Theatrical Review: TANGLED
Writers: Dan Fogelman (writer), Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (classic fairy tale)
Directors: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Voice cast: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor, Brad Garrett
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Disney has made its animated bread and hand-drawn butter from reforming classic fairy tales for a wider audience, including works from Hans Christian Andersen, the brothers Grimm, and various American legends. In TANGLED, the studio takes on the tale of Rapunzel, using only the barest of details from the classic Grimm tale (which, let’s all be honest, most people don’t know too well) to craft a new Disney Princess who will easily slip in with all those be-crowned ladies that came before her. TANGLED’s Rapunzel is not just some silly girl stuck up in a tower, waiting for a white horse-riding knight to rescue her; she’s a stolen princess locked up in a prison, desperate for her real life to begin.
TANGLED quickly gives us the princess’ origin story before bursting into the real action, laughs, and heart of the film. Disney’s Rapunzel is still very much defined by her flowing locks, magical hair that came to be thanks to an equally-as-magic flower, once hidden by the evil Mother Gothel (who wanted to partake in its gifts alone) and later used to save Rapunzel’s ailing mother when she was pregnant with our wee princess. When Gothel catches wind that Rapunzel’s hair has taken on the healing properties of the flower, she sneaks into the royal castle to snatch the baby princess from her lovely parents, whisking her away to a hidden tower far, far away to never be seen or heard from again.
It’s in that tower that Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) grows up with Gothel (Donna Murphy) as her mother, not knowing her origins, not cutting her hair, and not knowing anything beyond that her “mother knows best” and the rest of the world is a cruel and evil place. Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi) comes galloping onto the scene, a roguish charmer, a thief, and clearly the only match for the strong-hearted Rapunzel. Flynn and his two thug sidekicks, the Stabbington brothers, have stolen something of incredible value from the palace. Chased by the palace guard, Flynn steals the item wholesale, leaving the Stabbingtons to take the heat, and scrambles up a tower to safety. Too bad it’s Rapunzel’s tower. Wily Rapunzel strikes a deal with Flynn to accompany her on a personal quest in exchange for his stolen satchel and its glittering goods inside.
Of course, once Rapunzel gets out of the tower and on the road with Flynn, she learns that the world is not a cruel and evil place. Well, at least when she’s around. For a shut-in, Rapunzel has a natural sparkle and verve that lights up everyone around her. The girl can even charm the TANGLED version of a biker bar with a song-and-dance number about, get this, dearly-held dreams. And though this all sounds cheesy and a bit silly, it’s not. TANGLED has all of the charm of the very best Disney animated epics, all while being stomach-achingly hilarious.
The film shares much with some of its other Disney predecessors – including a heady dose of LITTLE MERMAID-ism. Mother Gothel harkens back, particularly visually, to evil Ursula. There’s no coincidence that Gothel’s own flowing locks are kinky and black, prime Ursula all-around. Yet beyond that similarity, both TANGLED and THE LITTLE MERMAID deal with headstrong heroines that leave their tight, well-constructed “homes” to venture into the “real world,” even with the threat of imminent death looming over them. Ariel comes up from the sea, and Rapunzel comes down from her tower, both not knowing what’s in store for them, but inherently sensing they need to be part of that world.
TANGLED is charming and funny and sweet and, sometimes, heartbreakingly sad. But the film would not be half as charming, funny, or sweet without the inclusion of two new-classic animal sidekicks – Rapunzel’s pet chameleon, Pascal, and the most valuable mounted steed in all the land, Maximus the wonder pony. Pascal serves as a sort of more mature Flounder to Rapunzel’s Ariel – steady and loyal, with a temper than can change faster than his color. His loyalty is to his princess. Maximus is a palace guard horse who doesn’t take orders from the humans, he takes his orders from justice itself. When he gets separated from the rest of the guard, he takes it upon himself to continue to pursue Flynn. His loyalty is to the law. Both Pascal and Maximus are wondrously funny, pitch-perfect additions to a film that would not be even close to as effective without them.
Like many Disney flicks as of the late, the weakness of TANGLED exists in its songcraft. Many of the songs in TANGLED are quite fun in context – particularly “When Will My Life Begin,” the first musical sequence, which shows us how Rapunzel spends her (increasingly mind-numbing) days with a fun splash of visual verisimilitude contrasting its chipper lyrics. “I See the Light,” the film’s big showstopper of a romantic duet, works a touch of magic when set in a stunning scene that pulls together both narrative plotting and animated beauty, but it doesn’t stand alone as its own epic ballad.
As we can expect from any animated feature to come out in the next decade, TANGLED is available in 3D. While the 3D is a lovely element, it’s unnecessary. Luckily, the film never relies on it for cheap gags, so those who take in the 2D version will lose little in translation. But despite some weak joints and some unnecessary technology to beef up Disney’s first all-CG Princess, TANGLED delivers us a brand-new leading lady with a heart of gold and an imagination bigger than the night sky. Rapunzel doesn’t think that she is personally destined for greatness, but she understands that there are great things out there in the world and that, somehow, she is a part of them. When TANGLED touches upon its own greatness, it does so handily, unflinchingly full of mirth, mettle, and magic.