Disney's 50th animated feature looks back and ahead

Mandy Moore discusses her role as Rapunzel in Tangled

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Nostalgia and tradition meet cutting-edge technology in Tangled, the 50th animated feature to emerge from the Walt Disney studio.

Yet the circumstances of its release could not differ more from those of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length cartoon made by the so-called 'House of Mouse'.

Back in 1937, Uncle Walt's adaptation of the Grimm brothers' fairy-tale was a revolutionary one-off that singlehandedly created an entire genre.

Yet Tangled, also based on one of the German siblings' Children's and Household Tales, enters a market-place full to bursting with animated product.

Where Disney once had the field to itself, it must now share it with all the other major Hollywood studios, and movies from overseas as well.

A scene from Tangled A sword-fighting horse named Maximus (r) is among Tangled's colourful characters

Not only that, but it also finds itself in a subordinate position to Pixar - the acknowledged masters of the computer animated feature.

A sure sign of this is that while Pixar's Toy Story 3 was Oscar-nominated this week for best animated feature, Tangled was not.

According to one veteran animator, however, the film nonetheless represents a new beginning for a studio that, for all its illustrious heritage, finds itself with something to prove.

"Each of the big eras of Disney animation have been launched by a fairy-tale," says Glen Keane, Tangled's executive producer.

"Snow White launched the Golden Age, while The Little Mermaid launched a renaissance [in 1989]. It's been a while since we've done a fairy-tale, so I hope it will launch a new era."

Having spent more than 35 years working at the studio on such films as Aladdin, Pocahontas and Beauty and the Beast, Keane is well placed to offer a historical perspective.

Start Quote

It's a neat bit of trivia - the cherry on the sundae”

End Quote Mandy Moore on Tangled's place in the Disney canon

"Tangled is uniquely us," he continues. "Our embracing of our hand-drawn heritage allows Disney to become separate."

The key, he believes, is sincerity. "It's about believing the characters are real," he says. "You have to believe in this world, like it really happened.

"The new level of computer animation is remarkable in terms of its quality, but we've got a lot further to go."

It is not just its technical advancements that set Tangled apart for its forebears. Its heroine is also very much a product of her times.

Where Snow White and Cinderella were largely passive figures waiting for their handsome princes to sweep them off their feet, Rapunzel is no shrinking wallflower.

Blessed with 70 feet of magical golden locks, she is a feisty force of nature who proves more than a match for Flynn Rider, the roguish thief who breaks into her tower.

"Rapunzel is the atypical princess," insists Mandy Moore, the US actress and singer who provides the character's voice.

Mandy Moore with directors Byron Howard (l) and Nathan Greno (r) Howard (l) and Greno (r) say their next project will be an "awesome" animated action movie

"She isn't waiting to be rescued and for a man to come along and fulfil her life. She has a dream, she has moxie and she's ready to take on the unknown."

"We love the Disney legacy and the princesses of the past, but some of them are stuck in the time they were created," agrees co-director Nathan Greno.

"Rapunzel needed girl power; she needed to be smart and artistic and capable. We thought we could create a whole new role model."

Film fans wishing to see where Tangled fits in the Disney pantheon should head for BFI Southbank in London, which is screening all 50 of its animated features over the course of the year.

Being just 26 years of age, however, Moore is perhaps not best placed to present an overview of the canon.

"There is a historical element for sure," she says. "It's a neat bit of trivia - the cherry on the sundae.

"But luckily no one hipped us to that fact while we were making the movie. Otherwise I think it would have been all the more unnerving to be a part of it."

Tangled opens in the UK on 28 January.

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