“We’ve always lived by three rules. Firstly, you have to tell a compelling story that keeps people on the edge of their seat. Secondly, you populate that story with memorable and appealing characters. Thirdly, you put those stories and characters in a believable world. It doesn’t have to be a realistic world – that’s for the live action folks – but it has to be a believable world.”
-John Lasseter, executive producer
Tangled is a film steeped in tradition. It’s the fiftieth animated film released by Disney, a lineage that dates all the way back to 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It’s based on an the classic Grimm’s fairy tale Rapunzel, a story which Walt Disney first suggested adapting into a film back in 1940. And, it’s a film that was overseen by John Lasseter, a man whose name is synonymous with Pixar, the company that revolutionized animation.
But while Tangled has a lot of history behind it, it never feels weighed down by it. The story seems traditional, but has enough of a modern edge to keep it from feeling overly familiar or outdated. The set up is similar to most Disney films – it has a princess, trapped by a nefarious villain, who must be rescued by a heroic prince.
In this case, the princess is Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), who has been blessed with the ability to heal others with her magical hair (so long as she never cuts it). Rapunzel has spent her entire life trapped in a tower by Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), who kidnapped her as a baby to use her powers to keep herself forever young. Mother Gothel has brainwashed Rapunzel, convincing her that she is her real mother and that Rapunzel must never leave the tower or “ruffians and thugs” will harm her. It takes Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) accidentally stumbling across Rapunzel’s tower to help her to break free and see the outside world for the first time.
But while the set up may seem familiar to other Disney films over the years, it has enough modern touches to keep it from feeling stale. The princess is far from a damsel in distress – she’s actually heroic and entertaining in her own right, playing the role of rescuer just as often as rescuee. And the “prince” is more antihero than hero – he’s a thief and a con artist (albeit a handsome and rather charming one) who is wanted by the palace guards for stealing a crown.
What’s most impressive is that the film is actually very funny without resorting to crass humor or the type of overly-adult jokes that often pervade contemporary animated films. It’s doesn’t have to rely on pop culture references or sexual innuendos to get a laugh, so parents don’t have to worry about their kids asking them to explain a joke clearly meant for the adult demographic. Instead it uses solid one-liners, slapstick humor (mostly involving a frying pan) and adorable anthropomorphic animals to get laughs, which allows it to keep its traditional Disney sensibilities without ever feeling like a movie made in the 1930s.
The only aspect of the film that does feel outdated is its use of musical numbers. I understand the desire to have the characters sing in order to pay homage to the great Disney animated films of the past, but it’s a convention that has wisely been abandoned by modern CGI animated movies. It’s a little jarring to see these characters break into song and it feels a bit hokey. The biggest problem though is that the songs are forgettable and interchangeable, with the notable exception of “I’ve Got a Dream,” which is actually a quite funny and enjoyable song performed by a group of “ruffians and thugs” in a bar amusingly named The Snuggly Duckling. (The “I’ve Got a Dream” number is oddly and hilariously reminiscent of the “My Little Buttercup” scene in The Three Amigos.)
The voice performances in the film are all incredibly solid. While it has taken the modern approach of hiring name actors to voice the characters, Tangled has wisely chosen the right actors instead of just going for the biggest names. Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi are both really great in their roles, which do require them to convey a wide range of emotions and tones throughout the film. Donna Murphy gives a really great villainous performance as the condescending and manipulative Mother Gothel. And Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor and Brad Garrett, who all have really great voices for animation, help round out the cast.
Of course, even more important than the voice acting is the animation in the film, which is really quite breathtaking. Computer animation has come a long way over the years and this film really ups the bar in terms of quality. Seeing it on Blu-ray, you really appreciate all of the subtle nuances, like the way various textures (concrete, wood, individual blades of grass) are rendered in painstaking detail. The entire film just looks beautiful – it’s filled with eye-catching pastel colors and vast, beautiful landscapes. And Rapunzel’s long hair, which is used continually throughout the film as a rope or an extra arm, looks really great too, which I’m sure was no easy task for the animators.
By far though, the most beautiful sequence in the film is one involving a series of rice paper lanterns floating across the sky. For the past 18 years, the king and queen, heartbroken over the loss of their missing daughter, have sent paper lanterns up into the clouds on Rapunzel’s birthday. She has seen the lanterns light up the sky from her tower window, but never knew what they were. It’s her desire to see the lanterns in person that convinces Rapunzel to run off with Flynn. The scene where she finally sees the lanterns up close looks absolutely amazing. (And, much like Rapunzel’s hair, it’s clear the animators spent a lot of sleepless nights getting the paper lantern sequence, which features 45,000 individual lanterns, just right.)
While it’s clear that Disney has learned a lot about computer animation from Pixar, one thing they haven’t picked up from them is how to make entertaining bonus features. While Pixar loves to load up their DVDs and Blu-rays with a ton of extras, the bonus content on Tangled is rather sparse and disappointing. All that you get are a few deleted/extended scenes, a brief “50th Animated Feature Countdown” sequence and a short making-of featurette.
The making-of featurette, entitled “Untangled: The Making of a Fairy Tale,” is particularly disappointing. It’s only 12 minutes long and it tries (and fails) to be overly cute instead of insightful. It’s hosted by Moore and Levi, who both banter back and forth and toss out various trivia questions, which is meant to be charming, but isn’t. The actual making-of content is entertaining, but there isn’t enough of it to satisfy anyone truly interested in how the film was made. It does offer a few interesting tidbits about the production though – like the fact that new technology had to be invented to render Rapunzel’s 100,000 individual strands of hair or that the film’s crowd scene, which features 3,000 unique villagers, is the largest ever in Disney history. I just wish they had put more effort into making a longer and more comprehensive featurette.
While I was a bit disappointed in the bonus content, I still really love the film overall and definitely recommend picking it up on Blu-ray to really appreciate its beauty. As the company’s fiftieth animated feature, Tangled is definitely a worthy successor to all of the great Disney films of the past.
Reviewed by Joel Murphy. Tangled is available today on Blu-ray and DVD.
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