town to the darker shades of the kingdom beyond the wall. Everything just really pops and I really like it.

All in all Tangled Before Ever After is a great continuation of the original film, allowing the characters to evolve and grow in a natural way. It’s filled with great performances, catchy songs and smart writing, even if the villain could have used a few more scenes. True there isn’t much resolution to the mystery of the unbreakable rocks and Rapunzel’s return to being blonde, but that’s for the series to deal with. This move is very much set up for that, but with enough warmth and effort put into the production that it’s clear that isn’t the only reason for its existence. Now, when’s the series coming out on DVD?

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates (usually) every Friday.

Top 10 Favourite Disney Films

Disney Top 10 Title Card

Ah, Disney. There are so many things to make fun of. From the princess stereotype that you helped to engrave on the public consciousness. The formula for the ‘perfect’ kid’s film that you created, and you and your copycats appear content to inflict upon us until the end of time itself. The fact that source material is clearly something you glance through once, then lose down the back of the sofa. And yet, you own most of our childhoods, and therefore own our very souls.

There is a lot I can rip into Disney for, but none of that will ever abate my love for them. Disney is one of the most well-known and long-running animation studios in history. They are pioneers of the animation medium. They have had a huge influence on not only cinema, but on popular culture too. When you think of snow white, or the little mermaid, its Disney’s version you think of first, isn’t it? More than that though, Disney was my introduction to animation. They are masters of the art form, and there are so many times watching their films when all of a sudden I’m that little kid again, sat on the carpet in front of the TV, utterly captivated by the dancing images in front of me.

In celebration of Disney’s continued presence in my life, the Infallible Fish (which is I) present my Top 10 Favourite Disney Films. Now, a few rules. First, I’m picking these ten films from the Disney canon, the approved list of Disney’s best animated features (wait, why is Black Cauldron in here? I thought Disney agreed no one was ever allowed to mention that pile of pig’s manure ever again? Hold on, Dinosaur is in here too? You know I’m beginning to think this is less an approved list and more a marketing gimmick. Nah, that doesn’t sound like Disney at all). Second, this is a list of my FAVOURITE Disney films. This is not a ‘Best of’ list, it’s a list of the films I enjoy watching the most. My heart rules here, not my head. Anyway, enough stalling, on with the list!

  1. Sleeping Beauty

I would argue that this is one of the most beautiful Disney films in existence. It breaks from the usual Disney house style and instead goes for a style similar to the concept art of Mary Blair. The backgrounds are some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen. This film is art. Yes, our two leads are as boring as cardboard, but this was back in the old days of Disney when the leads were the least important characters. The villain and the comedy sidekicks are clearly more worthy of attention, and my god those characters are glorious. The three good fairies are brilliant in every single scene, both good natured and hilarious. Then there’s our villain, Maleficent, the greatest of all the Disney villains (I don’t care what kind of propaganda film you’ve seen, she’s pure evil and that’s that). The scene where she gloats to the Prince while showing him what his future holds is a stunningly twisted scene that just oozes evil.

  1. Mulan

Ok, I have to be honest here. I do love Mulan (the film), but not so much Mulan (the character). Don’t get me wrong, she’s a good character, and a great progressive female lead for Disney, but she wasn’t that interesting for me. She’s kind of, well… bland. I think this is mostly because her personality is kind of generic, and she generally plays the straight man (you know what I mean) to everyone else. Luckily she makes up for any flaws by being a total badass. And I do love everybody else in the film. The guys in the army are hilarious and I could happily spend 90 minutes in their company. The action scenes are great, especially in the finale. I adore Mulan’s fight with Shan Yu. I also like the little touch of how the smoke curls like it does in Chinese paintings. Then there’s Shan Yu. I know he’s not the greatest villain. He’s not the gleefully evil villain we’re used to. He’s doesn’t have the charm of the best villains. But this guy is a threat, he is a wall for Mulan to climb, and as that he is perfect. Every time he’s on screen you feel like it’ll take a bazooka to just slow him down (and it kind of does).

  1. Pinocchio

Who says Disney can’t do dark films? This film is utterly terrifying. Not only does this film have more villains than therapy sessions you’ll need after watching it, but none of them ever get any comeuppance. Evil people doing evil things, and getting away with it? Now that’s scary. This film is also a marvel of animation, from Geppetto’s workshop to the sea floor, each frame is crammed full of detail and movement. And it’s a very mature story, about a boy learning to choose between right and wrong, and not in the usual fluffy Disney way we’ve come to expect. Pinocchio isn’t a goody two-shoes. He makes mistakes, gets seduced by the lure of an easy life, you know, like an actual kid would! Disney writing a child character like he’s a normal, fallible person? What black magic is this?

  1. The Jungle Book

The nostalgia is strong with this one. The memories are a bit hazy, but it’s either this or Bambi that was the first Disney film I ever saw (And I’ll tell you now that Bambi ain’t on this list so you can guess which one had the biggest impact on me). I love this film. I regard the characters as old friends who occasionally pop in on me. I can still hum all the songs when the mood takes me (it is an agreement with my neighbours that if I try to ‘sing’ again, they will shoot me). Yeah the story isn’t the most action-packed. Yeah the animation is a little scratchy, and not the prettiest. But this film is just so funny, and charming, that it carries me away every time. I should probably comment on the fact that some people think the monkeys are racist. Honestly, I don’t see it, and never have. Not once in all the times I’ve watched this film have I ever thought the monkeys were a representation of, well, anyone. They were just funny monkeys who knew how to really ‘swing’ (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

  1. Tangled

This was the film that brought me back to Disney. I left somewhere around about Treasure Planet, Disney had lost its steam and I was under the mistaken impression that Disney wasn’t cool (I can only claim that I was a misguided youth at the time and throw myself upon the mercy of our mouse-eared overlord). Tangled won be back though. I’d heard some good reviews, and when I saw it staring at me from a shelf in HMV, I thought to myself “Eh, we’ll give a go”. 90 minutes later and I was in love. Firstly, this is a gorgeous film, the textures, the colours. I’d say, in terms of CGI animation, this is just as good as any Pixar film (Yes, you heard me!). The side-characters are hilarious. The villain is creepy and manipulative. The leads are full of personality, managing to run the full range from funny to sympathetic. I even like the songs and will happily sing along to them (as long as I’ve checked my neighbours our out first). I know this isn’t the greatest film, or ground-breaking in any way, but I adore this film. It’s just a brilliant ride from beginning to end.

  1. Lilo and Stitch

Oh God. The tears. They just won’t stop. Honestly, there isn’t a Disney film that makes me cry like a baby more than Lilo and Stitch. There are so many scenes that are just heart-breaking. The characters in this film feel like actual living, breathing people. They’re not perfect, they’re a little bit broken, and they have a lot to learn. Our two leads are just fantastic. Lilo is just a bundle of crazy wrapped in insanity. You can see she is severely damaged inside, struggling to cope with the loss of her parents, and honestly I don’t think there’s a better representation of the effects of loss on a child outside of Land Before Time. Then there’s Stitch. He starts off as just a destructive monster, but as he starts to look for more meaning in his life, and realises just what he’s missing, you can’t help but feel sorry for the little guy. That scene where he takes the copy of the Ugly Duckling and goes out to sit in the woods, waiting for his family to show…dammit the tears are back! Honestly the other aliens are the weakest part of this film. They have nice designs and all, but none of them have the depth or heart of our human characters. All in all, if you’ll allow me to borrow from Stitch a little bit, this film is small and broken, but still good. Yeah. Still good.

  1. Wreck-It Ralph

In all honesty, I’m not much a gamer these days. What with writing, anime, books, and my job (in that order of priority), I’m fairly busy most days. So, yeah, I admit it, games have kind of fallen by the wayside a little bit. Thankfully Wreck-It Ralph isn’t just a great video game film, it’s a great film. Period. I love all of the characters. They are all great, funny and loveable in equal measure, with the perfect voice cast for all of them. Even what are supposed to be the comedy sidekicks feel like they have a little more depth and personality than normal. I really care about all of these guys and want to see them all make it to the finish line happy. Speaking of happy, that brings me to the scene. The scene that made me realise I love this film. It’s the scene where Ralph has to stop Vanelloppe from racing, and so has to smash up the cart they built together. I know, it sounds terribly cliché, but words cannot do it justice, you just have to watch the film to understand it. It feels so emotional, and Sarah Silverman’s performance is so pitch perfect it’s disturbing. It literally made me sit up and take notice. I love Wreck-It Ralph down to its very last pixel.

  1. Hunchback of Notre Dame

There is no doubt that this was a daring undertaking for Disney, and not all of it pays off. I give Disney credit for having the balls to take this film on, but in its misguided attempts to keep this film ‘kid-friendly’, they created a horrible monster. The Gargoyles (the one time I wish the comic relief had been left out of Disney). And really, they’re the only glaring flaw with this movie. Well there are a couple of little ones, but I don’t mind them. The rest of the film is wonderful. It has so many great characters. Quasimodo, a leading man who doesn’t get the girl, but wins our hearts. Esmeralda, one of (if not the) best female leads in a Disney film. It features some of my favourite songs in ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’ and ‘Hellfire’. Speaking of Hellfire, that brings us to the second best Disney villain of all time, Frollo. He is such a rarity among Disney villains, he’s a complex villain. Disney mostly operates on an evil is evil morality, never really looking into why our villains do what they do outside of basic motives, but with Frollo we actually get a look into his mind. He believes that he is a hero, that what he is doing is right, and will rationalise any evil act away. If it wasn’t for the supreme evil that is Maleficent, then Frollo would be my favourite villain.

  1. Aladdin

Arabian nights, Las Vegas style! All the pop culture references, the celebrity voices, this is DreamWorks before DreamWorks. Yet it still manages to hold on to its heart and make you care about all the characters. Our lead couple are one of the best couples in Disney. You feel the chemistry between them, and they play off of one another wonderfully. Aladdin and Abu are both funny and sweet all at the same time. Jasmine is smart and quick on the uptake, always managing to figure out what Aladdin’s up to and play along. Then there’s Genie. I don’t care how many people try to copy the Genie; they’ll never be as good as the original. Because the late, great Robin Williams wasn’t just there for comedy, he filled the Genie with so much warmth and emotion. You really do want to see him set free at the end, and it’s so satisfying when he is. The Genie is a master class in how to pull off the comedy sidekick. Also, on the character front, how they managed to get so much emotion out of a carpet I’ll never know. This film might have a lot of glitz and glamour to it, and some great animation and songs, but it’s the characters that make it worth watching again and again.

  1. Lion King

Do I even need to explain this one? You’ve all seen it. You know the characters, the songs. Everything about this is great. I’d go so far as to call it a perfect film. The animation is gorgeous, capturing the wild beauty of Africa. The songs are some of the best Disney has ever released. The characters are so memorable and loveable. I still believe the stampede scene is one of the greatest moments in animation history. The way it builds from Simba noticing the pebbles starting to shake all the way through to Mufasa’s tragic death. It’s exciting, dramatic, hopeful and then tragic all in one go, with some of the best animation and musical backing I have ever witnessed. For those five minutes the stars align and everything is perfect. Even to this day I still get goosebumps watching it. And Mufasa’s death has to be the hardest hitting in all of cinema, by that point in the film we’ve come to love the big guy, and when he passes it feels like a genuine loss. Then things get even worse as Scar digs the emotional knife into Simba and sets the Hyenas on him. Honestly there is not a single frame I would change with this movie. What else can I say? This is the king.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Frozen

Cursed into the form of a talking cartoon fish by a half-mad deity known only as the Writer, the Infallible Fish has no idea who he is, or where he comes from, all he does know is that he has a burning urge to watch some animated stuff.

Blog Frozen Review Title

Ok, my first review on this blog, and I have to be honest, I struggled with what would be a good place to start. There are plenty of movies I want to gush about, some I want to tear apart, and a fair few that I think deserve a bit more of the spotlight, all of which I shall get to in time, but to start there is really only one choice. It’s Frozen. Yes I know everyone from here to the South Pole and back has voiced their opinions on it, but for me my feelings on Frozen are…mixed, to say the least.

Now while reviewing this film, I’m also going to have to mention Tangled at certain intervals here. Normally I don’t like to compare films, I believe they should stand on their own, but my feelings for Frozen are too tethered to Tangled for me to pull the two apart. I’m a bit nervous to say this, but I prefer Tangled to Frozen.

Guys? Guys! Put the comments down! Look, Tangled has a special place in my heart. It’s the film that got me back into Disney. I left Disney somewhere around Tarzan, I saw a couple of movies after that, but they just didn’t feel the same as those blissful childhood memories. Then one day I found a DVD of Tangled staring at me in a shop. I’d heard some pretty good reviews, so I took a chance, and promptly fell in love. Sure Tangled isn’t the greatest film, it’s doesn’t have the most depth or heart wrenching story of the Disney films, but it is really good fun. I adore the characters, the side-characters are a blast, and I love the sense of humour it has, pretty much every joke in the film has me laughing, no matter how many times I re-watch it.

And that’s the first problem I have. For you see, it was hype that killed Frozen for me. My expectations where astronomical going into this film. Disney was on a roll (I Love Wreck-it Ralph more than Frozen and Tangled combined), I loved the songs (I’d heard them all about a month prior to seeing the film), and although I knew it would never be faithful to the Snow Queen, it would at least have elements of it in there, so what could possibly go wrong? Let’s find out shall we?

We begin with “Frozen Heart”, a great song that I feel is a little underrated. It does a great job of setting up the themes for the movie. There’s just one itty bitty problem with it. Kristof. You see this movie starts off badly, for me anyway, because this film is terrible at explaining itself. I have the chair and spotlight prepared, so here we go.

Example one, Kristof. We see him here working alongside these ice-sellers as they gather their stock, but none of them acknowledge the kid. They seem content to let a small child run around a dangerous work environment with no supervision whatsoever. Then they just clear off without so much as a glance at the kid. Yes, keep singing, maybe the brat will go away of his own accord. Come on, I’m just asking for a little clarification here. Who is Kristof? Where are this kid’s parents? I know Disney likes to shuffle parents off screen one way or another, but this is ridiculous. Is Kristof an orphan? If so, where are his legal guardians? Who takes care of him? Who feeds him? Clothes him? Explain movie! Explain!

And, oh boy, here we go. That brings me to THE scene, the scene where Frozen fell from the great podium that I had put it upon in expectation. This is the scene where we meet the trolls. Ok, let’s go through this one by one. First, Kristof and Sven have followed the King and Queen and sneak a peek, and a troll proudly declares that she’s going to keep them. That is kidnapping. Guards! Arrest that troll, and find me this kid’s parents, they’re clearly neglectful. Honestly, worst parents ever.

Second, when the immortal lines are uttered. “Born with the powers, or cursed?” “Born, and they’re getting stronger.” Ok, annnnd? What? That’s it? No, no, no movie. I know I was asking you to explain to stuff, and I’m glad you’re finally starting to try, but I require a little more than that. What do you mean she was born with the powers? Is that a thing? Does it happen often? If so, why are people so freaked out by it later in the movie? Where does this magic come from? Did the Queen have an affair with an ice wizard and the king is just too stupid to realise it? Maybe she got a cold while she was pregnant, who knows, if the movies does it’s certainly not telling us.

Err… Can I just interject here?

What? Who said that?

I did.

Who are you, voice in italics?

You shall discover that after a long and harrowing journey through the depths of despair and insanity, but that is for another time.

Sounds ominous.

It will be, when I actually figure what I’m going to write.

Wait, write, are you the Writer? The half-mad deity that created me?

You see the reason I’m here is…

Completely ignore me, ok.

You’re little grumble about not knowing where Elsa’s powers come from, to my knowledge, it’s not actually mentioned in the book either. As I recall, they explain it like so, snowflakes are like bees, and all bees have a queen, so therefore snow must also have a queen.

There is logic in that (somewhere). Look, ok, maybe the book’s not much better, but this is a particular bug of mine. I hate it when magic is just used as a kind of blanket term in the hopes that the audience doesn’t realise there’s no actual explanation. Like, why is there suddenly an omnipotent deity speaking in italics in my review?


My point exactly. Where was I? Oh yes, ranting!

Third, why do the trolls have to remove Anna’s memories of magic? I realise we wouldn’t have a film if this didn’t happen, but what purpose does it serve? How will memories of magic hurt her?

And finally, four, the King and Queen are idiots. I mean, they’ve just been told that fear is enemy, so they decide to lock up their daughter in one of the most paranoia, fear-inducing environments they can possibly concoct. Congratulations, you’ve just won the Worst Parents award from Kristof’s family. Ok, ok. I joke about this, I think the entire Internet has joked about it, but I can kind of see where the parents are coming from. They’ve got the wrong end of the stick, they think fear from the outside is the enemy, not helped by the troll’s little light show, so they want to keep Elsa away from that. I can even understand them not telling Anna, seriously if you want to keep a secret, you do not tell small children. Just ask Regina from Once Upon a Time, she’ll back me up on that. It’s just that the King and Queen don’t have more than two brain cells working at any one time to warn them of the psychological damage this will do their daughter, the Queen’s daughter anyway.

Ok, time to bring in Tangled. Because you see no film is without its plot holes, and Tangled has a few. How does Mother Gothel know the magic song she has to sing to the flower? The Queen, a brunette, gives birth to a baby girl, with a full head of blonde hair I might add, and the King, also a brunette, doesn’t question this? Or have the very handsome blonde tennis coach quietly executed? (Again with the affairs, you’d think I was bitter or something.) How does an old lady sneak into a palace and kidnap the Princess? How useless are these guards? Oh my mistake, these are the same idiots who guard a crown by STANDING WITH THEIR BACKS TO IT!!! A horse could do a better job than those morons, and he does! Crime practically vanishes once Maximus takes charge. I love that horse so much. Sorry, I got sidetracked, my point is, yes if you think about Tangled’s opening, it needs to do a little explaining itself, but the one think it doesn’t need to explain, is the motivations of its characters, we know exactly why they do what they do. We understand the mechanics of the magic, it’s a little vague, but it’s better than “Born or cursed?” Frozen just doesn’t explain the thought processes, or its magic all that well. The art of good storytelling it to wrap the audience up in an experience, so that they don’t notice the flaws until after they’ve left, but at this point in the film I’m just asking myself too many questions, and its pulling me out of that experience.

Now just to be clear, I like Frozen, but by this point with Tangled I was in the first heart-fluttering embrace of love. Whereas with Frozen, from this point onwards the film has to work damn hard to win me over, it manages it in the end, but it’s the fact that the film has to try, whereas Tangled is just effortless.

A demonstration of my emotional state at this point of the film, when I first heard “Do you Want to Build a Snowman?” or as I prefer to call it, “Anna Adorable, Gonna Try and Make you Cry Now” (I know it’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s accurate), when I first heard this song, it was on YouTube a few weeks before I saw the film, and I’ll admit it got me a little choked up. But when it’s played in the film, I’m sorry I ain’t crying. I’ve still got a bad taste from that last scene in my mouth, and this is way too early in the film for me to cry. I barely know these characters, I can’t cry over them yet. Come back in half an’ hour, then maybe you’ll get me.

Then the film begins its assault on the hardening defences of my heart. The opening salvo is a kid’s response to having to wear a suit. “Why do I have to wear this?” “Because the Queen has come of age.” “But why is that my fault?” Ok, keep that up and you might just win me back movie, but then we hit another stumbling block.

Alright, I’ve held off on this long enough. Tangled get back in here. I’m sorry but in my opinion Tangled is a much prettier film. The colours are more vibrant, the lighting is fantastic, the animation is exhilarating, especially in the action sequences. Frozen feels like a tiny step backwards, which I admit didn’t help me warm to the movie (Sorry, I’ll never make that joke again, probably).

So now the film comes back with a counter-offensive. Anna. Oh Anna you’re all grown up now, and what can I say? I love you Anna, marry me! She’s nerdy, she’s awkward, a hopeless romantic, full of boundless optimism and guts a plenty. I don’t care how many dolls and lunchboxes Elsa sells, you’re the star of this show and that’s that. Anna is a joy to watch, helped by Kristen Bell’s enchanting performance. She’s like Rapunzel, but more, and I really love Rapunzel. One of my favourite Anna moments, is just how adorable she is when she tries to be all authoritative and Elsa-like as she demands Kristof take her up the mountain. (Stop that sniggering in back, you have dirty minds the lot of you.) And I have to say, after years of Disney putting forward this ideal of true love, where you just have to meet your fated partner and you’ll then live happily ever after with no problems whatsoever, outside of evil sorcerers anyway, I am so glad that Disney is finally done with that. Love has never worked like that, and it never will. I love how this film tackles love, in its different forms and misconceptions. The only real misstep is that they use love as the magic wand to fix everything at the end, though I suppose that’s only so jarring because it comes about so fast. This message is such a huge step forward for Disney that I just want to hug everyone that worked on this film. Well done guys.

This brings me to Elsa. Elsa is a great character, full of depth and tragedy. She is a character archetype that Disney has never done before, and is a milestone character because of that. I must admit though, a part of me would have liked to see Elsa go a bit more ‘villain’, only briefly mind. Just to give Elsa more a chance to be a bad ass and show off, and let’s face it, Elsa is such a good character she could easily pull off being a hero and a villain. She is also played wonderfully by Idina Menzel, who captures the complicated character perfectly. Honestly, Anna and Elsa make this movie for me. I love every single scene where the two of them interact, I just wish there was more of them together. Every exchange is both joyous and heart-breaking all at once, my favourite being at the party after Elsa’s coronation, where Elsa rightly refuses to allow Anna to marry Hans (How can she go out with me if she’s already married?). This triggers a row between the sisters, leading to probably the best performances in the entire movie. The pain and desperation is so raw it hurts. Anna pleading with her “I can’t live like this anymore!” and Elsa whispering to her “Then leave.” And my heart just shattered. The amount of emotion Idina packs into those two little words is just phenomenal. (Now you may play “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?” and I will weep a bucket full of tears.)

Sigh. Here we go with “Let it Go” (See what I did there?). Now I love this song, it’s phenomenal (despite the fact that it’s played ALL THE GOD DAMN TIME!). Idina knocks it out of the park. On its own this is a fantastic song, I cannot say that enough and I want you all to keep it in mind when I say this next part, but in the context of the film it doesn’t work for me. This song is about Elsa finally breaking free, letting go of her past and joyously stepping forward into a bright new future, except there’s the little matter of her country being trapped in a perpetual winter! Now I know Elsa doesn’t know that’s happening yet, but still I feel like the song should be cutting back to the town for scenes of people freezing to death. Elsa is running away, and at no point does the song show that this is a bad thing. The song makes it sound like Elsa is stepping into a wonderful new chapter in her life, when in reality she’s making the biggest mistake of her life, and the song doesn’t get that across. (Running away from a problem is never the answer kids.)

Remember how I said Tangled has better animation in my opinion, well I think I know why. You see there is one part of this film’s animation that is astoundingly gorgeous and breathtaking, and that is the snow. The way it moves and flutters. The way it reacts to people falling into it, or scooping it up. It acts just like real snow. Obviously a lot, and I mean a lot, of money went into making those particle effects, and they’re worth every penny. (Yes I’m wearing my animator’s anorak, I never take it off.)

Speaking of snow, now we get to meet Olaf (Can you say segue?). I really like Olaf, I respect the amount of thought and effort that went into him, which is a thousand times more than most other talking magical sidekicks. He’s the embodiment of the happy moments in Anna and Elsa’s childhood, and has a heart as big as they come. Now that’s something that is often forgotten with the comedy sidekicks, they’re not just a series of jokes to keep the kid’s entertained; they’re actual characters with feelings. Think back to the Genie in Aladdin, or Mushu in Mulan, they had some really tender moments. Olaf is just the same. That scene with Anna by the fire is beautiful, and has a wonderful message about what love really is. Some people are definitely worth melting for indeed. It also helps that Olaf’s quite funny, he’s not laugh out loud funny for me, but he does make me chuckle, though that is mostly down to Josh Gad‘s superb delivery.

Now by it’s probably time for me to discuss another big part of the film, and that’s Hans. When we first meet Hans he’s charming, and dashing, and Anna clearly has the hots for him (Back off buddy, I saw her first). And Hans is such a nice young man, there is no conceivable way he could possibly be evil. Ok, I’m sure we all know the twist, and I gotta admit, I had it spoiled for me before I went in to see the film, so I can’t judge how shocking it is, but I do admire it. It’s a really good idea, and there are a couple of subtle little hints to it, it just needs a few more in my opinion, so then it doesn’t feel like it comes completely out of left field when it’s finally revealed.

The hints come at the aforementioned party. When Anna and Hans are walking through the rose garden, not once does he complicate Anna. Even his first line in “Love is an Open Door” is “All my life I’ve been searching for my own place.” Nothing about Anna, just getting his butt on a throne all his own. Still Anna is just too desperate for love and attention to see any of this.

Now I think what Hans needs to sell himself as the villain a bit better, is a villain song. Could you imagine if he sung a dark little reprise of “Love is an Open Door” here? It would have turned him from incompetent to incompetent yet pure evil. Yes, Hans is an incompetent villain. What? Anna is two minutes away from dying and you’re just going to leave her in a room where anyone can find her? (So sorry to take time out of your precious schedule.) And another thing, you clearly need to read up on this marriage lark, because claiming you exchanged marriage vows (WITHOUT ANY WITNESSES!!) is in no way legally binding. And while you’re there, check out monarchy as well. When Anna and Elsa die, the throne will pass to their next living relative, no matter how distant they may be. The only hope you’ve got of getting within sitting distance of that throne is to start a civil war and install a democracy. The people will vote for you I’m sure, but that’s a long way off. You have won nothing by any stretch of the imagination! Moron! Okay, breathe. Yeah, Hans is a bit of a letdown.

There’s one more little bit that bugs me about Frozen, and that’s the set pieces. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but they all feel like they’re on a smaller scale. The wolf chase, running away from Olaf-zilla (I know he’s called Marshmallow, but I prefer my name for him), Elsa’s fight with the soldiers, they’re all kind of mundane. I don’t feel the blood pumping through my veins at an ever increasing speed. Tangled has some really amazing action scenes, the part there Rapunzel and Flynn escape the soldiers, where the dam breaks and water comes flooding down, or the ending where Maximus leaps across the rooftops, racing away at breakneck speed. Now that’s action. Frozen just doesn’t have that.

Ok, that’s a lie, Frozen has one fantastic action scene, and that’s the ending. The entire scene is truly epic as Kristof races across the frozen fjord to get to Anna, with the ice cracking, and ships crashing all around, the camera swooping between our protagonists. The way the storm sweeps away as Elsa collapses in grief, thinking she killed Anna, it’s breath-taking. All of it leading up to Anna sacrificing herself to protect her sister. We see Anna’s last tiny breath leave her as she turns to ice. The entire scene is beautiful, filled with drama and heartbreak. (Where’s my bucket, I need to cry again.) It’s only slightly marred by the rather quick resolution, where Elsa figures out the magic cure, love. You were doing so well Disney.

All in all, Frozen has better performances, better songs, stronger themes, and a great pair of leads in Anna and Elsa. I admit that logically Frozen is the superior film, but I still prefer Tangled (Because when has logic ever had anything to do with love?). I went into Frozen wanting to love it, I feel I should love it, but I just don’t, not completely anyway. I have too many quibbles with the narrative for me to embrace this film wholeheartedly. The parts are so much greater than the whole here, but I think I’ve finally come to terms with that. I may not love Frozen, but I do really like it, and I will be watching it again without a doubt. I’ll just watch Tangled a bit more often.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog should update every Friday.