I get the feeling that Disney is growing tired of princesses. First,
they made Enchanted, a movie that adhered to Disney princess
norms while openly mocking them. Then they tried shaking up the formula a
bit, trying some new things with The Princess and the Frog.
Sadly, this experimental attitude and all that it yielded were promptly
kicked to the curb when the latter movie underperformed at the box
office (thanks a pantload, Avatar).

So now, we have Tangled, another standard Disney princess
movie that works at least partly as a parody of all the forms and
cliches thereof. This is, after all, a movie in which our magic princess
somehow talks with animals and drives a room full of strangers to song,
all while our leading man stands by and implicitly remarks about how
crazy all this is. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

You’re probably familiar with the old Rapunzel fairy tale, but Tangled
puts a considerably different spin on it. In this version, rampion is a
one-of-a-kind flower with the magical ability to bestow eternal youth
and heal any injury. For centuries, this flower was safeguarded by an
old woman named Mother Gothel, who uses its power… with a song.

Wait just a minute here. This unique and otherwise completely unknown
plant can only be activated by a particular song that this old woman
somehow knows? That seems just a little silly and more than a little
stupid, but I guess I can roll with it. This is a Disney animated
musical, after all.

Anyway, flash forward a few hundred years. The queen of a nearby
kingdom is pregnant, but ill to the point where she may die before
childbirth. The villagers go out in search of a cure and manage to find
the rampion, in spite of Gothel’s clumsy attempts at hiding it. The
villagers take this strange and undiscovered flower, somehow knowing
that it can be made into a liquid that will restore the queen to health.
And they somehow do this without the special song. Whatever.

The queen ingests the flower and is healed while its curative powers
and radiant glow are in-hair-ited (I am so sorry) by the queen’s new
daughter. Gothel comes to steal the power back, only to find that the
child’s hair loses its magical shine when cut. So she kidnaps the girl
and the rest you know.

Gaping plot holes aside, I rather like this new origin. It makes
Gothel so much more evil and provides her with some strong ulterior
motives for locking Rapunzel away, growing her hair out, visiting her
frequently, etc. It’s also a good way to keep the tresses of our
hair-oine (that’s the last one, I swear) relevant after her escape from
the tower. In effect, Rapunzel’s ability to instantly heal and to glow
in the dark turns her hair into an all-purpose “get out of a painted
corner free” card.

Our story takes place eighteen years later, when Rapunzel finally
starts to rebel against her lifetime of cabin fever. Our princess makes
for a very nice protagonist, voiced to perfection by Mandy Moore.
Rapunzel’s years of reading, painting, baking and other such hobbies
have made her surprisingly smart, hauling Gothel up by her hair every
day has made her deceptively strong and a lifetime of isolation has made
her endearingly naive. More importantly, Rapunzel is understandably and
greatly conflicted between her mother’s wishes for isolated safety and
the thrill of independent discovery. This conflict is the crux of the
movie, explored in depth to great comedic effect.

As to how Rapunzel utilizes her hair, I’m very glad to say that it’s
less “Doctor Octopus” and more “Indiana Jones.” She doesn’t have the
magical ability to telekinetically move her hair like so many
appendages, she’s just really, really good at whipping it around and
tying it up. In my opinion, that makes for much better action scenes as
well as a much smarter and stronger heroine. Yes, there is the danger of
her hair getting obtrusive or conspicuous, but this is dealt with in a
very intelligent way when she finally gets to civilization.

Then there’s our male lead, Flynn Rider (presumably named for Errol
and not that other Disney
). This guy is definitely no Prince Charming. He’s a thief,
a rogue and a scoundrel through and through, kind of like what Aladdin
might’ve been if he was perfectly happy to keep living as a street rat.
Additionally, Flynn is written with strength, charm and hilarity in
great amounts, all of which are wonderfully conveyed by Zachary Levi’s
voice work.

Of course, no Disney movie would be complete without some animal
sidekicks and this movie has two. One of them is Pascal, a chameleon who
befriends Rapunzel and serves as her only company in the tower. The
other is Maximillian, a royal guard horse with more intelligence,
determination and tracking ability than most humans. But here’s the
kicker: THEY’RE MUTE! Both of them! Sure, they communicate and
contribute some comic relief by way of gestures, emotions and the kinds
of noises you’d expect these animals to make (also, Pascal changes
color), but they don’t sing and they never utter a single annoying
wisecrack. This is such a huge improvement and such a revelation that
I’m amazed it hasn’t been done sooner (okay, Mulan had Khan and
Cri-Kee, but Mushu spoke more than enough for all three of them).

Visually, this movie is commendable. The character designs are a
perfect mix of cartoonish and realistic, the set designs are fittingly
whimsical and the animation is superb. The 3D was effectively utilized,
though I’m not sure that the movie would be unwatchable without it. The
music, unfortunately, is a problem. Alan Menken returned to do the music
and the songs greatly benefit from his expertise, but the lyrics by Tim
Mertens are unforgivably mediocre. The music is there and the vocal
talent is sure as hell there, but their ample quality is acutely
crippled by lackluster lyrics and that’s a damn shame. Still, we do get a
nice consolation prize: There’s a second-act montage in which Rapunzel
and Flynn dance and have fun in the city. The sequence is not only very
well-edited, but set entirely to Menken’s score and without any lyrics.
Very good.

Another problem with this movie is in its plot, specifically in how
predictable and contrived it was at times. When Rapunzel and Flynn get
trapped in a dark place, anyone in the audience with a working brain
cell should be able to predict their solution before they do.
Additionally, you should already know — or at least suspect — that
there’s a plot development in which Rapunzel is apparently abandoned by
Flynn. It should be just as readily apparent that Flynn goes back to
Rapunzel, after he’s inevitably caught by the royal guard and saved from
execution in the most implausible manner possible.

Additionally, this movie has a prominent and saddening death which is
now a standard in Disney animated movies. This time, however, the death
doesn’t take. The death is reversed in a way that is pure and total
bullshit, and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with Rapunzel’s hair.
You might think this is a spoiler, but that’s only because you don’t
know who dies. To be fair, however, it’s worth noting that the death
scene was visibly drained of color, which I found very satisfying in its
emotional influence.

But all of this is beside my single greatest complaint with this
movie: The villains. There are several antagonists in this movie and
none of them pose any great threat. The royal guard is constantly after
Flynn, but these trained and armed soldiers are repeatedly outclassed by
a frying pan. Hell, we see on a constant basis that the only
competent one among them is a goddamn horse! Flynn has a couple of
former partners-in-crime who are also positioned as supporting villains,
but these guys are all bark and no bite. They can flex their muscles
and act all threatening, but when the time comes to act, they’re easily
dispatched off-camera by a character who isn’t Rapunzel or Flynn. And
the next time we see them, they’re willingly giving information to Flynn
for no apparent reason. FAIL.

Of course, the big bad of this piece is Mother Gothel herself. I will
admit that aside from her crappy job at hiding the rampion, she does
seem like a decent villain at first. She’s deceitful and manipulative,
but in a passive-aggressive and affectionate way. In these opening
scenes, Donna Murphy successfully voices Gothel with evil intentions
cloaked in motherly love and concern. But then the movie continues and
the time comes for Gothel to gradually shed her matronly facade. You’d
think that we’d see what threat Gothel can pose when the chips
inevitably come down. But it turns out she’s got nothing. This woman is
not a witch, a homicidal maniac or a threat of any kind. She’s nothing
more than a pathetic old woman who’s terrified of growing old and ugly.
Sure, there’s a climax between Rapunzel and Gothel, but the action
between them happens entirely off-camera. Moreover, pretty much all of
the climax’s tension comes from Rapunzel’s choices and has precious
little to do with anything that Gothel says or does. Such a

However, it’s important to remember that the movie has a much greater
conflict: Rapunzel’s free uncertainty versus her safe isolation. I know
it’s been explored before in several other movies (Finding Nemo
and Secret of Kells for example), but this internal dilemma is
the focus for most of the movie and I found it quite satisfying to see.

Tangled is far from flawless, but it definitely has its
charms. The voice acting is uniformly amazing, our lead duo is fun to
watch, the animation is wonderful and the writing is very funny.
Rapunzel is a worthy addition to the Disney princess line-up, though I
do hope that her parent company goes back to breaking new narrative
ground in animation soon.