Every woman who has ever known me well enough to talk about such things has told me that Disney movies made her wish that she had blond hair, as so many Disney heroines did. I never really understood it at the time, especially since there are non-blond Disney heroines. Not only that, but I’d always thought jet-black hair was far more attractive than blond. The Fates smiled on me, and one day I met the beautiful, black-haired Asian woman who is now my wife. However, she is always talking about wanting to dye her hair other colors, especially (of all things) blond. Yuck. But I digress. More recently, I’ve begun to see why so many women feel the way they do about Disney and hair. Disney’s latest animated fairy tale makes the picture pretty clear, as it comes right out and declares the two points Disney has always been making.

First point: brown-haired girls are useless. Disney has always hinted at this. While the hair colors of their leading ladies are more diverse than some people acknowledge, there has only ever been one brown-haired Disney heroine (unless you count Megara, who is a pretty small part of the Hercules plot, not to mention terribly drawn). However, in Tangled they just come right out and say it. The villainess, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphey), discovers a magic flower that has the power to keep her young forever. Centuries later, the flower is uprooted and made into medicine to save an ailing, pregnant, brown-haired queen. The queen then gives birth to Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), who has long, flowing blond hair, that contains the flower’s power. Gothel kidnaps her and spirits her away to a secluded tower to keep herself young. We later learn that Rapunzel’s hair can never be cut, or it will turn *gasp!* brown and lose its power. Isn’t that a slap to the face of every brunette in the audience.

On the upside, Disney may have found their most likable heroine ever in Rapunzel. The princesses of Disney’s golden age (e.g. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty) were justifiably criticized for being overly passive, depending on a man for their happiness, and waiting to be rescued. On the other hand, Disney’s silver age reeks of overcompensation for this. In the early ‘90s Disney subjected us to a whole generation of Kimpossible-esque princesses spouting musical rhetoric about making their own choices and marrying only for love. It wasn’t terrible, but it was an obvious attempt to be politically correct in an age of commercials full of girls playing soccer and shouting about how girls kick butt. Then, as Disney descended back into mediocrity, they had their heroines attempting near-suicidal stunts and fighting more than Lara Croft. Esmerelda slapped and kicked her way through innumerable guards in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was all pretty forced.

Lara Croft as a Disney Princess

Rapunzel transcends all of this. On the spectrum between pining prince-craver and emasculating bitch she really doesn’t show up anywhere. She’s a pretty simple character; all she wants is to get out of her tower for a day. She’s humble, yet full of life. Adventurous, yet real and relatable. She’s warm, human and caring. Far less sexualized than Esmerelda, Jasmine, or even Ariel, she’s still thoroughly female. She’s spontaneous, pretty and, yes, blond.

Not only that, but Rapunzel actually has a legitimate grievance in her life. Just when I thought I’d go insane if I had to listen to one more spoiled brat sing about her desire for “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” it was easy to sympathize with the plight of a girl who just wanted to see what was outside her bedroom.

Our male lead (Zachary Levi) is a bit more of a stock character; not too different from Aladdin or Phoebes, but he’s still a lot of fun to watch.

This horse is a better fencer than his rider.

Of course, you can’t have a good story without a villainess to antagonize the primal couple. Disney has been through a real dry spell of villainesses in the last couple decades; the last one I can name was Ursula in The Little Mermaid. I am happy to report that sinister femininity is back with a vengeance in Tangled. Which brings up the second point Disney is trying to make: Black-haired women are evil. The queen in Snow White, Malificent in Sleeping Beauty, The Queen of Hearts, Cruella Devil – they all had black hair (or black horns). Even Ursula had black hair once she transformed into a young woman for the last act. It’s also worth noting that, while Disney does have black-haired heroines, none of them are Caucasian, except Snow White.

True to form, our antagonist in Tangled has black hair. Not only that, but director Nathan Greno uses this hair extensively to emphasize her evilness. Time after time it frames her face for a menacing close-up, or flows into a black cloak that she’s wearing. In all fairness, though, Gothel is a pretty three-dimensional character, especially for a villain. It actually took me almost half the movie to be sure that she was the villain, and that’s rare. Early on, she’s mainly a doting, if over-protective, mother for Rapunzel. It just makes it that much more fun to watch her true colors come out later.

All in all, this is a genuinely terrific movie, and you owe it to yourself to check it out. Disney succeeds here where they’ve often failed – in making a movie just as enjoyable for adults as for children – and they did it with almost no violence or sensuality. Tangled deliciously skewers every Disney cliché, from emotive animals to ridiculously spontaneous musical numbers. The story is loaded with hilarity from start to finish, and it’s also a story full of true love, overcoming one’s fears, and often heart-wrenching self-sacrifice. It reminded me of why I once loved Disney. And while I no longer do, and never will again, it was really good to go back for an evening.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (5 votes cast)

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Dr. HHave you ever found a movie sufficiently interesting that you watched the director’s commentary, hoping it would enhance your enjoyment of the film, only to waste two hours listening to pointless self-congratulations? Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog (Dir. Joss Whedon) has one of those few commentaries that I actually watched a second time – and just might watch a third. What makes the commentary so good is the same thing that makes the movie so good – the music. Dr. Horrible revives a dying art: musical theatre. Many genres of music are exhibited in the film, and in Commentary: the Musical.

Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser fame stars as Dr. Horrible, an aspiring megalomaniac who is striving to be admitted into the Evil League or Evil (ruled by a horse – go figure), but is hampered by his aversion to murder. Meanwhile, he gazes longingly at Penny (Felicia Day), a girl he sees at the laundry mat (“I’m just a few weeks away from a real audible contact!”). As the script would have it, Dr. Horrible’s crucial heist of “wonderflonium” to fuel his freeze ray is the same occasion that Penny first talks to him. He succeeds in stealing the wonderflonium, but is nearly foiled, and badly beaten, by his nemesis, Captain Hammer (enthusiastically played with ample cheese by Nath3an Fillion). Captain Hammer is an unsympathetic super hero who fights crime mainly for the pleasure of beating up on mad scientists and taking advantage of groupies (“this is so nice, I just might sleep with the same girl twice!”). To add insult to injury, the chaos gives Hammer the chance to save Penny, and Dr. H. watches them fall for each other (right). Hammer’s bullying eventually pushes Dr. H. over the edge and leaves him willing to do what he must to get into the E.L.E. (Penny may cry, but her tears will dry when I hand her the keys to a shiny, new Australia.)

This film debuted in the summer of 2008, being broadcast over the internet. Whedon funded the project himself, at just over $200,000, and used his home as a studio. The production is a bit rough. One thing you’ll notice is that the actors wear little-to-no makeup, showing their blemishes to the world. Gutsy. Hammer’s “costume” is a T-shirt with an iron-on. The movie was blogged while in production, and the marketing was immediately taken over by Whedon’s internet-savvy fans. When the film was finally broadcast, the network almost crashed from the number of viewers.

I rented this one on Netflix and wound up watching it over and over, not so much for the movie as for the songs. At 43 minutes, the film doesn’t develop its story very well. Then again, that doesn’t stop people from loving The Phantom of the Opera. Much like Phantom, Dr. Horrible is more of a concept album with a moving picture in the background than a real movie. That said, also like Phantom, Dr. Horrible is worth watching just for the music. Harris in particular demonstrates some real voice talent. The lyrics have a depth to them that you don’t see in contemporary pop music, and keep coming up with different rhyming patterns. Almost every scene involves a well written and well performed musical number, my two favorites being the anguished “My Eyes” and the ominous “Brand New Day.”

As if that wasn’t enough, they added Commentary, in which they brought back virtually everyone who was involved in the movie to sing at least one song. Just about every type of music you can think of is covered, including a rag, jazz, and lounge singing. To top it all off, Marissa Tancharoen, co-writer and “groupie #1” sings a rant about how “no one’s Asian in the movies” (not sure where she gets that).

The DVD also includes videos of applications for E.L.E. membership that fans sent in. Each one has an original song. Be warned, some of them are what you’d expect from geeks filming in their living rooms. Some, however, are quite good, most notably an evil rabbi who pitches a plan to blow the tip off the Washington Monument, and a Catholic priest who has a disturbing take on Catholic theology in the form of a rap.

I have to say the writers really dropped the ball on Act III of the film, because the ending sucks. It’s the kind of ending that gives the impression that they meant to do more, but just ran out of time/money/steam. The idea seems to be that Dr. H. get everything he ever wanted, except that he inadvertently destroy the thing he wanted most. But it’s implausible to the point of not making sense. It tries to do in 5 minutes what would have taken about 50, and leaves the audience feeling like they’ve been plunged into nihilistic darkness for no reason.

The decision of what rating to give this film was a difficult one. It’s a bit too simplistic and unintentionally comical to be considered a true contribution to the world of cinema, which would justify a four-star rating. In fact, with an ending that falls flat on its face, I can’t even consider it a solidly good movie, which would merit three stars. On the other hand, it’s too well done and innovative to be passed off as just another piece of mindless entertainment (two stars). Hence, I have decided to give it

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Rating: 4.2/5 (13 votes cast)