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Why Walt Disney Still Matters

A platinum age for the House of Mouse

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If I were to recommend one of the best movies of 2010 as visually stunning, full-hearted and character-rich, I would hope that you'd put it on a must-see list. But if I were to tell you that it's a cartoon, would you consider taking a date to see it? If you choose to dismiss Tangled as just another animated feature, you'll deny yourself a Christmas present. It may well be the season's biggest surprise.

With the success of Tangled bundled with this year's Alice In Wonderland, Toy Story 3 and Tron, I dare say we're currently in a platinum age for Walt Disney Studios. Pound-for-pound, the House of Mouse continues to produce the most entertaining, story-driven films of our era.

You have to go back to a post-war America to consider Disney's golden era. The man had already changed the entertainment landscape in the late 1930s and 1940s by introducing feature-length animation. From 1950-1965, Disney gave us a score of classics including Cinderella, Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp. As a complement, his live-action fare included Davey Crockett, Treasure Island and Mary Poppins--genius filmmaking--but from the late 1960s through the 1980s, Disney sputtered with constant attempts to reinvent itself. When Michael Eisner took charge in the mid-1980s, he had more hits but also a fair number of misses. For every Little Mermaid there was Dick Tracy. For each Lion King there was Oliver and Company. Eisner went to the well too often, and on his watch, Disney simply made way too many movies. In spite of occasional winners, the Disney brand was diluted.

But the last several years have been pretty great with Pirates of the Caribbean, Enchanted, The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice In Wonderland, as well as wonderful animated classics that are among the best in the entire canon of animated films: Ratatouille, Wall-E, Cars, Up, Toy Story 3 and now Tangled.

DreamWorks has posed a little competition with Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, Megamind and Shrek. But there's a cotton-candy-canyon of difference between the two studios when it comes to how to tell a story. Time and again, Disney films have characters to care for and themes to dream about.

Tangled is a prime example of how. Think you know the story of Rapunzel? Think again. It turns out that evil stepmothers may simply be misguided with good intentions and even bad guys can be heroes now and then. And in these uncertain times, dreams can still come true and you can still wish upon a star.

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