Tangled is a perfect pick for the family over the holiday weekend, a movie that includes all of the essential ingredients of a cherished Disney classic, with an infusion of all of the best that updated technology and contemporary humor have to offer. This film truly does deliver the best of both worlds.
At its core, Tangled is a tale as timeless as it is timely. It is a story of self discovery, flight from the nest, and coming of age - it's also a film that speaks to anyone who has faced, or is facing, the trials and tribulations of growing up.
The movie focuses on Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore), who is cusping on her 18th birthday and has never seen the world beyond the tower that the duplicitous Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy) spirited her away to as a baby.
Rapunzel has been gifted with a mane of magical hair, which Gothel needs in order to maintain her youth and avoid the inevitable perils of mortality. The hair has been imbued with the essence of our very source of life, the sun. When Rapunzel's mother, the Queen, was pregnant, she became deathly ill, so all in the kingdom were sent forth to find a cure. What they found was a flower that had been nourished by one drop of pure sunlight.
Gothel had been using the flower to stay young and alive, but it was taken to the Queen for healing and the Queen passed the healing magic to her daughter. So Gothel stole the child and raised her as her own, determined to never again lose the source of her youth.
Rapunzel experiences a traditional “awakening” (in a sense) when the dashing Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi), sails into her tower and illustrates the vitality and life that is out there in the world just beyond her window; that awakening is more of a mutual exchange in this film.
Flynn and Rapunzel awaken each other to who they really are, and what they truly desire. Thus, it is a romance born of the most ideal circumstances: two people who bring out the best in each other, rather than a traditional "one needs the other" arrangement.
Long gone is the traditional “damsel in distress” tale. For decades now, films have taken the archetype of the shrinking violet and turned it on its head; in most live-action films she is now - more often than not - replaced by a female who is instead shrieking and violent. Certainly, fairytales are often “untangled” and retold with an eye on contemporary tastes (Shrek being the most notable and successful example). What is lovely about Rapunzel is that she maintains the innocence and sweetness of a traditional Disney princess, and yet represents the independent spirit and ingenuity of a modern heroine.
What is also fascinating about this film is that the villainess (Gothel) masks her villainy in the guise of love. She does not have the wealth of Cruella De Ville, nor the magic of Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent. She is only equipped with an arsenal of emotional manipulation and self-esteem grenades, designed to keep Rapunzel afraid of the world and herself. As such, she is an amazing archetype for the devouring mother that many women must (to greater or lesser degrees) face in order to get free, and fully come into their own.
The character of Flynn Rider provides much of the humor in the film, as well as the swashbuckling adventure. As I said in my interview with Zachary Levi, Flynn has more in common with a G rated Han Solo, than a bland Prince Charming. His (still somehow innocent) cynicism and Rapunzel's intelligent naivete give them both somewhere to travel as characters. Their voyage ultimately leads them to themselves, and each other.
Tangled is also full of fresh enchanting characters who don't talk: Maximus, a dog-like horse who is as “dogged” and relentless in his pursuit of justice as he is loving, loyal, and physically reprimanding; and Pascal, an expressive chameleon who is always ready to gently or forcefully guide Rapunzel, and educate Flynn as needed.
Finally, the King and Queen, Rapunzel's original parents, bring the “one tear, for every laugh” that Walt Disney prescribed for his movies.
In terms of story, Tangled successfully translates Grimm's classic tale of a young woman trapped in a tower into a fast moving, sprawling, and charmingly comedic adventure; one that is as emotionally evocative and archetypal as any of the beloved Disney tales. Writer Dan Fogelman (Bolt, Cars) has crafted a script that is alive with rich characters, an accessible sense of irony, and an abiding tale with a twenty-first century twist.
Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard (Bolt) use the 3D CGI to draw the audience into the story and the emotional state of the characters. The film has some of the most well-developed character design in recent animation (including Rapunzel's subtle, and endearing, slight overbite), and yet it still has the organic feel of hand-drawn animation. Alan Menken's music is as catchy, uplifting and effecting as one would expect.
The film makes gorgeous use of light as a visual motif, and metaphor for all that we are capable of, and hold within us if we accept, and make use, of our own unique nature; both its majesty and its limitations.
Persnickety teenagers may not be ready to love this film, but on the whole Tangled offers audiences a much needed respite from the normal marquee staples, and reaches past our defenses to the part of ourselves that still wants to believe in magic.