Despite the unexpected critical admiration Byron Howard and Nathan Greno’s Tangled seems to have gained, I was somewhat neutral in approaching the film. In the end, though, I found much to admire in it, especially its use of lighting.
The film, which is inspired by the Brothers Grimm version of Rapunzel, is not without its problems. The story does not really gain traction until towards the end and its efforts to harken back to earlier Disney films is a bit too self conscious. (For example, the scene in the boat pictured above seems to rather deliberately evoke a scene from The Little Mermaid.) Similarly, one could sometimes hear quotes from Beauty and the Beast’s music in Alan Menken’s score.
But the boat scene, however corny it may seem, does reflect the filmmakers’ use of lighting to invigorate a sometimes weak story. In the film, Rapunzel is kidnapped by Gothel, an elderly woman who covets the child’s magical hair, which can keep her eternally young (the hair glows when it performs its magic). Each year on Rapunzel’s birthday, the king and queen (and their subjects) send lighted lanterns floating into the sky looking for the lost princess.
In addition to light being central to the film’s narrative, the filmmakers have also used it to strengthen its dramatic and comedic impact; unfortunately, the stills available barely hint at what art director David Goetz and look and lighting director Mohit Kallianpur were trying to do.
The use of a spotlight is an old trick that dates back to the early silent films of Cecil B. DeMille and is associated with his use of Lasky/Rembrandt lighting in movies such as The Cheat (1915) and Carmen (1915). In the shot above, the “spotlight” highlight’s our hero, Flynn Rider’s comic predicament. Below, similar spots are used to highlight Flynn’s more serious predicament after being arrested.
Perhaps more interesting is the scene where Rapunzel discovers Flynn after he has climbed into her tower. Sunlight creates another spotlight which shines on him, but initially she’s in the dark; she then slowly walks into the light, as if to mirror her sense of discovery. Again, this sort of staging and lighting is old hat in live-action films, but I don’t recall other animated film doing anything quite like it.
What is so exciting about Tangled’s use of lighting is the sense of discovery in being able to use digital technology to expand the animation filmmaker’s palette. As such, it is a reminder of the fact that the possibilities of computer animation have barely been touched. Credit must be given David Goetz and especially to Mohit Kallianpur, whose job as and lighting director seems somewhat akin to that of a cinematographer.
Credit, of course, should also go to the film’s directors. It’s interesting to note that in commenting on Bryon Howard’s previous effort, Bolt, which he co-directed with Chris Williams, I praised the film for its use of 3D stereo “technology to evoke some very credible environments ,” especially its impressive “recreation of the streets of New York and Los Angeles.” The use of stereo in Tangled is also helpful in similar ways, and shows that the folks at Disney seem to understand how to utilize stereo more effectively than their cousins at Pixar.