Heady Stuff

While I’ve never been a fan of the Rapunzel story, Disney’s Tangled has brightened the story so well that I’ll never think of the old fairytale the same. The Disney crew has delivered a finely-tuned, deftly nuanced version of the story, adding several new dimensions—like a kidnapping, a cruel liar of a mother, an outlaw or two, and numerous other embellishments detailing the history of the girl in the tower and her life imprisoned there.

Just outside the kingdom where Rapunzel is born, there is a magic flower that has healing properties in such vast arrays that it can even reverse aging. One old hag, Mother Gothel, had hidden the flower from others, secretly using it herself to take years off her face sans microderm abrasion. But when it is discovered and brought to the king and queen, their infant daughter touches it, giving her beautiful blond hair the healing powers of the flower.

Byron Howard and Nathan Greno, co-directors of TangledWhen the flower becomes unavailable, Mother Gothel is forced to find a way to get Rapunzel’s hair. She attempts to snip off a single lock, but the instant it falls from the baby, its power evaporates. In order to ensure her access to the child’s hair, Mother Gothel kidnaps the baby as they celebrate her birthday by sending up a hot-air lantern. Then, to make certain Rapunzel can’t escape, Mother Gothel locks her in a secluded tower only accessible via using the girl’s hair as a pulley. For years, Mother Gothel (who is worse than just a hag—she is selfish, greedy, degrading, and all-out evil) convinces Rapunzel that she is her mother, and that the tower is a means of protecting her from the dangers of the outside world. But every year, on her birthday, Rapunzel sees thousands of hot-air lanterns rising in the night sky from the castle square, dreaming that perhaps the birthday lanterns might be somehow connected to her.

The rest of the story centers around the escapades of Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder, her first human friend: a wanted fugitive with great looks and the typical Disney amusing and ludicrous absurdities of a young man attempting to be a hero. Ultimately, Rapunzel finally catches on to Mother Gothel’s malevolence, and pursues her freedom with great delight and curiosity (and with Flynn…)

I find it interesting that Rapunzel trusts Mother Gothel’s motive of “protection” to the extent that she remains in the tower despite having the means to escape. I can’t avoid the parallel to how often we feel imprisoned by sin, despite the door having been flung wide open, where a world of freedom awaits if we just take those steps out the door.

Though computer-generated animation is king these days, I was pleasantly surprised that this was the first CGI Disney production that closely resembled their older films, like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. After trying to change gears to match the rest of CGI technology and filmmaking, they’ve obviously seen the light and returned to what they do best—making films that are signature Disney. The comedy was also very Disney-esque with the facial expressions, chase scenes, and awkward situations that characterize Disney humor. The one part that I’ve yet to understand is why they made it 3-D. There is virtually no value added by the dimensional expansion. It would be just as good as any other Disney fairy-tale: fun, light-hearted, and strikingly well-animated.

Alan Menken’s score also deserves high praise; the background music as well as the characters’ songs are appealing without being distracting. Again, returning to the “old-style” Disney, the music fit the film on all cylinders. Unlike many Disney classics, though, none of the songs were catchy enough to become ear worms, but perhaps that indicates that the music supported the film without overwhelming it.

Personally, I am glad to see Disney return to what they do best. CGI or not, the storyline, the details, the plays on words, the black-hatted bad guys and white-hatted good guys, and the comedic situations and remarks are refreshing after the recent tries to recapture the World of Animation by changing their signature style.

Tangled is rated PG for brief mild violence. I don’t recall much violence, so it must have been pretty brief. In my opinion, the film is quite tame and cheerful, though Mother Gothel might frighten children even without violence. She’s one bad mother.

Courtesy of a national publicist, Jenn attended a press screening of Tangled.