If one were feeling charitable, one could say Tangled is a return to form for Disney animation. As we're at the starting line for the holiday season I'm feeling rather charitable, so I'll opine that Tangled is a return to form for Disney animation. It's not to the level of modern classics like Aladdin (1992) or The Little Mermaid (1989) and of course it shouldn't be compared to classic classics such as Dumbo (1941) and Lady and the Tramp (1955), but for 2010? It's certainly in the top three, just short of the groundbreaking work Pixar and Dreamworks are producing.
Tangled puts a contemporary spin on the classic Rapunzel tale. Gone is the original darkness of the Brothers Grimm story, replaced with an evil stepmom and a hero / thief / vagabond / orphan named Flynn Ryder Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) is the evil stepmom; she kidnapped Princess Rapunzel from her royal crib when she was just an infant.
As for Rapunzel , she's a torrent of hair and innocence, and she's been beguiled by her nefarious stepmom into believing she shouldn't ever leave the tower. Her hair has magic powers, naturally, and witchy stepmom is using it for immortality. But deep in her soul, Rapunzel knows something is not quite right. Every year her grief-stricken parents release thousands of floating candles into the sky to celebrate her birthday. She decides to make a pilgrimage to see the lights up close, which runs her afoul of Gothel. The story proceeds as you'd expect, peppered with moments where lead cast members break into song.
The writing is also strong to quite strong. At 100 minutes, the film is brisk, and the moments of levity are continual. There's a horse that features as much hilarity as any non-speaking animated animal has a right to hope for. There's a chameleon named Pascal who definitely keeps the mood light. And the interplay between Ryder and Rapunzel is dynamic enough to keep the adults interested too. My only complaint with the story would be the overall vibe of Gothel. Her main motivation, vanity, seems a far cry from the evil excellence of Ursula or the creepiness factor of Scar.
The animation of Tangled feels bigger and more technically savvy than ever. Many wideshots are employed, and sweeping panoramas are the norm and not the exception. Singing and dancing vignettes are handled with aplomb, Rapunzel's glorious locks showed off to the maximum. The 3-D? Egh, it's well thought out, but not particularly dynamic. Tangled is not a film that needed 3-D treatment, even if Disney is a parent studio that likes extra profit.
Still, Tangled is well worth a watch. It's the best Disney animation in years, and a natural counterpoint to the contemporary comic style that has come to dominate the industry. We still need our fairy tales, we could still use a simple yarn every so often, and it's nice to see a quality film that opens with those old familiar fireworks over that old familiar magic kingdom.