Thursday, November 11, 2010

Milestones for Disney and Me

In June 2000, I moved out of my parents’ house in NJ and into an apartment in New York City. I had always loved going to the movies, but now, living in a city with a movie theatre on every other block, showing everything from current blockbusters to indie darlings to old-time classics… well, it unleashed the beast inside me. I started going to the movies voraciously (abetted by my girlfriend at the time, who was equally into it), and by the end of the year, I saw ninety-something movies and it was awesome. Then in 2001 (a remarkable year for movies, I might add, led by AMELIE, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, MOULIN ROUGE and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, all of which made my top 25 of the '00s), I went even crazier and saw over 100 movies for the first time and ended the year with an astonishing 120 big screen experiences. I’ve seen over 100 movies every year since, but never really came close to breaking that record...

That is, until this year. And yesterday, Wednesday, November 10 at 7 p.m. at the Loews Orpheum Theatre on 3rd Avenue between 86th & 87th, I saw my 121st movie of 2010, breaking my long-standing big-screen record. I know... kind of insane that I’ve already seen that many movies and there’s still over a month and a half left in the year. Not really sure why this year has been so substantially more prolific than any other year (though you can bet I’ll try to figure it out when all is said and done), but there it is. The old record has finally fallen and a new one will now be set with every movie I see between now and December 31st. Who knows where the final total will end up! I am a madman… a madman who likes movies!

tangled-posterSo, what was the record-breaking movie, you ask? Well, in a way, it’s poetic. On top of being a movie-lover, you may also be aware that I am a die-hard Disney aficionado -- so I was thrilled to receive an invite to an advance screening of TANGLED, which happens to be Walt Disney’s 50th Animated Classic! Based on the story of Rapunzel, it feels more like a classic Disney fairy tale than anything we’ve seen in many years. Much as I enjoyed THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, it was a more modern tale -- but TANGLED is a good old-fashioned Disney princess story in every sense, and it is a wonderful triumph in pretty much every possible way.

Whatever John Lasseter has been doing since taking the reigns at Disney, it’s working wonders. He’s only credited as the Executive Producer, but from a storytelling standpoint, Pixar’s influence is all over this movie -- not just creatively, but fundamentally. From the plot to the situations and action sequences to the characters, dialogue and voicework, it really feels like Disney has experienced a rebirth under this new regime. Going back to their roots is a big part of it. TANGLED has all the elements that made films like SNOW WHITE, CINDERELLA, SLEEPING BEAUTY, THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST great: There's a magic kingdom (complete with a palace that invokes Disney castles of yore), a captured princess, a wicked stepmother (of sorts), wacky supporting characters (drunken bar thugs!) and of course, some animal friends (a sword-fighting horse!). Fantastic score & original songs by the great Alan Menken, too, which is key to any true Disney classic. The heartfelt “When Will My Life Begin,” creepy “Mother Knows Best” and hilarious “I’ve Got a Dream” are all catchy, memorable and worthy of the Disney songbook.

The whole 3D kick has been getting real old, real fast, but this one was definitely done right. Tremendous use of depth -- the dam break and lantern festival are two particularly noteworthy sequences. Definitely worth the extra few bucks (though that’s easy for me to say since I saw it for free). As for the animation itself, I admit, it's a shame that it’s not hand-drawn… but it’s solid CGI that was painstakingly made to LOOK like traditional Disney animation, and it looks good indeed. As is the case with pretty much any Disney film, there’s never any doubt that you are, in fact, watching a Disney film. Whether it’s CINDERELLA or THE LITTLE MERMAID or even a stinker like HOME ON THE RANGE, a Disney movie is a Disney movie and there’s something magical about that.

TANGLED is funny, poignant, a little dark at times and loaded with great moments (glad they kept in the iconic line, "Rapunzel, let down your hair!" -- I remember hearing that they were thinking of not including that, which would have been ridiculous). It contains zero pretense or tongue-in-cheekiness -- which, as a vintage Disney fan, makes me very happy. (There's even some old-fashioned Disney political incorrectness: I was a little surprised that they went the evil witch/stepmother route, because I can envision a slew of mother-figure support groups calling to boycott Disney products -- but kudos to them for doing it because Gothel is a tremendous villain.) The film will open on November 24th with my highest recommendation for kids, adults and kids-at-heart. It is a joyous movie-watching experience, which, at my screening, was punctuated by scores of little kids literally dancing in the aisles during the closing credits. Gives me hope that that the world hasn’t yet become too damn cynical to appreciate such goodness. We need more pure Disney fairy tales -- and this one is worthy of being a milestone for both the Walt Disney Co. and me!

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