The fiftieth feature length theatrical release in Walt Disney's Animated Classics series offers devoted House of Mouse film fans Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something Dude.
Much like Disney’s more classically styled female-centric forty-ninth release, the studio’s reconfiguration of the vintage Brothers Grimm German fairytale Rapunzel also happens to be about a princess and a frog. However, when it came time for 2010's Grimm take, the powers that be did everything in their power to score a bigger box office hit than 2009’s The Princess and the Frog.
While admittedly this wasn’t always the case when you take into consideration the blockbuster successes of Snow White, Cinderella etc., Disney bet all the money in the Magic Kingdom to make the most expensive animated picture in history based on Hollywood's unspoken truth that even a blandly forgettable, nonthreatening gender-neutral title like Tangled has a better chance at attracting male viewers than Rapunzel.
And sure enough the titular gamble undertaken by Tangled’s all-male behind-the-scenes crew of directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, producers Roy Conli, John Lasseter and Glen Keane and screenwriter Dan Fogelman paid off as Disney’s fiftieth feature became the studio’s highest grosser since 1994’s Hamlet inspired masterpiece, The Lion King.
Nonetheless, when the film begins, it initially appears as though they’ve hidden the fairytale in plain sight in a beautifully realized, quintessentially Disney storybook opener that establishes Rapunzel’s back-story as an abducted baby princess with magically healing golden hair who’s been raised to believe that the woman who kidnapped her for her fountain-of-youth locks is her true mother.
Gradually, however, the focus is shifted away from the girl with the development of the strong, mischievous male character from the Aladdin school of Disney heroes destined to become Rapunzel’s unlikely love interest as Chuck star Zachary Levi voices the charismatic Errol Flynn modeled and therefore aptly named thief Flynn Rider.
Having been kept locked away in a tower by her abductor/guardian Gothel (Donna Murphy) with the reasoning that it’s to keep her safe from harm, the now eighteen year old Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is understandably shocked when Flynn climbs into her tower in an attempt to lay low after double crossing his fellow bandits.
Blackmailing Flynn with the royal tiara he’d stolen from the castle – which unbeknownst to Rapunzel is her birthright – the feisty, fair-haired literal babe-in-the-woods entreats him to act as her guide on a birthday journey into the outside world.
While it’s high-spirited, action-packed fun, Tangled is missing the heart and soul of previous Disney Renaissance pictures including its most obvious fairytale “sister” work The Little Mermaid as we never feel the aching, earnest yearning to be “part of your world” that Ariel had under the sea.
An enjoyable Disney entry that loses some steam in the transition from the sluggish second to the third rushed act, the slightly above-average Tangled is undoubtedly augmented by its breathtaking blend of artistic techniques both new and old.
Though I only wish that some of the funds from the film’s astronomical two-hundred and sixty million dollar price-tag could have been allocated to strengthening the script, the visual goal to meld the beauty of hand-drawn animation with state-of-the-art CGI to achieve painterly results that necessitated six years of groundbreaking technological development is staggering from start to finish.
On par with the company’s high-definition Pixar releases, Tangled nearly bursts right off the screen in a pitch-perfect Blu-ray transfer even without the 3D set-up.
Furthermore, the influence of The Swing along with other Rococo works from French oil painter Jean-Honore Fragonard’s is best evident in a Mermaid “Kiss the Girl” meets Beast “Be Our Guest” scene set on the water, which when pulled right out of the picture could stand among Disney Animation’s all-time greatest sequences.
Of course, ensuring that the youngest viewers would be as – if not more – entertained than older film fans, Tangled refuses to stay in one place, tone, genre, or subplot for long. Accordingly, it moves wildly from a wannabe Beauty and the Beast style display of bar tavern camaraderie to a Tarzan like chase where characters seem to surf on objects like a vicarious theme park ride.
Likably pliable yet lacking in enough distinctive supporting characters, refreshing humor or amusing songs to make it memorable -- by striving to be all things to all people just like the title promised, Tangled’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness in that it’s lacking the conviction and confidence that made previous Disney fairytales timeless.
Regardless of whether your film is about a Lion King or a Sleeping Beauty – if you stay true to the one story that you’re passionate to tell – you don’t even have to worry about gender-blind/gender-balanced presentation since great stories are universal and in the test of time, that’s what separates a Disney hit from a Disney classic.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.