A few weeks ago I attended a screening of Tangled, the 50th animated feature out of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Tangled, of course, is the tale of Rapunzel — though with the expected tilt and sing-a-long twist that is a hallmark of every Disney feature.
For those not in the know, the story of Rapunzel and her long locks was most famously told by the Brothers Grimm — though the fairy tale was decidedly darker than the Disney telling, and with key plot details shifted for benefit of an extra happy ending. Instead of Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) being the daughter of a peasant couple stealing vegetables from the garden of an enchantress — she is the daughter of nobility — the king and queen of an unnamed kingdom. Her hair imbued with the ability to restore youth to whomever control its power, Disney’s Rapunzel is stolen away by Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) for just this purpose, and raised in a well hidden tower in the middle of the forest.
Nearing her eighteenth birthday Rapunzel finds herself itching to be free of her confines. Through a fairly conventional paint-by-numbers turn of events, Rapunzel finds herself at odds with Gothel and secretly plans her departure from the tower — with the help of not a prince (Grimm version), but the charming thief Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) who happens upon her secret tower while evading arrest.
Anamorphic critter slapstick, mild humor, and random bursting into song ensues.
Tangled is not a bad movie — but as I’ve mentioned in other reviews as related to animated features, there seems to be something missing — a story-driven emotional disconnect that just makes these other efforts seem, well — like half an effort. Disney knows that kids will clamor to see their animated fare, and currently Tangled is putting up significant numbers with the second highest grossing ever over the Thanksgiving holiday. Still — this doesn’t make it a great Disney offering, just a well-timed one.
In speaking to my fellow reviewers upon exiting the theater, it was noted among us that nobody could remember a single musical number — not one. I’m not the biggest fan of Disney animated features; the bursting into song doesn’t do anything for me and most of what I remember seems chintzy. Still — it’s noteworthy that I do remember many of these songs, some word-for-word, in spite of my not caring for the formula. I vaguely recall that the songs were pleasant enough, but there was no Under the Sea, Bare Necessities, or Be Our Guest.
Moore and Levi do an excellent job of lending voice and character to their parts, however — and the film does shine from their reading alone. Zachary Levi in particular creates a significant amount of range and emotion with his voice that truly makes the suave thief with a heart of gold Flynn pop on the screen. I think, as a leading male character — his is one of the better that have come out of the Disney stable in quite a while. Moore plays the textbook sweet but feisty female lead that Disney has down to a science. The interaction between her Rapunzel and Levi’s Flynn Ryder is enjoyable and at times, a good bit of fun.
The 3D, save one major scene (you’ll know it when you see it), was fairly run-of-the-mill, and per the usual in anything I’ve seen that requires glasses — muddy at times. The aim when making this film was to combine the 3D animation with the classic Disney animation style from years gone by, and I’d say in this Disney succeeded.
Once again, however — I return to the simple, unsurprising story that telegraphs its gentle punch from scene one. It’s hard for me to look past the fact that Disney has Pixar in its stable, with all of the wild success that studio has brought. No matter how cute your anamorphic chameleon, surly horse, and all the rest — Disney sticking to this formula feels to me like a winning football team benching their star quarterback in favor of their third-stringer. The difference between good and phenomenal is striking.
Tangled is a cute movie — kids will like it and parents will like taking their children to it, but I’ll submit that in fifteen years little girls will still be dressing like Snow White, Ariel, and Belle for Halloween — and very likely none like Rapunzel. It’s a decently fun but ultimately forgettable film in a stable of classics.
The Upside: It’s pretty, Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore do an excellent job of inhabiting their characters, and there is one beautiful scene that takes full advantage of the film’s 3D.
The Downside: The story isn’t great and the songs are wholly forgettable.
On the Side: Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi met a single time during the production of the entire film.