Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor,
Brad Garrett, Paul F. Tompkins, Richard Kiel
SCR: Dan Fogelman
DIR: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Tangled is Disney’s 50th animated motion picture and was executive produced by John Lassister, the Pixar wunderkind who now oversees the Mouse House. Once you see the film, you’ll realize that statement explains a lot. Not content to simply throw the golden anniversary moniker over any old flick, non-Pixar Disney has been swinging for the fences lately after a decade of mediocrity.
Last year’s The Princess and the Frog was a sassy 2D spectacle that gave us a thriving jazz-era New Orleans and (finally) a full black cast of characters. The result was an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature and over $250 million at the global box office. And you’d better believe that Princess had an affect on Tangled, but more about that later.
Tangled is a fast-paced take on Rapunzel, with stunning 3D visuals, a hip sensibility and some great songs, penned by the much-awarded Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast). The songs might reach back to Disney’s early ‘90s heyday with a grandeur and old-school wittiness but the sensibilities that grace the non-singing parts are very 21st century.
It’s obvious Beauty and the Beast provided the template – after all, it was the first animated film nominated for Best Picture. From the opening “back story” montage to the heroine’s sweeping theme to a finale with a dramatic transformation. Sure, it’s derivative, but at least it provided the filmmakers with a roadmap, which is more than I can say for Home on the Range (2004).
Of course, the story has been fleshed out from its original version: Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), a teenager with magical healing powers, has been locked away in a tower with her miles of powerful golden hair her entire life.
Her only companion (aside from an expressive gecko) has been the nasty witch Gothel (Donna Murphy) who snatched Rapunzel from a kindly monarchy in a neighboring village so the old hag may remain young. Gothel has played the part of Rapunzel’s mother so the girl is none the wiser.
Every year on Rapunzel’s birthday, the kingdom floats balloons in the missing girl’s honor. After marveling at this spectacle for years, Rapunzel has figured out that it might not be a coincidence. Makes you kind of wonder why the witch didn’t move farther away.
One day, a thief named Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi) hides out in the tower after snatching a jeweled crown (actually hers) from his partners. Rapunzel agrees to give him the crown only after he takes her to the village.
What follows is a series of chases and skirmishes that the Brothers Grimm probably hadn’t envisioned but it allows the story to hit all of its familiar beats, which is all we really want in a fairy tale, right? But Tangled goes the extra distance with a carefully-constructed story and photo-realistic animation, not to mention some thrilling set-pieces. A crumbling dam sequence is quite memorable.
Tangled slings a few barbs at our youth-obsessed culture. Mother Gothel insults in a passive-aggressive “just kidding” sort of way and competes with her “daughter” while using the kid to maintain her façade of youthfulness, right down to the low-cut top. Sound familiar? Admit it, we all know moms like that.
In between the classical beats and subversive humor, a strong slapstick arc occupies its own space within the film. There is a horse that’s the most hilariously dogged animal onscreen since Wily E. Coyote shopped at Acme and when the horse appears, it’s almost as if the movie switched channels. Somehow the effect is not as jarring as it could have been.
Disney’s fiftieth works like a charm. It’s technically proficient, the traditional visual and storytelling elements never smothered by the shifting tones or snarky dialogue.
But about that title…
Despite The Princess and the Frog’s accolades and hefty box office take, the Disney marketing geniuses decided the movie was a noble failure. It wasn’t nearly as successful, the bean counters told us, because it had the word “princess” in the title. And boys apparently don’t want to see movies with the word “princess.”
So the title was changed from Rapunzel to Tangled and the role of Flynn Ryder was beefed up in the trailer. You know, because they wouldn’t want people thinking this was a story about Rapunzel.
Too bad the old guard didn’t think of this. The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast might have been much bigger hits with snappier titles.
Dennis Willis can be heard Fridays at 4:45pm on KGO Radio, and is the author of Flick Nation: 2010 Movie Yearbook.
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