Disney has done it again, delivering yet another magical slice of cinema in time for the holidays. This time it’s the classic fairy tale of Rapunzel, the baby princess kidnapped and held captive in a hidden tower, in a wonderful new version of the love story called Tangled.
The film opens like Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard with a narrator telling us “This is the story of how I died.” The narration proceeds to set the table of the familiar story. The magic golden flower that glows and can turn back the hands of time, initially discovered by an aging hag named ‘Gothel,’ but then unearthed and placed in the castle where the King and Queen then deliver a baby girl whose hair takes on the magical power.
Not to be denied her youth, ‘Gothel’ (voiced by Donna Murphy) sneaks into the castle and spirits the baby ‘Rapunzel’ away.
Fast forward to gorgeous wide-eyed ‘Rapunzel’ (Mandy Moore) on the verge of her eighteenth birthday, an unknowing and willing prisoner in her “mother’s” tower. Every year on her birthday ‘Rapunzel’ has sat longingly at her window and watched the “floating lights” ascend from the castle courtyard, an annual ritual the King enacted in hopes of one day bringing home his lost princess.
But, unfortunately for poor ‘Rapunzel,’ ‘Mother Gothel’ has no intention of letting her “daughter” leave, cuz then she’d resume her old hag tendencies and that would be a real blow to her considerable ego. Plus, as ‘Rapunzel’ is repeatedly reminded by her caretaker “The world is a dangerous place, full of roughians and thugs.” Their mother-daughter conflict establishes one of the strongest themes in Tangled, that of parental discipline and when letting go is finally the answer. After ‘Rapunzel’ is once again denied a vacation from the tower by ‘Mother Gothel’ with a vehement “You will never leave this tower. EVER!!!” ‘Rapunzel’ crumbles to the floor, leaving ‘Mother Gothel’ to say with self-pity “Oh great, now I’m the bad guy.” What parent can’t relate to that sentiment?
Enter ‘Flynn Rider’ (Zachary Levi from NBC’s Chuck), a dashing and narcissistic petty thief, who, while fleeing the Palace Guards, stumbles upon the tower and inadvertently makes his way to the butt end of ‘Rapunzel’s’ trusty skillet – a weapon used throughout the film, ultimately inspiring ‘Flynn’ to say to an accomplice “I know – a skillet! Who knew?”
‘Flynn’ negotiates a deal with ‘Rapunzel’ and her world class hair, batting his eyes and using his wily “smolder” to capitalize on her desperate enthusiasm to get outside the tower walls and see those mysterious and magical lights up close and personal.
The adventure that follows is consistently sweet and well-paced, tracking the wildly fluctuating emotions of ‘Rapunzel’s’ newfound freedom and her relentless guilt over ditching her wicked “mother.”
One of the best musical numbers (composer Alan Menken) evolves from a potentially hostile conflict that ‘Rapunzel’ and ‘Flynn’ find themselves tangled up in with some of those aforementioned “roughians & thugs” at a local drinking hole, ‘The Snugly Duckling.’ But just as pretty boy ‘Flynn’ is about to be skewered by one of the massive hook-handed Visigoths, ‘Rapunzel’ throws down a gauntlet of her own and asks him “Where is your humanity? Didn’t you ever have a dream?” The bar breaks into a free-wheeling number (“I’ve Got a Dream”) where each muttonheaded goon declares his abandoned dream, from concert pianist to mime to ceramic unicorn collecting.
Chasing down the frolicking pair is a displaced palace horse named ‘Maximus,’ who, even without a rider, continues to follow the scent of the fugitive ‘Flynn.’ Without uttering a word of dialogue (this isn’t Shrek), every moment ‘Maximus’ is onscreen is good humor, communicating all intentions and desires with eye movements, huffs and puffs, and hoof scratching equine body language, making for a very memorable and loveable Disney character. Let’s hope that any spinoff film featuring ‘Maximus’ prominently doesn’t spoil the milk.
Tangled is beautifully animated, a real feast for the eyes. There is just enough reach-out-and-touch 3D fx to make the ridiculous glasses wortwhile…but just enough. Personally, I’m a little over the 3D animation trend, at least until they can accomplish the effect without the eyewear mandate.
The romance of the love story is sweet and effective. Tangled is the kind of film (like Beauty and the Beast & The Little Mermaid) that makes me wish I had a daughter (or two!). But I am happy to report that my two youngest sons – ages 12 and 15 – enjoyed it. They loved the palace horse ‘Maximus’ and ‘Rapunzel’s’ sidekick chameleon ‘Pascal.’ What I appreciated most about Tangled was its emphasis on the child-parent connection. Just how hard it is to let them go, but how rewarding it is when they come home.