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It’s hard out here for a princess.  Especially one whose royal mum nearly died before she was born, was infused with the power of a magical flower to save them both, which caused her kidnapping by a wrinkle-phobic witch who locked her in a tower for nearly two decades with no one but a tiny lizard for company and nothing to do but listen to her hair grow and grow and grow, wondering what she’s missing in the world outside.

I’ve just given an extremely abridged version of the set-up for this retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Rapunzel.  What I couldn’t possibly include in that passage was the sheer excellence of the Disney company’s fiftieth animation feature, which in its quality and brilliance place it in the highest echelons of the canon amongst Snow White {1937}, Cinderella {1950} and Sleeping Beauty {1959} and later triumphs like The Little Mermaid {1989}, Beauty and the Beast {1991}, or the overlooked Mulan {1998}. Tangled is the best Disney film to come along for ages.

On its most basic level, the film is gorgeous to look at.  Hyper-colourful, against rich, storybook-like backgrounds, Tangled’s characters have the smooth CG skin of plastic dolls come to life crossed with the handsomeness of classic Disney designs.  Rapunzel’s hair is a gorgeous, lush technical marvel; one can practically differentiate every golden strand.  The lightness with which Rapunzel wields it around either as a rope to rappel herself and others up to the tower’s high window, or to bind her errant saviour, Flynn, the home-invading thief, to a chair for interrogation, is on a Pixar level of brilliance.  After Rapunzel bargains with Flynn to help her escape the confines of her home prison and visit the village where mysterious lanterns light up the sky every year on her birthday, the thief does all he can to dissuade the unwilling hermit from taking him into the very town he’s stolen crown jewels from.  His sidetracking forays lead them into an alehouse full of ruffians called the Snuggly Duckling and eventually on the run for their lives across the base of an unsturdy dam.  Unsturdy dams being what they are, this one doesn’t hold up too long and the image of tons of water busting through is amazing.  As with the shots of Rapunzel’s hair, the weight of the water surging is wonderfully realistic.  Everything is textured beautifully and in terms of its design, scenes like Rapunzel and Flynn’s boat ride in the middle of a lake to watch thousands of paper lanterns sail overhead is the stuff of lovely dreams.

Directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno have reimagined this classic story with some of the fast-paced humour that seems to be so popular in fairy tale cartoons post-Shrek {2001}, but with none of that film’s cynicism.  If Tangled’s laughs resemble anything, it’s probably closest to the absurd, surreal comedy of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, particularly moments like the big “I’ve Got a Dream” production number wherein the rough and ready denizens of the Snuggly Duckling share their innermost -- often bizarre -- yearnings with the plucky Rapunzel.  Even the captain of the royal guard bears more than a passing resemblance to Monty Python’s John Cleese.  Two dialog-free characters Rapunzel’s best mate, the chameleon Pascal and the upstanding and determined military horse, Maximus, steal a lot of Tangled.  Pascal is the Greek chorus to Rapunzel’s innermost thoughts; leery and suspicious of the devil-may-care Flynn.  Maximus is the over-the-top, long hoof of the law obsessed with bringing Flynn to justice, who delays only because of Rapunzel’s kindness, quickly becoming as protective of her as the tiny lizard.

Rapunzel herself may be a complete innocent, but she’s no fool.  She’s a Disney princess for the ages; sweet, charming, smart and talented.  The resourceful girl wastes no time in commandeering Flynn, the first man she’s ever clapped eyes on, to be her guide into the unknown world outside.  He may be cute, but she’s got things to do first.  Rapunzel is a loving daughter to the parent she doesn’t realise is her kidnapper and is fraught with guilt after deceiving her by running off to the lights while Mother Goethel is gone.  The scene of Rapunzel’s not-entirely-inner turmoil upon leaving the tower is one of the funniest in any Disney film.  Also a scream is anytime she brandishes her weapon of choice, her trusty frying pan (I’m sure Cuisinart and Calaphon are kicking themselves for missing the golden merchandising opportunity there.).   Her warden, the beguiling (uncannily Cher-like) witch Goethel keeps Rapunzel captive not only by locking her in a remote, ridiculously high tower, but by alternating affectionate love and fear; both of the cruel world outside and passive-aggressively enflaming Rapunzel’s own shaky teenage self-esteem.  As with many Disney animated movies, the songs in Tangled {composed in part by Alan Menken, best known for the iconic Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast scores} are a huge component to figure in.  Happily, Tangled features some of the best songs for many a moon.  “Mother Knows Best,” makes the most of having Broadway luminary Donna Murphy in the cast as she belts out Goethel’s well-played guilt trip against her adopted child.  Rapunzel’s opening song , “When Will My Life Begin” is all charm and exposition, while there’s no doubt that Debbie Allen should come up with some kind of inappropriate dance number for “I See the Light,” the dreamy ballad that highlights the gorgeous flight of the lanterns and Rapunzel and Flynn’s budding romance. That one’s Oscar-bound, as is the whole production, very likely for a Best Picture nom.  Tangled owes a lot to the fabulous pipes of former pop baby Mandy Moore as both Rapunzel’s speaking and singing voice, giving the character and the songs a sweetness, strength and emotion that’s hard to imagine in anyone else’s hands.  There is a notable set piece that has no voices; a sequence where the ebullient runaway dances with pure joy after arriving in town and falling in love with everything she sees, catching the entire village up in her happiness.  The rhythmic medieval instrumental that scores the scene is as mesmerising and enthralling as the moment.

Even with its well-worn fairy tale premise and the folks at Mattel going crazy with thoughts of the ‘super-long hair Rapunzel’ dolls it’ll be wheeling out by the truckload come Christmastime, Tangled is anything but your typical Disney Princess story.  It goes to pains to include boys in the equation by providing quite a bit of action like the dam bursting scene and featuring Flynn as its narrator and often its main protagonist.  Flynn actually gets more screen time than Rapunzel, who is only one of three female characters in the film (- and only two of those have dialog).  Luckily, Rapunzel is such a winning character that she makes up for whatever time she’s away by virtue of pure charm, and along with Pascal and Maximus (- and the frying pan) as comic relief, a balance is found that will entertain everybody.

Extremely well done, this.  Hilarious, charming, heartfelt and featuring loads of action-packed fun, Tangled isn’t just a return to form or the best of the “Princess films” since Beauty and the Beast; Tangled takes a high place amongst the jewels in the Disney crown.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

November 24th, 2010

 

 

 

 

Click here to read our Exclusive Interview with Tangled directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno

 

 

 

© 2006-2017 The Diva Review.com

 

 

Photos

(Courtesy of  Walt Disney Pictures)

 

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