It was only a matter of time before Rapunzel joined the elite club of Disney Princesses that includes such famous names as: Cinderella, Snow White, Jasmine, and Belle - not an easy crowd to break into to be sure. It's something like the Hall-of-Fame of Disney lore. But regardless, the Disney company couldn't possibly pass up an opportunity to put one more $50 doll on every 8-year-old girl's Christmas list worldwide. Quite a shock, right? Disney, greedy? The surprise is not that Disney cashed in yet again - but that they managed to do it with Tangled's elegance, charm, and imagination. One might think they made it purely for the love, but let's not get carried away.
The Repunzel idea has actually been sitting on the back burner at Disney for nearly seventy years. I guess 2010 seemed like the right time to take it out of storage. In any case, Disney's savvy storytellers do this one just right spinning the original tale into something fresh and exciting. We begin with an enchanted flower. A witch finds it and becomes dependent on its magic to replenish her youth. But it's harvested instead by a king to save his ailing pregnant wife. The magic passes on to the newborn child, Rapunzel. The peeved witch, turned back into a hideous wretch, steals the baby girl, locks her away in a tower, and raises her as her own.
Don't worry, that's just prologue. Enough of the classic story is left intact. Rapunzel (now 18 and voiced by Mandy Moore) still has hair long enough to climb and a handsome beau still comes along to woo her. But that's old school. Tangled manages to be surprisingly modern. Rapunzel's not Grimm's typically glorified moper but a spunky and charming dreamer who fills her constant downtime anyway she can: crowding her wall space with lush murals or perfecting that whip like length of locks as a swinging, lassoing extra appendage. But more than anything else, she's a starry eyed teen shackled by her forced domesticity. One of the movie's most chipper and energetic musical numbers is Rapunzel's first entitled, When Will My Life Begin: a cross-generational anthem in the same vein as Dorothy's Over The Rainbow. The message is loud and clear, it's a great big world out there let's go find it.
However, the movie really kicks into gear when a hotshot and arrogant jewel thief named Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi) stumbles into Rapunzel's tower while evading the law. He's the prince of anti-charm. Seconds after gaining entry Rapunzel clocks him on the head with a frying pan- knocking him cold. Not quite love at first sight. But the two eventually do leave the tower, on a trek to see a night sky lantern lift-off that Rapunzel's noticed happens annually on her birthday. Turns out it's her folks praying for her safe return.
Like any good adventure the road is, of course, paved with danger. A gang of brutish bar-dwelling barbarians actually turn out to be a bunch of softies, as does a scene-stealing palace horse named Maximus with a nose like a bloodhound and the detection skills of an entire CSI lab team. And let us not forget Rapunzel's witch of a mother (voiced brilliantly by Donna Murphy) who is not gonna let her source of precious youth get away so easy. Rapunzel's magic hair is far better than Botox. And cheaper.
The animation by Disney's team of wizards is vivid and beautiful. The sumptuous color scheme and contrast of shadow leaps off the screen. Rapunzel's golden hair is so precise and pristine if you look closely you can probably see every strand of her elegant mop. The scene when those lanterns finally take flight in 3-D was sublime. It took my breath away. And the music by Alan Menken is effective, if not up to his usual - Enchanted level - standards, but I can't complain. Tangled was a splendid surprise. It's the best fully animated flick the legendary studio's attempted since its 90's Renaissance.
It's always a delight to see a classic tale told with this kind of electricity, but Tangled goes further. It makes its medieval heroine relevant instead of antiquated. She speaks volumes to young children about the power of discovery. Tangled's lessons are of independence, personal strength, and courage. Rapunzel is the Disney Princess for the age of empowerment. And if she sells some dolls too, I guess that's not the end of the world.