Year of Release: 2010
Date Viewed: July 8th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG
(Special thanks to Ellen for loaning this disc to me.)
The history of the Walt Disney company has more ups and downs than Space Mountain. Their best known projects have come from their famed animation studio; home to some of the most talented artists in the world. The story behind the success is very much like a fable. A person dreams of having a special power. The dream comes true. Then the dream corrupts the person into selling out their values to satisfy greed. The person eventually reaches an epiphany, returns to their true self and everyone lives happily ever after. The last part hasn't quite happened yet. I think it's an overstatement to say that Tangled is Disney's long-awaited return to form. But they're definitely getting there. The one thing that can probably be universally agreed upon is that the movie successfully avoided becoming its own punchline.
Continuing with the fairy tale tradition, Tangled's story is set in a storybook world full of magic. The most sought-after magic is a yellow flower which has the ability to heal wounds and prevent aging. The first person to claim custody of this special power was an elderly woman named Mother Gothel (voice of Donna Murphy). Her story circulated as a legend before coming to the attention of the royal family. They are expecting their first child but the Queen is deathly ill and needs a miracle cure. Her soldiers locate and steal the magic flower for it to be distilled into an elixir. The queen's life is saved and the magic is somehow transferred into their child's enormously long hair. Princess Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore) is born.
But Mother Gothel soon returns to reclaim her prized possession. She kidnaps Rapunzel and raises her as her own inside a tower far away from the civilized world. The presence of the magic hair keeps Mother Gothel safe from death by natural causes. Now a teenager, Rapunzel has yet to see the world beyond her towering prison. An opportunity to change that comes when a scoundrel named Flynn Rider (voice of Zachary Levi) enters the tower to escape from the authorities who want him executed for theft. In return for reacquiring the stolen loot, he agrees to escort Rapunzel to the city where glowing lanterns illuminate the skies. The lights have mesmerized the young girl since early childhood and will bridge the path to her destiny.
Tangled is full of surprises not just in its well conceived storyline but its style and presentation. I watched this movie using a dusty eight year-old Xbox DVD player with a below average screen size and the resolution was so impressive that I was fooled into thinking that I had accidentally switched on a hidden upconversion button that I didn't know about. And this happened after being exposed to the high definition version as it was being demonstrated at the department store I work at. No matter what your home theater is comprised of, the video glows as strong as Rapunzel's hair. The animation is top notch as well. Somehow the bar of lifelike realism continues to rise higher even when not required.
Minus the use of pop culture references, the Dreamworks influence has clearly seeped its way into modern Disney-employed storytellers. That's actually not a criticism because there is a lot to be learned from that studio despite how hit-and-miss its track record can be. The slapstick humor is some of the most pleasing of its kind since the birth of the Shrek franchise. Some of the funniest moments involve a supporting character who has now joined the ranks of Percival McLeach and Captain Hook as some of Disney's best comical villains. Flynn's recurring rival is Maximus; one of the horses belonging to a palace guard sent out to capture Flynn. Even after the guard permanently leaves the story map, the horse carries on the mission and gets into some rather amusing scuffles including a sword fight that even makes the characters question the validity of the situation. Some of the other great moments are a result of simply clever animation. There's a great scene where Rapunzel has a devil of a time trying to hide Flynn's unconscious body into her closet. Somewhere the spirit of Curly Howard is sitting by watching proudly.
To bring the character of Rapunzel to life, the underrated Mandy Moore stepped up to the plate and smacked a home run. Voice work is simple in theory but can also be the most complex of all film jobs. Moore brought the right amount of charisma for giving credibility to Rapunzel's joy, fear and naivety. The animators even gave her a subtle nod by matching up their hairstyles at one point. Veteran Disney composer Alan Menken returns to familiar ground to score the primary music and the song numbers. And although Moore and her fellow castmates stay true to the loud boisterous singing tradition seen since the early days, the lyrics and melodies do not live up to the legacy. A Disney animated feature without a memorable show-stopping number is like eating pancakes without syrup. It's still appetizing but the absence of flavor makes it forgettable. It's too bad that a Howard Ashman only arrives once in a blue moon. I miss him now more than ever.
The story is far from the most original of Disney offerings. It's basically The Hunchback of Notre Dame combined with the typical "lost princess" scenario. But it's the right dish to serve for the occasion. The Princess and the Frog was considered a return to Disney's roots. Tangled is that plus a glimpse of the future. It hasn't looked this bright for a long time.