45. Flynn’s Death and Resurrection(Tangled)

Movie: Tangled

Year: 2010

Key Players: Nathan Greno and Byron Howard(Directors), Glen Keane(Animation Supervisor), Steve Goldberg(Visual Effects Supervisor), Mark Kennedy(Story Supervisor), Zach Parrish, Mike Surrey, Kira Lechtomaki,  Amy Smeed(Animators)

Synopsis: Flynn comes back to rescue Rapunzel but is stabbed by Mother Gothel.  Rapunzel begs her mother to let her heal him and she finally consents but Flynn cuts her hair off, taking away its power. Mother Gothel dies and Rapunzel’s free but Flynn is dying. However her tear resurrects him.

Some hand-drawn animation fans try to say there are limitations to CG and the power of what it can do. They say it can’t be as personal, emotional, special, organic, or compelling as 2d.  However I tend to disagree.  I feel CG is the same art form as hand-drawn just with different tools and has the potential to have that same special quality that hand-drawn has achieved. The scene that proved this to me was Flynn’s death scene in Tangled.  Not only is it very subtle but also it is very emotionally strong and compelling.  I feel it proved how powerful and subtle CG can be in a way that parallels what Frank Thomas’s scene of the dwarves crying over Snow White’s body did for proving what hand-drawn can do.  Along with the lantern sequence it is the most impressive scene in all of Tangled and helped put Disney animation back on the map once again for a new generation.  With all this greatness behind it naturally it makes it on our countdown at number 45.

When I think about what makes this scene great, the first thing I think about is how emotionally strong it is.  It is such a powerful moment and it is so real and honest on an emotional level.  This is particularly true in the scenes animated by Amy Smeed and Kira Lektomaki, two women animators who work at Disney.  “A bunch of the key stuff was done by our female animators like Kira, Amy Smeed, and Becki Breesy,” points out director Byron Howard. “It’s weird how there are so much more men in animation. Those females love the emotional stuff, the stuff that’ll make you cry.  Zack Parrish did some heavy hitters in the death scene but Amy did a ton of the subtle, controlled beautiful stuff in that.”  While most of the time I prefer caricature in animation because I feel the medium is best suited for that type of sensibility, in the moments that are most genuine and touching it is very important to have a less is more approach and to be extremely subtle. That’s what these two women did here and it is a nice contrast to the comedy and satire that has taken place in the movie up to this point.  Suddenly all the sarcasm and contrived story telling falls away and the honesty comes in.  There are two parts in particular that are must-haves on anyone’s freeze frame list for examples of great subtle animation. One is the emotionally intense scene where Rapunzel begs Mother Gothel to let her heal Flynn even if it meant staying with her on an island forever.  This is animated by Kira Lehtomaki and is absolutely unbelievable.  The will power and strength of Rapunzel is believable and strong.  You can feel and see the desperation that she’s feeling and it leaves a strong impact.  The second one would be the beautiful scene of Rapunzel crying over Flynn’s body animated by Amy Smeed.  “It’s a masterpiece of subtle emotional acting,” praised animator and husband Tony Smeed.  It’s contained and soft but has an emotional strength behind it.  Every bit of it has meaning and it conveys the emotion in the most direct and delicate way.

As great as the animation done by these two women is this scenecouldn’t have been done without the influence of animation supervisor Glen Keane. He was the one who pushed the animators to be able to do this and he helped make sure that 2d sensibilities remained present in the CG animation.  “Glen was such an important part of our performances I felt he was still part of the directing team even though he wasn’t,” reflects animator Adam Dykstra.   It’s also that man’s genuineness and soul that inspired the emotional quality of this scene, which was possible through the mentoring and draw overs he did on the work of the CG animators.  “To his credit it was great having him so involved with the film in the animation portion of it,” says director Byron Howard. “Glen’s thing is he wants a project that he loves, can dive into the character, where he can draw, and really express himself. That Rapunzel character was one he really loved and having his involvement go into that character was terrific. Bob Iger noticed that Glen isn’t a cynical, sarcastic guy and the Rapunzel Unbraided version went away. He said he wanted him to make the film he wanted to make. Glen is all about sincerity and has a very pure heart.” The directors, Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, were also crucial in pushing the animators to do such strong work.  They went the extra mile in paying attention to detail and getting every ounce of entertainment. “I think Nathan and I from the beginning said let’s not settle from second best,” explains Howard. “We knew our animators were good enough to do it and we knew they could do it if we were clear enough. We wanted to make the film feel like it’s real. You have to believe in them, believe they’re falling in love, and relate to these characters like they’re real beings. Even though they were crazy parts we asked the animators to think about parts of their life that were very emotional and put that into their animation. There are the tiniest things going on in the animation that rival things in live action. We were very demanding. Everyone was very proud of it.”

From a story perspective this scene is important to the movie because it is the emotional climax of the movie and it also is very romantic. Part of the romance here is we see first hand how the two characters have changed as a result of the other and it is clear that their love for each other is unselfish. For example up to this point it has been very important to Rapunzel for her to feel safe.  However here she is willing to risk her safety to let Flynn live and is strong enough to have the guts to go against the wishes of her mother.  She’s no longer just a beautiful heroine but a strong woman who is willing to do what’s right no matter what the cost.  Also up to this point Flynn has been someone who is all about living life to the fullest but here he is willing to sacrifice his life. The intensity of this situation and the emotional depth of it allows this change to pay off and to be as effective as possible.  If it weren’t for this scene the audience wouldn’t believe in the romance because it might be interpreted as being cliché or shallow (the movie is more than a little inconsistent with the way it handles this.) In this moment however there is no doubt these emotions are real and that they are sincere.  Also this scene is important because it’s so powerful and puts the icing on the cake for the movie.  Last it’s important because it’s the emotional temple of the story and is told very directly.


Another virtue of the scene is the visual harmony of it.  The rigging done here is arguably the best ever done in CG animation anywhere making it much more appealing to look at.  Here visual effects supervisor Steve Goldberg explains some of the challenges that came in making the beautiful visuals of this film possible: “Getting that 2d sensibility represented why so many people came to Disney in the first place and they kept banging at that challenge. We were guided by the directing team to push for that direction and that not good enough mentality that really was inspiring, to keep trying. The biggest challenge was achieving the hair, which Glen kept pushing for in a physics simulation. We just had to get that twist in it and we had to add in a lot of properties to get that in. I would say because we were pushed in that direction as well as what we were able to do technically it was all about saying no it’s not good enough. That attitude was present everywhere in the film.  Glen was bringing that pushing attitude and the idea it can always get better in the review board.  We threw everything we had done with the rigs and started from scratch. We looked for the riggers to be the right ones for the picture.”  The answers to these challenges are impressive when watching the film and it is indeed something people want to look at. One detail that impresses me in particular is the way they handled the flesh in the faces. Most CG humans in my opinion look either too mechanical and flat or too grotesque because of the amount of realism there. Here the humans are designed and rigged in a way that’s well suited for animation and have a fluidness and life-like quality to them.  Last an important influence on the visuals of the film was the color script done by art directors Dan Cooper and David Goetz. They established in it the look of the film and the feeling of the lighting in this scene.  “Our directors on Tangled wanted to create the first CG Disney fairy tale, and they wanted it to look and feel like a Disney classic, like Cinderella, Snow White, or Pinocchio,” explains Goetz. “To understand what that meant, I went over Cinderella and to a lesser extent Pinocchio, to look at how those movies were designed; what shapes were used, their composition and lighting. We tried to apply what we learned to the look of Tangled. Most important was that the look of everything be appealing.”

Overall I really like the animation throughout this scene. In addition to the qualities I’ve already discussed I admire the refined, intense acting and the strength of the poses used (all of them are very clear and dynamic.) The animators succeed in finding the verbs in cartoon acting(although they are subtle) while fluidly and believably moving from one pose to another.  Besides Lehtomaki and Smeed the two other main animators here are Zach Parrish and Mike Surrey.  Parrish does a lot of incredible close-ups and his animation is very refined in feel.  Surrey, a 2d veteran,  does the scene of Flynn getting stabbed and some of Rapunzel comforting Flynn when she’s about to heal him. His stuff in this scene is sincere, clear, and well timed out.  Personally I’m a huge fan of Mike’s animation and find this scene to be among his best work.  Another thing worth noting is that in this scene every single movement has meaning and none of it feels overdone.  This is important to have in an emotional climax because it maintains the believability of the moment.  I do have one criticism of the animation here though.  It is that everything here is done at ones and sometimes it can get a bit swimmy as a result.  I will make my point loud and clear: CG ANIMATION NEEDS TO USE TWOS! There is no reason it shouldn’t and I feel the animation would feel much more organic with the use of it in addition to ones.

Personally I love this scene for several reasons. One is I love the passionate, personal quality in the animation.  Second I find it to be very moving and magical. Movies these days too often don’t make me feel that way so I find this scene special as a result.  Last I like it because it is truly a great moment and is done perfectly.  One magical moment can make the difference between an above average film and a classic.  This and the lanterns sequence make the difference for Tangled in my mind.  Thank you to everyone who worked on this scene for making it as special and powerful as it is!


My Interview with Byron Howard

My Interview with Tony Smeed

My Interview with Adam Dykstra

My Interview with Steve Goldberg

My Interview with David Goetz

My Interview with Dan Cooper

The Art of Tangled by Jeff Kurtti




3 Responses to “45. Flynn’s Death and Resurrection(Tangled)”

  1. Raúl Marco Says:

    I know I’m totally ignorant, but I don’t know what is “ones” and “twos”. Can yo explain it?

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