- Rated G
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by David Medsker
fter “The Princess and the Frog” failed to live up to the studio’s usual holiday expectations (though the movie still took in a perfectly respectable $267 million worldwide), Disney was understandably concerned that their next animated release, an update of “Rapunzel” called “Tangled,” would suffer a similar fate at the box office, to the point where the first trailer they released for “Tangled” was so boy-friendly that Rapunzel only got one line. Even stranger, most of the amped-up footage in the trailer isn’t even in the movie. Those involved in its production could not have been happy with the studio’s lack of confidence.
In the end, though, they needn’t have worried. “Tangled” is cute as a button, armed with a witty script, action to spare and one of the most sinister villains in Disney history. Rapunzel herself is also a welcome break from the traditional Disney princess mold, a feisty but damaged teenager blinded to her potential.
The story begins with some admittedly clumsy narration from professional thief Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi), who explains how a drop of the sun created a flower that had magical healing powers, which Gothel (Donna Murphy, Doc Ock’s wife in “Spider-Man 2”) has used to preserve her youth for hundreds of years. When the local queen falls ill during her pregnancy, the king’s people find the long-rumored flower and use it to nurse the queen back to health. When their daughter Rapunzel is born, Gothel discovers that the flower’s healing powers have been transferred to her hair, so she steals Rapunzel and locks her away in a tall tower in a remote part of the kingdom, forbidding her from ever leaving (for her own safety, of course). Enter Flynn, who climbs the tower looking for a place to hide after a robbery. Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is now 17, has yards of hair, and is extremely handy with a frying pan. The two make a deal: Rapunzel lets him go and gives him the tiara he stole from the king and queen if he agrees to take her to town on her birthday. Mommy dearest, however, is not so eager to let her fountain of youth slip away.
If Disney is smart, they will set up a help line for kids who have suffered the emotional abuse that Gothel dishes out here, because she strikes a nerve that no traditional Disney ice queen has ever dared. Each ‘I love you’ is peppered with some jab that undermines Rapunzel’s self-confidence. It’s a subtle kind of cruelty, and you understand at once why Rapunzel hasn’t left the tower yet – Gothel has emotionally crippled her, hence the bipolar shame spiral after Rapunzel finally gets out and sees the world. To the movie’s great credit, they manage to turn her very real scarring into a very funny scene. They also do a great job of setting up the romance between Rapunzel and Flynn, and the casting of Moore as Rapunzel was inspired, to say the least.
If Alan Menken’s songs could keep up with the rest of the movie, “Tangled” could have been an instant classic. The dialogue is smartly contemporary without being dated, and Glenn Slater keeps the songs up to speed lyrically, but this is the weakest batch of songs that Menken has ever written for Disney. They’re not awful, mind you – though the first song “When Will My Life Begin” comes close – but none of them can stand up to even “Something There” from “Beauty and the Beast,” never mind a “Kiss the Girl” or “Be Our Guest.” The music isn’t the only problem here, either; would someone as diabolical as Gothel really tell Rapunzel when her actual birthday is, knowing what the king and queen do in tribute to their missing child? (Answer: no.) Some might also find fault with the more-human-than-animal tendencies of the horse and chameleon supporting characters, but it serves a purpose, however calculated: entertain the little boys (and the grown-ups), and it manages to do so without selling its soul.
It’s a pity that Disney didn’t have more faith in “Tangled,” to the point where they changed its name to “Tangled.” (Seriously, that’s just a terrible title.) It’s frankly what the “Shrek” movies should have been, a fractured fairy tale with a contemporary spin, but without that series’ dependence on lame pop culture references and bathroom humor. Had Menken stepped up with a better batch of songs, this could have been the new “Aladdin,” but “Tangled” isn’t that far beneath the cream of Disney’s crop as it is.
Note: Disney did a good job with the 3D here, and even produced a buzz-worthy moment when two lights danced on the tips of the viewers’ noses, but see this in standard 2D if you can. The 3D is nice, but it isn’t ‘an extra $4 per ticket’ nice.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for "Tangled" has a slew of extras, though many of them are self-promotional tools in disguise (Timon and Puumba show you Disney 3D). The rest, though, are great, including the most entertaining deleted scenes that we've seen from a Disney movie in years, possibly ever. (Three words: fortune-telling monkey.) Two songs ("When Will My Life Begin," "Mother Knows Best") get an extended workout, Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi host a very fun interactive featurette on the making of the movie, and the directors introduce two alternate animated openings. It also has a trailer for "Cars 2," hint hint. Good stuff.