In 1937, Walt Disney changed the world with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Seven-three years and fifty animated films later, Walt Disney Animation Studios presents Tangled, a re-telling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale "Rapunzel". Much was made of Tangled being the 50th Disney animated film, and while it is very Disney - happily ever after endings and all - it is also a celebration of Walt Disney's vision of entertainment and storytelling.
Starting from the original 1812 tale, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is a child princess who is kidnapped from her bedroom by Gothel (Donna Murphy), desirous of the rejuvenating powers of Rapunzel's hair (which originated from a drop of sunlight that fell to Earth). Gothel raises Rapunzel as her own daughter, forbidding the young girl - now almost 18 - from leaving her lofty tower or even inquiring about the outside world, where her royal parents still hold out hope for their child's safe return. Catapulted into the mix is Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), a thief on the run from the law and his comrades in crime. With her first real connection to life outside her castle, Rapunzel blackmails Flynn to take her to see the lantern festival that takes place on her birthday. Flynn agrees, only if it means getting his stolen treasure back, but never far behind is Gothel, determined to get the source of her eternal youth back.
At the risk of spoiling the movie for young readers, there are no real surprises in Tangled - evil gets its comeuppance, all the good guys live happily ever after, and Rapunzel and Flynn (or Eugene Fitzherbert to his friends and family) get married. In a way, it's more of a challenge for Disney to still pull a rabbit out of the hat when we all know what the trick is. And in that way, Tangled succeeds surprisingly well.
While the story of "Rapunzel" is rooted in tradition, and Disney will never change its spots, there's still enough in Tangled to make the tale fresh. One of those spots is wacky animal sidekicks, and we get that from Pascal the chameleon and Maximus the horse. Maximus is the breakout character, engaging in a sword vs. frying pan duel with Flynn, his relentless pursuit of Flynn and silencing Flynn's grateful speech with nothing more than a glare. While Rapunzel and Flynn get their share of the jokes, it's really the silent Maximus who brings home a majority of the humor, whether through slapstick or deadpan.
Still, this is Disney, and for the older members of the audience, we've probably seen it all before. Most disappointing is the emphasis on the evil characters (like Gothel and the Stabbington brothers) looking hideous, and the good characters being downright gorgeous (even if Rapunzel's eyes are disturbingly big). The Viking bar thugs are the (musically hilarious) exception, but seriously, come on, Disney. It was 2010 when Tangled came out, and if morality lines are drawn on such clear criteria, I weep for future generations. Just the pretty ones, though, the ugly ones will be the bad guys.
At least those future generations will be treated to some jaw-dropping CGI. It's expected, of course, but Rapunzel's magical hair, the lantern festival and the dam escape go a long way in justifying the movie's $260 million price tag, Disney's biggest to date.
There's style, too, not just substance. Mandy Moore brings her singing experience to Rapunzel, and Flynn Rider benefits from Zachary Levi's comedic chops honed from Chuck. While their big number "I See The Light" didn't do much for me, there's no arguing with eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken's score, providing a soundtrack of frivolity, escape, romance and adventure.
So while Tangled isn't the most original movie you'll ever see - in Disney, as in Megadeth, heroes never die - it's still an enchanting, fun story. I imagine kids will be drawn to the obvious trappings of the tale, but even grown-ups will find plenty to enjoy in Tangled. Just bring your own frying pan.
4.0/5.0: The story may be old, but Disney shows it still has what it takes to charm, entertain and delight. Fifty animated films on, the magic is still there.