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Score One for Disney

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Tangled (formerly “Rapunzel”), the 50th animated film from Disney Pictures Animation Division continues what, in hindsight, can be only described as a remarkable run for animation that began this past March with How to Train Your Dragon and continued with Toy Story 3, Legends of the Guardians, and, most recently, Megamind. Each one is a legitimate contender for next year’s Oscar for Best Animated Film.

A mix of old-school Disney storytelling (e.g., fairy tale princess, musical numbers) with new-school animation techniques, Tangled will quickly take its place as one of Disney’s most memorable animated films.

Tangled tweaks and modernizes the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, making Rapunzel (voiced by former pop-star-turned-sometime-actress Mandy Moore) a lonely princess unaware of her royal lineage and the swashbuckling hero-co-protagonist, Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi, TV’s Chuck), a good-hearted thief (she’s a commoner, he’s a prince in the fairy tale). At least superficially, this Rapunzel is still the Rapunzel most moviegoers will dimly remember from the classic fairy tale: impossibly long, blond tresses; a locked tower located far away from prying eyes (and civilization); and an evil, manipulative witch, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), eager to keep Rapunzel and her life-restoring blonde tresses all to herself.

Almost eighteen, a restless, lonely Rapunzel hopes to venture out of the tower and see the floating lanterns released once every year from a nearby kingdom, but Mother Gothel, citing the physical dangers of the outside world, rejects her pleas. Rapunzel gets out anyway, thanks to Ryder’s unexpected arrival while Mother Gothel’s away on an errand.

Ryder is on the run from the king’s men and the Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman), his former partners-in-crime. In a reversal of the “meet cute” scene typical of romantic comedies, Rapunzel gets the upper hand, eventually convincing him to take her to the lantern festival in exchange for a valuable object of desire hidden in his satchel.

Tangled subsequently unfolds as a series of adventures, misadventures, scrapes, escapes, life lessons, a chaste romance, and a periodic digression into song. Written by Disney veteran and Oscar winner Alan Mencken (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid) with lyrics by Glenn Slater, the musical interludes unsurprisingly reveal the characters’ inner desires and feelings. They’re also linked thematically to Rapunzel and Ryder’s respective character arcs: hers toward independence self-reliance, his away from selfishness and immaturity.

When the songs begin to feel repetitive (because, in fact, they’re sung more than once), co-directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard (Bolt) step in with a healthy dose of physical and/or verbal comedy.

Tangled’s non-photo-realistic style is among the most impressive Disney’s made since it moved into computer animation five years ago under the leadership of Pixar/Disney’s Chief Creative Officer’s John Lasseter. Lasseter, the writer-director of Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Cars, has attempted to bring Pixar-quality storytelling and craft to Disney’s non-Pixar efforts like Tangled. If Tangled is any indication, Lasseter has succeeded beyond what Pixar fans and animation fans could have anticipated.