Disney used to be the King of Animation. Between the 30s and the 90s, they turned out so many iconic movies (Snow White, Fox and the Hound, Little Mermaid, etc.) that no other company could hope to even catch up. And then came the computers. Disney didn’t jump on them fast enough, so they were beaten to the CGI punch by Pixar and later Dreamworks. It was only once they bought Pixar that they started to regain lost ground with movies like Meet the Robinsons and Bolt. Pixar is bogged down with making sequels, so with Tangled, Disney seemed poised to regain their former glory.
In a modern retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale, a sheltered stolen princess escapes the clutches of her witch captor with the help of a dashing rogue thief.
Fairy tales are always good source material because everyone knows them and you don’t have to pay any royalties. But Disney’s old “Princess” approach of willowy beauties needing rescue from big strong men wouldn’t fly anymore. Modern females are tough and sophisticated and want characters that reflect this. So does Tangled deliver? Oh yes, all that and more!
The basics of the Rapunzel tale are all there, but in an effort to add another princess to the Disney Princess fold, they’ve reversed it and made Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) the royalty (though she doesn’t know it) and turned the Prince into Flynn Rider (Zachari Levi), a notorious thief. They’ve also imbued Rapunzel’s hair with magical healing powers (in addition to the magical power of not being ripped off her head when supporting a person’s entire body weight).
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your bleeding scalp
Rapunzel’s magical healing hair is the reason Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) stole her as an infant from her castle. Just by singing to her hair, Mother Gothel can be young forever. The two of them live in the tower together and Mother Gothel has forbidden Rapunzel from ever leaving “for her own protection.” Where the fairy tale paints Gothel as an obvious cruel witch, in the movie version her character is more complex. Rapunzel loves her, and she loves Rapunzel (sort of), and their whole relationship is several shades of Stockholm Syndrome.
Mommy loves your hair… I mean you.
But Rapunzel’s family hasn’t forgotten her. They release thousands of paper lanterns into the air every year on her birthday. She catches glimpses of them from the tower and her life’s goal is to go and see them, but for now she’s stuck in her tower with her uncommunicative lizard buddy Pascal, at least until Flynn climbs into her tower to hide from the guards who are chasing him after he stole a royal crown, which, coincidentally, is Rapunzel’s.
Since you won’t be needing this, I thought I’d borrow it.
Rapunzel is no helpless damsel. She’s got a hilarious predilection for frying pans as weapons and actually threatens Flynn to get what she wants – him to take her to see the lanterns in exchange for getting the crown back. Flynn’s something of a ladies’ man, but Rapunzel and her frying pan are having none of it.
Don’t make me use this.
So they escape from the tower and adventure and romance ensues. Flynn is on the bad side of just about everyone in the kingdom, so he tries to frighten her into giving up on her deal by taking her to a scary bar called the Snuggly Duckling.
Oh look, mommy was right. Outside is full of bad people. Shall I take you home?
But his plan backfires because she promptly wins over everyone in the establishment with a bouncy musical number about achieving your dreams. It prompts the resident thieves to come out with their secret dreams, which I’m pretty sure they ripped off of High School Musical.
Three guesses what this thug’s secret dream is.
There are other musical numbers in the film, too, but it’s only a semi-musical because there are only about five songs in the movie. I like it. It’s enough to reel in the youngest kids but not so much that it gets annoying or repetitive. Alan Menken wrote the songs, and there are some that are quite funny, like the song Rapunzel sings about all the things she does to try and fill the time while she’s locked in the tower alone.
Reading, baking, cleaning, sewing tiny dresses for lizards… you know, normal stuff.
Rapunzel and Flynn fall in love, of course (this is, after all, a fairy tale). But since there’s more emphasis on adventure and comedy in the movie, the love story part doesn’t get too sappy. It develops in a thrown-together sort of way but doesn’t follow the “hate each other until they love each other” cliché. Flynn’s more overwhelmed by the sudden insanity of his life than anything else. They have some brief cute/funny moments, then it’s back to the actual story.
Try not to freak out as I sing to my magical hair and heal your wounds.
A lot of credit should go to Dan Fogelman, the writer, for creating a compelling story with plenty of action, but it’s directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard that get most of the hilarious moments out of animators. Rapunzel trying to stuff Flynn into the closet, Flynn’s face during the bouncy musical numbers – a lot of the humor is visual. The kids loved it, and so did I. But my favorite part was Maximus the horse. You may have gotten the impression from the trailer that he was Flynn’s horse, but he’s not. He’s a palace horse and he’s trying to capture Flynn…
Maximus sniffs the ground like a dog, bosses people around, even swordfights! I love Maximus so much that I’d put him alongside Dug, Wall-E, and Puss in Boots as my favorite animated characters. So that’s a lot. Add him to the strong female characters, the funny writing, the cute love story, the happy ending, the bouncy songs, and the adventurous plot, and you’ve got a near-perfect animated movie.
I dunno about you, but I’m uplifted!
Take your kids, I guarantee they’ll love it, and you won’t be disappointed either. Stay for the credits, because the backdrops are really neat looking pen and ink sketches. Welcome back to the top of the heap, Disney.