The long-haired Princess Rapunzel has spent her entire life in a tower, but when she falls in love with a bandit who was passing by she must venture into the outside world for the first time to find him.
Release Date: 26 November 2010
It's been so long since Disney was thought of as the animated fairy tale studio, with its trademarked brand of Disney Princesses (literally trademarked) and bed-time story adaptations. A lot of that old superiority has long since been usurped by Pixar and its various imitators (including Disney itself) but there has never been quite the substitute for those old-school Disney films (or their 90s resurgence). It was a pleasant surprise then, to see Disney try to make a return to their old ways with last hears "Princess and the Frog" but it's still a computer animated, 3-D world we're living in. So, can Disney keep its old time fairy tale magic alive in a new fangled computer animation wrapper?
That's the question put to is by "Tangled" Disney's version of the old Rapunzel story. Content-wise it's about exactly what we expect from this kind of film, mostly in a good way, filled with post-modern jokes, ridiculous slapstick and classic fairy tale storytelling though it can't quite help but poke fun at its genre a bit. And all packed inside one of the darker Disney stories (and that includes the girl whose stepmother tried to murder her).
Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) doesn't just have long, lustrous hair because it's pretty, you see. The life saving properties of a magical plant taken by her mother at her birth were passed on to Rapunzel, and when she sings her hair glows and shines with ability to heal any malady—including old age—but loses all power if its cut.
If taken too seriously it would come off as hopelessly precocious but the animators have approached their material with such a light touch it never becomes unbelievable or gag-inducing. In fact, even though the characters often fill the screen time with snark and sarcasm, their reactions to strange events is usually completely human, keeping the action continually relatable.
Which is a good thing in a plot that, when you think about it is very dark. Because there is this old woman (Donna Murphy) who has been alive for a LOT longer than she should have been thanks to the effects of the magic plant. And when Rapunzel absorbs those effects into her hair she decides she has no choice but to kidnap the young baby and raise her as her own in a tower with no doors, where the only way in or out is climbing on Rapunzel's golden hair.
Despite a fairly bleak beginning (which lends disturbing undertones to any conversation Rapunzel and her adoptive mother have, not to mention her big number 'Mother Knows Best') "Tangled" itself is light hearted romp with a deft sense of humor most of it coming from dashing Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), a thief Rapunzel forces into taking her to the palace so that she can see the floating lanterns set out every year on her birthday (though she is completely in the dark, and a little slow to pick up on, the reason why). Levi brings great joy and humor to Rider's lovable rogue characterization and most "Tangled's" best moments comes down to him. Or him and the Captain of the Guards horse who is trying to find him.
That's also, strangely, one of "Tangled's" problems: the filmmakers don't seem to have faith in Rapunzel or her story to carry the day. Instead they spent a great deal of time on Flynn and his attempts to avoid the aptly named Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman) and other hijinks. In fact the film is told almost entirely from his point of view and even narrated by him; despite that it is ultimately Rapunzel's story. Depending on your point of view it's either an interesting experiment or a marketing cop out.
The other disappointment is the music from now classic Disney composer Alan Menken ("The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast"). There's nothing particular wrong with it, it's just heartily forgettable. None of the songs are interesting or memorable and for a musical that's a problem. Compared with even some of Menken's recent work like "Enchanted" it just doesn't sound like he's trying.
For whatever problems it has, though, "Tangled" is still an enjoyable fairy tale romp with some excellent animation that still takes better advantage of 3D than any post-produced live action film yet. For a film about a woman breaking ties with her parents and growing up its strangely male dominated but that doesn't really get in the way of the humor. Combined with a stronger musical sense it could have been a real great, but what it is isn't too bad.