Director: Nathan Greno & Byron Howard
Starring: Mandy Moore, Donna Murphy, Zachary Levi
Review: 4 stars (of five)
Disney’s newest princess movie is both a powerful entrant into its modern myth-making and possibly the most enjoyable example of 3D animation I’ve ever seen. It presents a princess stolen from her true family, longing for the freedom of adulthood and a place to belong. It has a wild, fun villainess who manages to cross the malignancy of Snow White’s stepmother with the goofiness of Beauty & the Beat‘s Gaston, and it’s a pleasure from three minutes into the picture, until the end.
The first few minutes open with voiceover narration from Rapunzel’s eventual love interest, a roguish rogue named Flynn, who has a jarringly self-aware, modern style like Owen Wilson reading jokes from the worst episode of Friends. If you can get past that, though, it’s all good.
While curiously devoid of the rat-faced Nazis that are apparently this season’s “It” thing in children’s holiday fare, the film packs a lot of thrills and laughs into its jaunty march to a happiest of endings. The most successful construction here is the two female leads. The vain witch, voiced by Donna Murphy, is a broad comic villainess, an overbearing mother figure who’s half Nora Desmond and half Joan Crawford. Rapunzel, voiced by Mandy Moore, is sweet and resourceful, a teenager yearning to breathe free who never comes off as whiny, and a wonderfully conflicted character—she loves the only “mother” she’s ever known, and frets over disobeying her, and when she sets foot in the real world for the first time, her manic reactions are delightful.
There’s a nice scene where the long-tressed maiden needs to hide something in an armoire. The directors use jarring jump cuts to condense, hilariously, her failing efforts. It’s a good modern touch, and emblematic of the way they keeps the film humming along. Dan Fogelman’s script, apart from giving Flynn (voiced by Zachary Levi) such an annoying Matthew Perry personality, is great. He gets a lot of mileage out of the hair, and spins an entirely original fable to power this story, a bit Snow White-ish, but with a great twist. Or braid. One of his best touches is in meeting the apparent Disney mandate that all fairy tale movies give the heroine two talking animals or objects as companions. Here, the hyper-intelligent animals do not speak, but have enough personality to steal most of their scenes—without being overbearingly precious, often the downfall of their predecessors.
The songs are forgettable and infrequent. This is a step up from last year’s Princess & the Frog, in which the songs were constant and grating, but not approaching the heights of The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast or The Lion King. The songs here are well-sung, though, because Moore has a pleasing enough pop voice, and Murphy belts out scenery-chewing verses with Broadway verve.
The film is ideal for small children, because the story of a girl who must grow up and find her true family (though she doesn’t realize it) is relatable and not too scary. There are pulse-pounding chase scenes, armed combat, and a few tight escapes, but is less frightening than, say, the climactic fight at the Beast’s castle—nothing too scary for a kid who likes a little adventure in her fairy romances. Beauty & the Beast, say, can be seen as a G-rated thriller, while Tangled is more of a romantic comedy: Sunnier, funnier, and perhaps a bit less moving as a result.
Disney shows good sense in making a Rapunzel movie, but deviating dramatically from the Grimms’ fairy tale. Originally, Rapunzel is a common girl who meets a prince. Reversing the dynamic here means the guy has to prove himself worthy, rather than just claiming the cutie, as it were. In the original tale, newborn Rapunzel is traded to a witch for some common garden herbs, and the witch locks the girl in a high tower for no reason other than sheer psychotic malice. Years later, a wandering prince impregnates the girl, but through the witch’s efforts wanders lost for years as Rapunzel raises the resulting children as a single, unwed mother, until he finds her again and finally makes her a princess. There is pretty much nothing there I’d want to dress up with pop songs and show to kids. Yet the character is very well-known, if only for the hair, and the “maiden in the tower” is a classic story trope that can be used effectively in an empowering story about growing up. Even retitling it Tangled signals that it’s not a faithful adaptation. Bravo, Disney.