Tangled (United States, 2010)

November 22, 2010
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Tangled Poster

Seen in "standard" (non-IMAX) 3-D.

Tangled (which was called Rapunzel until the 11th hour) represents Disney's application of "new" technology to an old format. In many ways that matter, this film recalls the recent classics of the Magic Kingdom's so-called "Second Golden Era" - The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King. However, the hand-drawn animation that was state of the art in the late 1980s and early 1990s (and which was reinvigorated with limited success last year with The Princess and the Frog) has been replaced by CGI and is being projected in 3-D. Still, despite the need to wear flimsy plastic glasses, watching Tangled reminds one that some brands of storytelling never go out of style, whatever that style may be.

As if often the case with Disney, a well-known fairy tale represents the foundation for a story that softens the edges and grafts on a happy ending. That's not a criticism - Disney knows its audience and is adept at molding fables for maximum appeal. Here, we're introduced to Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore), a princess stolen from the palace nursery while an infant and raised by the dastardly Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy). Imprisoned in the gilded cage of a tower because her hair has the power to continuously restore Mother Gothel's youth, Rapunzel dreams of the day when she will be allowed to roam free alongside her faithful chameleon companion. Her chance comes on the occasion of her 18th birthday, while Mother Gothel is away. The rogue Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi), seeking escape from a variety of pursuers, climbs Rapunzel's tower with the goal of finding a hiding place. Instead, he encounters a determined young woman with an iron frying pan who knocks him out and ties him up. Then she bargains with him - if he acts as her guide for a sojourn in the world below, she'll return to him the contents of a satchel he had on his person when he invaded her room.

All the "Disney elements" are in place: a plucky princess; a chaste, star-crossed romance; a cute animal sidekick; songs by Alan Menken (and his lyricist partner, Glenn Slater); a diabolical villain; and, of course, a happy ending. The CGI is not an impediment to enjoying the tale - it's done with elegance and an attention to detail and is rendered as well as anything out there. The 3-D is another matter. It falls into the category of "somewhat distracting" by muting the brilliance of the colors (which are eye-popping in the 2-D trailers and not so in the 3-D feature). There are also instances when blurriness is evident away from the center of the screen. Gimmickry occasionally intrudes, as when a floating lantern drifts toward the audience. (The little girl sitting next to me stood up and reached for it.) I'm comfortable recognizing that nearly all future animated movies will be released in 3-D, but I expect better quality from any endeavor bearing the "Disney" trademark.

Tangled occupies a plateau below the one where the best animated Disney movies reside. This is secondary fare - entertaining and enjoyable, but not groundbreaking. Rapunzel, although likeable and energetic, is not as memorable as Snow White, Ariel, or Belle. The chameleon, who does not speak, is among the least recognizable animal sidekicks (although he possesses amusing mannerisms). And the songs, despite being co-written by Alan Menken, the man behind many of Disney's most unforgettable tunes, are neither catchy nor memorable. It's hard to imagine someone humming "When Will My Life Begin" or "Mother Knows Best" when leaving the theater.

The choices for vocal casting hearken back to Disney's approach during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when big name stars where often bypassed in favor of lesser known talents. Mandy Moore possesses a generic female voice and strong vocals that allow her to perform her own singing - she's not immediately recognizable and that goes a long way toward audience acceptance of the character. Similarly, the secondary performers - Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Jeffrey Tambor, Brad Garrett - possess similar qualities. They bring life to their characters without forcing the viewer to dissociate an animated avatar from a familiar voice. Often (although not always), anonymity can be one of the greatest assets evidenced by a vocal performer in an animated setting.

Tangled wanders into an animated jungle where Disney is no longer king. Certainly, their Pixar division is at the top of the pyramid, but it's a competitive field with an immense audience. Tangled, which is likely to appeal as strongly to parents as to their offspring, is the kind of movie that should attract the crowds Disney has come to expect with their annual Thanksgiving releases. As a melding of new techniques and technology with old-fashioned methods of storytelling, it's an opportunity for the Magic Kingdom to remind audiences that, when it comes to putting fairy tales on screen, they remain on a higher level.

Tangled (United States, 2010)

Director: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Cast: (voices) Many Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor, Brad Garrett
Screenplay: Dan Fogelman
Music: Alan Menken
U.S. Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2010-11-24
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1