by HELEN GEIB
Disney’s new animated feature Tangled is a solidly entertaining family film inspired by the “Rapunzel” fairy tale. The animation creates characters with great personality and charming storybook visuals, and the storytelling is lively and fun.
The heroine is named Rapunzel, she has extremely long hair, and she’s been kept locked up in a tower by an evil witch for most of her life. Also, the famous line “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair” is spoken in the film. That’s pretty much all the story has in common with the original Brothers Grimm tale or its usual variants, which may well explain the title change.
Tangled‘s Rapunzel is a princess who was stolen from the castle as an infant by an old crone who covets the Fountain of Youth properties of the babe’s golden locks. The witch masquerades as Rapunzel’s mother to keep the girl pliant, and deceives her into believing that she is locked in the tower for her own protection. Rapunzel still longs to see the outside world, however. She especially wants to see the kingdom’s annual lantern festival, held in remembrance of the lost princess and which calls out to her as magical lights that appear every year on her birthday. The catalyst for change is a thief on the run who climbs up into the tower. Knocking him out and tying him up (her hair is much more than just an unusually pretty rope ladder) gives Rapunzel confidence to take on whatever dangers the outside world may throw at her, and the thief is a ready-made guide to the capital.
Rapunzel is a fine addition to the Disney pantheon. She’s sweet and unaffected, and also spunky and clever. Whether it was intended or fortuitous, she resembles her voice actress Mandy Moore (leading a very good voice cast); pretty in a girl-next-door way. It’s always good to see a heroine embark on an adventure filled with unknown perils. The movie gives her a good character arc too: she grows up and grows stronger as she leaves her sheltered-confined life and meets the world head-on.
The thief (Zachary Levi) is of course her prince, although only in the figurative sense. He goes by Flynn Ryder and comes on strong, but he’s actually an orphan named Eugene who adopted an adventurer’s persona as a child as a matter of emotional self-preservation. Falling for Rapunzel prompts Eugene to grow up too. He was a likable guy even when he was acting like an idiot and their romance is unforced and appealing. You’re rooting for them all the way.
A Disney fairy tale needs a good villain and Tangled has one in the wily witch, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy). Kidnapping the princess and keeping her locked up is one thing; pretending to be her mother is something else entirely. Gothel is evil through and through and meets a fitting end. The other important cast members are Rapunzel’s chameleon buddy Pascal- very cute and funny- and a horse named Maximus. Maximus gives every appearance of being the most intelligent member of the castle’s guards, although he also frequently gives the appearance of thinking he’s a dog. Neither Pascal nor Maximus speak, but they communicate clearly with their expressions and gestures.
The Broadway-style show tunes are prettily bland with the exception of Gothel’s big number “Mother Knows Best” (so don’t even think about leaving this tower). Musically it almost has a hard edge, but what sets the number apart more decisively is the “staging.” Far more interesting visually than the other musical interludes, it pins Rapunzel in a glaring spotlight against a pitch black background while Gothel blinks in and out of sight to graphically (but comically- the film is safe for even young children) depict the dangers waiting to ambush the girl with the magic hair in the big, bad world outside the tower.
Tangled‘s other failing is trying too hard to be funny. Most of the comedy is funny, but there’s too much pointless goofiness. The ridiculously exaggerated ruffians with their silly dreams (a mime? really?) fall flat. They have too much screen time to be passed off as a comic interlude, but not enough to earn their pivotal role in the plot. Maximus can also be a little much. The delightful Pascal on the other hand, is underutilized. A cute chameleon turning funny-looking colors never gets old.
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