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Worthy Addition to Disney's Classic Films
on November 25, 2010
*contains some spoilery bits*
Tangled, Disney's version of the oft-refashioned folk tale Rapunzel, is the studio's 50th animated film and one that is destined for classic status.
This latest retelling begins with a tiny piece of sunlight falling to earth and a magical golden flower sprouting where it lands. The flower, and its ability to restore youth, is discovered, used and kept secret by Mother Gothel. When the kingdom's beloved queen falls ill, a search for the flower (apparently its existence wasn't *completely* secret) is successfully undertaken and the healing potion brewed from it restores the queen's health. The flower's magical abilities are also transferred to the hair of the queen's unborn child, Rapunzel. When Mother Gothel discovers this and learns that the magical properties are only retained as long as the hair remains uncut, she kidnaps Rapunzel and raises her as her own child. Claiming that she wants to keep Rapunzel safe from a frightening world full of danger and thugs, Mother Gothel locks her away in a remote tower. While her hair (almost a character in and of itself) grows longer and longer, Rapunzel blossoms into a surprisingly well-adjusted young woman and gifted artist who longs to see the world - particularly the mysterious lights that appear in the night sky each year on her birthday.
Enter our amusing narrator, Flynn Rider, a roguish thief who has just stolen a tiara and is on the run from palace guards when he comes across Rapunzel's tower and takes refuge there. The very competent Rapunzel restrains Flynn, hides the tiara and strikes a bargain with him - she will return the tiara to him if he will agree to take her to see those mysterious lights, which he tells her are floating lanterns. Flynn agrees and the two set off on a rollicking adventure. Pursued now, not only by Maximus - a horse from the palace guard who refuses to give up the chase - but also by a pair of thugs Flynn double-crossed AND Mother Gothel, Flynn and Rapunzel learn to trust each other as they make one narrow escape from their pursuers after another.
Tangled is a laugh-out-loud funny family film that will thoroughly entertain both children and adults. The animation is stellar, the story engaging and the pacing excellent, never dragging for a moment. Rapunzel and Flynn are both charming and likeable, making it easy for viewers to root for them. Further, they are surrounded by a terrific supporting cast including tavern thugs with secret dreams and Pascal, Rapunzel's pet chameleon. But it's Maximus who truly steals the show. The expressive horse is brave, determined, sometimes petty, and hilarious. Every scene he's in is solid gold. I would love to see some sort of sequel with Max and Flynn trading quips - particularly since Max doesn't speak at all and the two still seemed to be doing just that through much of Tangled.
I did have a couple of quibbles, neither of which significantly impacted my enjoyment of the film. First, the colors often seemed a bit too dark to me, rather grayed out. This impression may well have been exacerbated by the 3D glasses. (ETA: A couple of fellow reviewers have commented that they found the colors bright and vibrant when they viewed the film in 2D. It seems likely that my experience may have had more to do with the theater where I saw the film or with the 3D glasses - or a bit of both. This is especially important since I imagine most Amazon costumers will be purchasing this film in 2D. My thanks to Star Fire and Thomas Plotkin for their input - I really appreciate it!) Second, even though I felt they were well performed, the songs were, IMHO, largely under whelming. With the exception of the lovely "I See the Light", I felt they had neither the excitement of previous Disney showstoppers "Be Our Guest", "Under the Sea" or "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" nor the memorable melodies of "Kiss the Girl", "Beauty and the Beast" or "Circle of Life".
On the plus side, the film is rich in emotional depth and is blessed with a number of wonderful scenes. My favorite sequence begins with Rapunzel and Flynn entering the village and dancing with the villagers and continues on through their scene on the lake among the floating lanterns. Their happiness in the village, Rapunzel's sense of wonder (and ours!) while surrounded by the lanterns, the romantic song they sing as they realize they're attracted to one another and may be falling in love - it's all perfect. The lantern scene is jaw-droppingly gorgeous - well worth the price of admission on its own and the film's most effective use of 3D. Another scene that I loved for its poignancy centers on the silent communication between Rapunzel's parents as they mourn their lost daughter together just before releasing their floating lantern.
I do want to alert parents to one element. The relationship between Rapunzel and Mother Gothel is difficult and layered, dealing with emotional abuse masked with concern and declarations of love. (Mother Gothel's frequent put-downs of Rapunzel, followed by a cheery "Just kidding!" had me clenching my teeth.) Young children who are used to a more black and white portrayal of good and evil may be confused by Rapunzel's oft-declared love for the woman she believes is her mother and by Rapunzel's conflicted feelings when she first leaves the tower with Flynn. This unhealthy relationship doesn't overshadow the film, nor does it steal the humor and fun from it, but parents should be prepared for questions children might ask and concerns they might have. These questions may not come until a second or third viewing, when children have already seen the scenes where Mother Gothel more explicitly reveals her true nature and so have that knowledge when viewing the early mother/daughter scenes.
That said, I still loved the film and believe it's a great addition to Disney's animated classics. Lastly, let me just add a big "Yeah!" to the film's final moments when Flynn, back in narrator mode, reveals that it was several years before he and Rapunzel got married. A much better message for children than the more usual we-saw-each-other-twice-before-tying-the-knot which seems almost de rigueur in so many fairy tales.
Note: Author, editor and fairy tale aficionado Terri Windling has written a wonderful essay about the long history of the "Maiden in a Tower" story which, it turns out, predates the Brothers Grimm by more than 200 years. I found reading about how a story evolves over time and across cultures absolutely fascinating. (Essay is available at Windling's website. A simple google search - "Rapunzel" + "Terri Windling" - should get you there.)