Ever since Pixar broke onto the scene in 1995 with Toy Story, Walt Disney Animation Studios has been toppled as the predominate animation studios, both in the boxoffice and in the hearts of animation fans. However, in recent years, Disney stepped up their game, first with the surprisingly charming Bolt and now with a throwback to what once made them great with Tangled.
However, Tangled knows it exists under the shadow of such films as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. To put it nicely, the film “borrows” from these films, becoming a series of homages to previous titles and a reminder of the good old days of fairy tale wonders of Disney’s olden days.
The film is a loose retailing of the Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) story, which means it has almost nothing to do with the original tale beyond the fact that Rapunzel lives in a tower and has really long hair. While she dreams of a life outside of the tower, her fear overcomes her curiosity until a young man named Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) happens to stumble upon the tower.
The film follows the stereotypical Disney formula, but what’s surprising about Tangled is how ambiguous and compromised it makes its characters. Flynn Rider is not lacking in charm, but he’s a notorious thief who’s more interested in his stolen goods than in Rapunzel. Also, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), the witch who locks away Rapunzel is almost sympathetic in an odd, twisted way.
While the film does upset some expectations, sometimes it’s a bit too much of a surprise as some of the plot points are too contrived. One set-piece revolves around a series of ruffians breaking out into a musical number and it’s so odd and unexpected that it doesn’t work at all. I get that it’s a homage to Beauty and the Beast, but it’s a terrible homage.
The film also lays on a layer of heavy exposition on the front end that actually makes the rest of the film a good deal less interesting because the core mystery of the film is known to the audience. It probably would be otherwise, but the opening smacks of the kind of condescending tripe which plagues certain strains of children’s entertainment.
This being a Disney animated film, there are also a number of musical numbers, all of which are instantly forgettable. I love Alan Menken’s work in the classic Disney films, as well as even his recent work in Enchanted, but here the musical numbers never come to life like his previous work.
There are a few key reasons for this. First off, the lyrics just aren’t up to snuff and a lot of them are rather dull. Secondly, the musical talent in this film isn’t as good as it should be, which brings the material down even further. The audio mixing also doesn’t help as the music and lyrics seem to be battling each other for supremacy instead of flowing together.
While it fails on a good number of fronts, there are enough enjoyable moments in the film to show promise in Disney’s attempt to restore itself. The characters are engaging and there are a good number of fantastic sequences, such as when Flynn steals the crown or when Rapunzel deals with the emotional baggage from finally leaving her tower.
There are enough of those movie magic moments to make me like Tangled overall. It still reminds me why I quit watching Disney animated films after Pocahontas, but it shows that they might start getting back on track. I doubt they’ll ever surpass the fantastic stint of films they had in the ‘90s, but I hope they’re at least raising the bar to that level.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing