WFTB Score: 12/20
The plot: On the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Rapunzel gazes out of her tower, dreaming of visiting the bright lights of the faraway city. Her mother is full of horror stories about the outside world, but the intervention of charismatic thief Flynn Rider is about to turn all their worlds upside-down. Armed with only a frying pan, a pet chameleon called Pascal and her good nature, Rapunzel embarks on a series of hair-raising adventures, leaving the increasingly interested Flynn in her wake.
Once upon a time…a beautiful blonde baby princess is snatched away from the king and queen by the evil Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy), who has discovered that the girl’s hair can keep her eternally at the same age as long as it remains uncut. Nearly eighteen years later, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is kept secluded in a tower, free only to hoist her ‘mother’ up with her insanely long hair, and gaze on the royal city which, on her birthday, sends a host of bright lanterns into the sky.
Gothel firmly forbids Rapunzel from leaving the tower so it’s handy that while she’s out, smooth-talking thief Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) drops by, hiding from fellow rogues the Stabbington twins and dedicated palace horse Maximus. With some less-than-subtle negotiation, Rapunzel persuades Flynn to take her – and chameleon Pascal, of course – to the city in exchange for his swag; though he fully intends to take full advantage of her naïvete, as the trip progresses he starts to see that there’s more to ‘Blondie’ than first meets the eye.
Though it’s probably best to ignore the internal Disney entanglements behind Tangled – it’s CGI but not Pixar, and overseen by John Lasseter – it feels as though many, many strands have been woven together to create the film. The Grimm fairytale is Classic Disney fodder, as are the expressive animal sidekicks, while the generally pleasing Alan Menken tunes recall more recent successes such as Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. The script (like so much modern animation) takes its irreverent cues from Shrek, and the whizzo technical stuff that all computer animation has nowadays is suitably impressive, even in 2D: Rapunzel’s hair, whether glowing or merely flowing, is a wondrous thing to behold.
In many respects, this is quite enough to keep Tangled going. Moore’s Rapunzel is a feisty heroine and her dynamic with the not-as-objectionable-as-he-first-appears Flynn/Eugene develops nicely, even if the real stars of the show are clearly Pascal and especially Maximus, the great horse detective. Gothel is a suitably evil (fake) mother, too.
The action is kinetic (if obviously built around the 3D) and the gentler parts work particularly well, most noticeably in three set-pieces: firstly, the very funny I’ve Got a Dream with the reprobates of the Snuggly Duckling tavern; secondly, the uplifting ‘Kingdom Dance’; and shortly after, the magnificent lighting of the lanterns. Like Beauty and the Beast’s rose, the lanterns are more than objects; they are symbols, in this case tens of thousands of symbols of hope that the princess will return to her parents. Even though I know the scene leans heavily on BatB’s famous ballroom scene, and even though the recognition of Rapunzel and Flynn’s love overloads the significance of it all, and even though I see the Light isn’t up there with the best of Menken’s songs, I was moved to tears by the spectacle of it all. Tragic, maybe: but the day I stop having emotional reactions to films is the day I stop watching them forever.
Which isn’t to say I was charmed by everything Tangled had to offer. Because it takes inspiration from lots of other animation, there’s something inorganic and faintly calculated about the way the film is assembled. I wasn’t enamoured with Dan Fogelman’s script, which was evidently tailored for teenagers, or tweenagers, rather than younger children or a universal audience. Not that there’s anything offensive or inappropriate in it, but the plot is classic teenage angst – ‘I totally heart this boy and my mother doesn’t understand’ – and the jokes are mostly of the snippy, smart-talking variety.
There’s also some rather dodgy plot mechanics in evidence, when Gothel and the Stabbingtons have Rapunzel and Flynn at their mercy but let them escape because of some supposed greater plan. What troubled me most, however, was the fact that – for all the incredible (and incredibly expensive) work done on CGI hair, water, lanterns and what have you, the modelling of the human characters is, to my eyes, unattractive. Gothel is, of course, meant to have an evil look about her, but it’s not that; it’s more that she and Rapunzel have disconcertingly large eyes which, instead of adding to the emotion of the characters’ expressions, can become isolated from the rest of the face. Technically amazing though they are, and beautiful though the rest of the film undoubtedly is, its people lack the charm of hand-drawn characters like Snow White or the animals in The Lion King.
Slick, swish and – a few lovely highlights apart – somewhat soulless, Tangled passes a pleasant ninety minutes for adults and children alike without presenting anything new or exciting, unless you’re intrigued by the intricacies of convincingly animating 40 ft of hair. I enjoyed Tangled, some bits very much, but I’m not sure Disney want my abiding memory of their 50th animated feature to be of people with big Beanie Baby eyes – and a funny horse.