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Disney Unveils Animated Gem ‘Tangled’

Studio screens a work-in-progress print of Rapunzel story, unveiling a clear Oscar contender

It was billed as “a special sneak peek” at Disney’s holiday films, but the event late Wednesday afternoon on the Disney lot turned out to be more than that when it came to the studio’s upcoming animated feature “Tangled,” a revamping of the Rapunzel story.

Tangled posterIn an unveiling somewhat reminiscent of the 1991 New York Film Festival screening of a work-in-progress print of “Beauty and the Beast,” Disney studio chairman Rich Ross introduced a screening of the entirety of “Tangled,” albeit in unfinished form.

Disney rarely shows its work to press and guests before the films are finished – but in this case, the product clearly warranted a sneak peek. Even with portions of the movie in storyboards or incomplete form, one thing was clear: “Tangled” is a vibrant, touching film that feels fresh even as it hearkens back to the classic Disney animation of the early 1990s. And it will be a real contender in at least two Oscar categories.

“When people hear we’re doing a contemporary version of the classic tale of Rapunzel, they want to know if it’s going to be cynical,” said co-director Byron Howard before the screening. “And it’s not cynical.” 

The movie won’t be out until Thanksgiving, so reviews are premature. But this could be the likeliest Animated Feature nominee this side of “Toy Story 3” (and perhaps “How to Train Your Dragon”), and you can probably reserve a Best Song slot for one of the Alan Menken/Glenn Slater songs – maybe the heroine’s statement-of-purpose anthem that comes early in the film, or the big romantic ballad from later on.

The Disney event also included 23 minutes of scenes from “Tron: Legacy,” which looked dazzling but inconclusive. (The first “Tron” may be a cult classic, but it’s really not a very good movie.) I will say, though, that the visuals are spectacular even in 2D, and that Jeff Bridges lends the enterprise a gravity and heart that it might not otherwise have.

The movie, said director Joseph Kosinski before the screening, is about “finding human connection in the digital world.” Which, I suppose, makes it a companion piece of sorts to “The Social Network,” which you could describe in the same terms.