Tangled is the 50th animated feature in what is regarded as the Disney Classic canon,and there must surely have been a desire to make this milestone count, especially given the fact that, since Pixar’s dominance began in 1995, the traditional Disney brand has been off the boil in both artistic and commercial terms.
Tangled is in many ways a return to Disney’s roots; a free adaptation of the traditional fairytale Rapunzel. Here Rapunzel (voiced by singer and actress Mandy Moore) is a princess who has magical hair, when a special song is sung it can literally turn back time. Wanting this power to keep herself young, and old woman (Broadway star Donna Murphy) kidnaps Rapunzel and locks her in a remote tower, raising her imprisoned, but believing that the old woman is her mother. We find Rapunzel on the eve of her 18th birthday,desperate to leave her tower, which she’s finally able to do when thief Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) literally drops into her life.
Tangled is both a traditional Disney film and an irreverent, modern piece of work, and it combines those two aspects deftly to create something that manages to feel both warmly familiar and original. One big departure is in the tone. Where older Disney films would tend to open with a storybook and a ‘Once Upon a Time…’ this one begins with Flynn telling us the backstory, but rather than supplying dry exposition, this sequence also gives us a feel for Flynn’s character (especially in the opening line, which signposts the film’s tone perfectly). There is a sardonic, knowing tone to the dialogue, but, happily, directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard stop short of outright parody. Traditional fairytale (and Disney) heroines tend to wait to be rescued, and that’s true of Rapunzel for a certain amount of this film, but she swiftly becomes a strong and pro-active character when she’s called upon to do so, it’s a nice evolution, credibly advanced by the script and by Mandy Moore’s appealing performance.
Acting is something that generally gets short shrift in reviews of animated films, and I’ve never figured out why, because it strikes me as a very particular challenge to give a character real depth with only your voice to work with and, most of the time, without your castmates to play off. Tangled boasts some terrific performances, Moore makes Rapunzel a truly layered character, and sings well. Zachary Levi makes for an enjoyably non-traditional hero (he’s got no interest in saving this princess, in fact he sees her as a burden) and boasts strong comic timing. However, Donna Murphy; a seriously underrated actress who I always love seeing in movies, steals the film with her genuinely scary performance as Rapunzel’s ‘mother’. She’s at her creepiest in song, filling ‘Mother Knows Best’ with venom, but all in all she’s the best Disney villain in a long while.
Of course the other side of acting in animated films is the animation itself, and in this respect too, Tangled represents Disney at its best. It looks beautiful, with a glowing, golden look to many of the scenes that gives the whole film both a strong visual style and a real fairytale feel. The character design is strong, the humans never even skirting that uncomfortable uncanny valley. There are some stunning images here, none more so than the floating lanterns that make an appearance towards the end of the film’s second act. This has to be an involving moment, it’s the point when Flynn and Rapunzel really start to look at each other differently, and we have to be swept up with them. It works beautifully, the whole scene is visually stunning and you can’t help but get carried along with it. As ever with Disney there are a few animals with relatively large roles in the film, but this time they don’t talk, not that this stops Maximus; a palace horse pursuing Flynn or Rapunzel’s chameleon from being both expressive and highly amusing. Maximus often comes close to stealing the show, the pantomime gestures that the animators use for him getting a lot of laughs.
Though I was swept up with the story and the emotion of Tangled – to my surprise I really bought into the central relationship – it is first and foremost a comedy, and it’s a very funny one at that. A particular comedic highlight comes in the song ‘I’ve got a Dream’, in which Rapunzel gets a bar full of barbarians to confess what they really want to do with their lives (the guy with the ceramic unicorns just killed me) but the dialogue scenes are also fast and funny, importantly, the jokes never feel like they are shoehorned in, rather they come credibly from the characters.
Tangled is easy to watch, easy to love, and easy to recommend. Take your kids, take your girlfriend, hell, just take yourself, films that are funny, emotional and suitable for all ages don’t come round that often so savour this one while it’s out there.