starring Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, and Donna Murphy
written by Dan Fogelman & directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard
Rated PG for brief mild violence.

When evil Mother Gothel’s (Murphy) rejuvenating flower is taken to heal the pregnant queen, the newborn princess, Rapunzel (Moore), absorbs the flower’s magical properties into her incredible golden hair. Realizing that she cannot keep the hair without the baby, Mother Gothel steals Rapunzel and raises her as her own daughter, safely hidden from the world in a remote tower, until the day Flynn Rider (Levi), a thief on the run, accidentally stumbles upon the lost princess.

It has been nearly two decades since I saw this kind of Disney magic unleashed on a fairy tale. Frankly, I wasn’t sure anyone could successfully play a fairy tale this straight in our hyper-ironic, post-Shrek world, but Tangled, Disney’s 50th animated feature, may have finally broken the spell cast by Shrek’s popular fracturing of fairy tales back in 2001. This is not to say that Tangled is devoid of laughs (far from it), but it has an emotional, dramatic center that makes it more than just a comedy.

Despite scattered flaws, it represents a welcome rebirth of the classic Disney tradition that has had such an enormous influence on animated storytelling for over seven decades, and that has been woefully absent for the last ten years. And it appears in a computer-generated cartoon, no less, succeeding where the traditionally-animated Princess and the Frog failed last year. Despite the fears of Disney purists, the only thing audiences are likely to notice about the visuals of this movie is how incredibly gorgeous they are. There is a scene involving thousands of lit paper lanterns rising into the sky that may well make your eyeballs swoon with its spectacular luminosity.

Everything else we want out of a traditional Disney cartoon is here, as well. There are some memorable, show-stopping tunes, and an excellent score, by Alan Menken (whose past work for Disney has earned him 7 Oscar nominations and 4 wins), though there are also some less-than-stellar-ditties. Personally, I found the plot developments that accompanied the rather irritating “I’ve Got a Dream” to be a bit too silly, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Thinking back, I can’t recall whether the visuals and the story were what made the songs work so well, or if it was the other way around, but it is clear that there is a well-balanced relationship between the two, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The characters are also great. Mother Gothel is quite a bit sneakier and less overtly wicked than the usual cartoon villain, and the appropriately named Stabbington Brothers add a fun dimension to the movie’s rogue gallery. The most roguish character, of course, is Flynn Rider, whose egotistical bravado is a bit annoying until it becomes clear that it is meant to be regarded as a character flaw to be overcome rather than an endearing quality. There are also a couple of supporting animal characters, of course: Pascal, Rapunzel’s pet chameleon (and confidante) and Maximus, the white stallion of the palace guard and the biggest scene-stealer in the movie. Most important is Rapunzel herself, whose infectious exuberance, adventurous spirit, and ability to handle herself make her perhaps the most compulsively likable Disney princess ever.

Screenwriter Dan Fogelman has really done an excellent job re-imagining the original “Rapunzel” story into something completely new that, at the same time, still feels very much like a traditional fairy tale. However, while he that keeps us guessing during the first half, things start to feel a bit formulaic during the second. Longtime Disney fans will probably revel in all of the familiar elements that pop up, but sometimes it feels as though the movie is trying a little too hard to hit every well-worn trope it can reach, and that leads to some unnecessary predictability. More of a minor distraction than a major complaint, the length of Rapunzel’s hair is also wildly inconsistent throughout the story. Sometimes it is too long to make logistical sense for plot purposes (how can she keep it from getting, well, tangled in everything she goes anywhere near?), but when necessary it seems to shrink to more manageable lengths so as not to impede the action sequences.

Although it’s not perfect, Tangled is a whole lot of fun, and a step in the right direction for a studio that has been without clear direction for far too long. My only remaining complaint is with the title: Tangled doesn’t seem to describe anything that happens in this movie. I assume it is somehow a reference to Rapunzel’s propensity for getting everyone she meets tangled up in her life via her hair, but this is not a thematic thread that receives any overt emphasis. Meanwhile, Rapunzel herself is such a bright, glowing presence throughout that I suspect most people will, like me, find themselves thinking of this movie as Rapunzel; a much more appropriate title for a film in the tradition of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast. Disney fans and animation fans alike have good reason to rejoice in this sparkling entry to the Disney canon, and anyone looking for rousing, light-hearted entertainment will have no trouble finding it at theaters this weekend.

~ by Jared on November 26, 2010.

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