After the last Disney animated film, The Princess and the Frog, did such a good job of putting me off Disney Princesses forever, I had low expectations for Tangled—the studio’s update of the Rapunzel story and its 50th animated feature. Would it be as horrible as what they did to Tiana, giving her hopes and dreams, making her a hard worker, and then surrounding her with a cast of characters who spend the film shouting at her to throw it all away for love? Uh, well, maybe a little, but Tangled surpassed this, along with my expectations, and was roundly excellent.
Hanging out in the top five of Quentin Tarantino’s twenty best movies of 2010, Tangled tells the story of a lovely blonde-haired green-eyed princess named Rapunzel who has about a fifty metres of glowing magical hair that can heal if you sing the right words to it. Kidnapped as a baby by an old woman determined to use Rapunzel’s hair to keep herself young and pretty, the girl grows up stuck in a tall tower, frightened out of escaping by the woman’s mixed affections—touting herself as a mild caring mother protecting her magical sprog from the horrors of the world, but full of rage when the subject of leaving the tower comes up. Seemingly trapped forever with only charming chameleon Pascal for a friend, it takes handsome young thief—Flynn Rider—climbing into her tower to hide from the authorities to change her life.
In that respect, it does take a man to save the princess—but only after she coshes him on the head repeatedly with a frying pan and strikes a deal for him to help her go outside, and you could just as easily see her do this with a woman. The journey of the rogue, helping Rapunzel only for monetary gain, and the young woman, conflicted between escaping her prison and going against the word of her mother, is utterly entertaining, and a love story that felt very fairytale and Disney but had enough quirks and gorgeous characters to elevate to a worthy movie for the infamous Disney Vault.
Assisting Rapunzel and Flynn are Pascal and palace horse Max, both so ridiculously wonderful that I wanted immediately to own toy versions of them (in life size if possible, thanks Disney if you want to send me some for this glowing review). Max seems to be part human, part dog, and part dragon— pulling levers, wagging his tail when Rapunzel scratches him under the chin, flaring his nostrils in rage. Every time they are on screen it is a delight, as they support our heroine, trip up bad guys and punch arrogant thieves—like our hero Flynn—in the chest. Along with these are the utterly entertaining and gruff tavern-goers, terrifying Rapunzel and cinema-goers at first before breaking into song and listing their most dearly held dreams—from being a concert pianist to collecting ceramic unicorns.
To segue smoothly, the songs do let Tangled down just a touch. While the tavern song is righteous fun, all of the other sappy songs involving Rapunzel wailing about love and dreams sound half-Disney, half-eeuugghh. With Mandy Moore voicing Rapunzel, she has the pipes to carry it off, but the songs are dull, top-forty pop, and sometimes completely destroyed the movie’s ambience. In one beautiful scene where Rapunzel and Flynn are in a rowboat in the water, watching the evening sky as lanterns fall around them, a Miley Cyrus-type ballad just detracted from the moment and I was left disappointed.
The 3D was used to full effect and the film itself is beautiful; the scenery is immersive, the characters themselves animated in an agreeably flat style that worked because the characterisation shone through. I cried, surprising no one, and became totally desperate for Rapunzel’s well-being. She did a lot of saving, bopping people with pans and swinging around the place with her hair—really, she was quite tough and admirable, especially for someone who had been hidden away from everyone else for nearly twenty years. My only real gripe, apart from the sound, and this is ridiculous in a movie where I am fine with someone having magical hair, were the distances people were able to fall yet recover from immediately. I also worry about Flynn’s change of heart, from thief to hero, and whether it was purely because the amount of head injuries sustained at Rapunzel’s hands had given him some cerebral damage.
In summary: Above Expectations—this is a great kids movie, fun enough for the grown-ups, a toymaker’s delight and I kind of want to see it again.