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“This Week In Movies” – ‘Tangled’ and ‘Burlesque’

By Pete Hammond Last week rumors circulated that Disney was saying “Tangled,” its 50th animated film would be the last in the fairy tale princess genre that had once proven so successful for the animation giant only to fall on hard times, most recently last year with the underperforming “The Princess and the Frog.” Well it appears the reports of the Disney princesses death are premature, especially after the socko Thanksgiving holiday “Tangled” opening which made an estimated $69 million for five days and drew an A+ Cinemascore rating, the only movie this year to hit those heights in the weekly audience satisfaction survey. In fact the film nearly overtook heavily favored #1 “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” which is came in with $76 million for the period but just squeaked by in the actual three day weekend period by about a $1 million margin over the Disney princess. That means this clever 3D musical updating of the Rapunzel tale is a smash hit that should reap dividends for Disney for years to come. As a return to the full blown Broadway-meets- Disney style musical ‘toons of the 80’s and 90’s that won composer Alan Menken 8 Oscars, movies like “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “Pocahantas” this incarnation is also full of snappy tunes, colorful characters and sweet romance.

“At a preview screening my favorite comment card said ‘this is like a classic Disney movie but better’,” said co-director Byron Howard when I recently talked to him and his partner on the film Nathan Greno. “It has that classic Disney kind of 40’s and 50’s feel but at the same time we’re making these movies for a contemporary audience. It’s finding that balance where we want contemporary humor, pacing, action, all of these things but at the same time it’s great to acknowledge our roots. It’s very important for us to be non –traditional but not cynical.”

The directing team said that the film, which took two years to make but has been in development for several more (and even decades in one form or another) couldn’t really be made until the CG technology could be refined to realistically create all those thousands of pieces of Rapunzel’s hair that permeate so many scenes in the film. Another key decision was to change the title from Rapunzel to “Tangled” in order to attract a wider audience, namely boys. According to Disney animation honcho John Lasseter the goal was to do something no one had experienced. “Let’s create something no one’s ever seen before, even though this is based on a well-loved fairy tale. This is such a fresh and modern contemporary take on it,“ he says.

As for composer Menken he’s just been hoping the movie would be a hit because he’d like to do more of these kinds of Disney musicals and that requires butts in the seats. “As good as it was, ‘The Princess and the Frog’ underperformed so the jury’s out. My hope is that ‘Tangled’ will go through the roof, not just selfishly for me but for the form. What I hope for, what I pray for is that it will do well enough that we can make more animated musicals,” he says.

Continuing on a musical theme, the “form” that also was once thought dead is back big this week not only in a ‘toon but also in live action with Screen Gems’ “Burlesque” in which pop siren Christina Aguilera makes her film debut and screen and pop legend Cher has her first leading role in 11 years. The campy but entertaining story of a small town girl who becomes an overnight “star” in a run down burlesque club in L.A. didn’t do as well as “Tangled” but did manage a fourth place finish with $17.2 million for the holiday. It drew an A- Cinemascore rating, not bad. At its heart “Burlesque” serves as a Chicago-wanna be or Cabaret-lite but thanks to its stars it pulls it all off in style. It’s particularly a kick to see Cher sing on the screen in this format, something she’s never gotten much of a chance to do before. She has one really killer number, Diane Warren’s power ballad, “You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me” which could certainly serve as her show business anthem. Aguilera has a power ballad or two as well plus some Marilyn Monroe kittenish little ditties as well. It’s all sexy fun and it’s nice to be able to leave a movie theatre humming the tunes rather than wanting to slit your wrists these days.

There won’t be much singing over at 20th Century Fox or CBS Films about the week’s other new wide releases, Fox’s Jake Gyllenhaal/Anne Hathaway comedy “Love And Other Drugs” and CBS’ male oriented actioner “Faster” starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Neither finished in the top five and both had ho-hum debuts. Drugs is actually quite good and both Jake and Anne are terrific in it but it’s the kind of grown up adult fare that probably should have been handled with kid gloves over at specialty label Fox Searchlight rather than “big” Fox which gave it a wide release in an over-crowed holiday period. Oh well. At least Anne gets to host the Oscars.

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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