John Gholson

by: John Gholson
March 29th, 2011

This week in Blu-ray, it's all about musicals! With a song in my heart and a skip in my step and a pair of 3D glasses on my head, I take a look at Disney's latest princess fable, TANGLED, before tackling the one-two punch of a Criterion Collection Gilbert and Sullivan double feature — their operetta THE MIKADO and Mike Leigh's highly acclaimed TOPSY-TURVY.


Having a 3D TV means I’ll watch just about anything, as long as it appears to be flying directly toward my face. I skipped Disney’s TANGLED in its theatrical run, for no particular reason other than computer animation fatigue, but, here it is now -- in glorious 3D Blu-ray (along with a handful of discs that I will probably never use, including the standard Blu, the DVD, and the digital copy).

There was some minor ghosting in the 3D image, but TANGLED just might be my new go-to Blu-ray when I want to show someone how good at-home 3D can look. There’s an extended sequence of the film that starts in a seedy bar and ends with the destruction of a dam that’s one of the most sublime things I’ve ever experience in my home theatre. TANGLED is what the AV nerds call “reference quality” (even in 2D).

As for the film itself, TANGLED is straight-up, by-the-numbers early 90’s Disney Magic. Audiences get a princess who wants more out of life, a beloved pet (in this case a chameleon), an evil witch, a dashing rogue, and a half-dozen well-crafted and original showtunes. The film is energetic and seamless, ensuring Rapunzel’s place amongst the most easily-merchandisable of the Disney Princesses. Extras include approximately 1,200 trailers for new Disney films (I may be off on that number), 3 deleted scenes, 2 extended musical numbers, and a Making-Of.


On the opposite end of “reference quality” is Criterion’s release of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “yellow-face” musical THE MIKADO. The full-frame presentation is not one of Criterion’s best, and, despite them working from the finest source materials they can find, the 1939 picture’s colors quiver noticeably throughout. Worse yet is the monaural audio track which muffles W.S. Gilbert’s playful lyrics into a muddy cacophony.

I ended up watching the film with subtitles on, which was extremely important, or I would have been completely lost. In the 1885 comic opera, the son of a Japanese emperor hides out as a traveling minstrel to avoid marriage to an unpleasant harpy. He finds himself in Titipu (all of the Japanese names in THE MIKADO are ridiculously non-Japanese), where he accidentally receives a death sentence for flirting with the schoolgirl Yum Yum. It’s an amusing comedy-of-errors with Gilbert and Sullivan’s typically nimble songwork taking center stage. Victor Shertzinger’s direction is dry as dry can be, purposefully staging the opera more like a play and less like a feature film. Consider this more of a curio than a Criterion must-have.

The best feature on the disc is a lengthy interview with TOPSY-TURVY director and Gilbert and Sullivan superfan Mike Leigh. Also included are interviews with experts on the history of THE MIKADO as well as audio-only alternate versions of songs featured within the film.

I don’t regret watching THE MIKADO before taking in Criterion’s stunning blu of Leigh’s TOPSY-TURVY. The 1999 Oscar-winner chronicles the making of THE MIKADO, through the strained relationship between collaborators Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and Sullivan (Allan Corduner) and what it takes to wrangle dozens of varying personalities behind-the-scenes in order to get the project from script to stage. It’s a lengthy journey, but not without reward. Anyone who’s had any experience in putting on a play can appreciate TOPSY-TURVY’s backstage politics and opening night jitters. I was glad I familiarized myself with THE MIKADO beforehand, as much of the film’s third act is filled with musical numbers and workshop discussions of the scenes from the play. I can’t imagine how it would play without that context.

Criterion’s transfer allows the costume and production design to absolutely shine. Every frame of the film is rich with color and texture and provides a visual cup-of-coffee to the face after sitting through the lackluster MIKADO transfer. This is the type of image people think of when they think Criterion. Mike Leigh provides an audio commentary, a one-on-one with musical director Gary Yershon, and one of Leigh’s own original short films starring Jim Broadbent. Also included are interviews from 1999 as well as deleted scenes.

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