HAIL TO THE PRINCESS RAPUNZEL @ 28 March 2011 09:46 PM
Rumors of the end of the Disney Princess movies, to paraphrase Mark Twain, "have been highly exaggerated." Tangled proved it by being a huge theatrical hit. Part fairy tale, part musical, part romantic comedy, somehow it all came together despite a long, difficult history of behind-the-scenes changes and rearranges, including giving the film a "hip" title instead of Rapunzel (or as it was known in an earlier incarnation, Rapunzel Unbraided).

When the Tangled trailers originally aired, I was apprehensive because of the title change and the skewed trailers with their blaring pop music tracks. Would it be a spoofy, Shrek-y send up? Would Rapunzel herself be the tough-talking "today" lady so common in recent animation? Would it end with a boogie dancing '80s top-40 chestnut?

I needn't have been concerned. Tangled turns out to be a Disney fairy tale in the classic sense that straddles the difficult line between "straight" storytelling, screwball comedy, romance and yes, even a little suspense -- because, like Cinderella, we know it's all going to be fine but we want to see how it works out.

And speaking of Cinderella, there has never been a Disney animated film with a more complicated villain than Mother Gothel since the Stepmother in Walt Disney's Cinderella (Cruella and Madame Medusa are close contenders). The evil is all about psychological abuse, the manipulation of a person into submission that is so effective that the victim is compelled to sustain it, even though they yearn for more.

How many of us have experienced, or know someone who has experienced, a situation in which we are led to believe that we're "lucky to be here" or "better off than the alternative" by a person or a group who knows your true worth but conceals it by convincing you you're not capable otherwise? Who hasn't had the boss/parent/partner/friend who criticized you so much you started to believe you really were worthless? I was astounded to see this complex dynamic dealt with in a Disney animated film.

Both Rapunzel and Flynn have self-doubt but they trod on anyway. They didn't start out contemptuously loathing each other the way couples do in way too many films nowadays, either. Their character arcs were the most plausible we'd seen since Beauty and the Beast.

The Alan Menken/Glenn Slater songs were not tossed in at random just to fill up an album or make a great theme park number (though they probably would), but because they had a crucial book requirement. They all served the story -- and I've Got a Dream" was the funniest number since "Gaston."

Often when the story was just about to approach a cliché, there was a gag or twist that punctured it. And the horse -- Maximus -- stole every scene.

Animation-wise, there was a hand-drawn quality to the expressions that I don't recall in most CG films, especially in the more human-styled characters. In his commentary on Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich said there had been huge strides in CG humans and clearly both films were able to benefit.

Tangled didn't make me get all misty eyed the way that Toy Story 3 did, but it was, in tone, more of a grand epic romp overall. I liked it much more than I thought I would. My wife and kids loved it, too.



The Tangled Blu-ray is truly dazzling, making full use of meticulous detail, design and color. The DVD does not contain as many bonus features as the Blu-ray, but there aren't all that many overall anyway. One highlight is a segment in which lead voice actors Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi breeze through a lighthearted trivia trek which includes a quick rundown of all 50 Disney animated features (a list that has, historically, changed a little bit over the years). Sure wish there was an audio commentary, though.

There seemed to be no doubt that Mandy Moore was a perfect fit for the singing and acting duties of playing a Disney princess. The surprise is Levi, who has far more range than he often is allowed to display on TV. Clearly he has more stage experience than the unpretentious persona evidenced in various appearances. He even has a decent singing voice.

Like Mickey Mouse, who started it all, the fairy tale is the heart of Disney storytelling. They can and should stretch and go outside the box but they should never totally abandon the core form. Nobody does it better. Makes me feel sad for the rest...(somebody stop me!)

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