I approach each new Disney film with a combination of eagerness and apprehension: will it be as good as I want it to be? Can “the new guys” carry the torch lit by Walt and his colleagues so many years ago? Where Tangled is concerned, I knew within minutes that the answer was yes. I could tell from the look and sound of the film that it had the qualities people have always sought in a Disney animated fairy tale. I felt like I was home. Yet Tangled is a completely contemporary film that puts its own spin on the source material, with clever staging, hip humor and spectacular action scenes.
Tangled has had a long and unusually rough gestation period. It went through several Disney regimes, changing directors and directions more than once. The final picture went through a rapid production process over the last two years, with Disney animator extraordinaire Glen Keane mentoring two young studio directors, Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, who have come through with flying colors. Dan Fogelman’s screenplay is lively and funny but also has—
—heart, especially when it matters most. I love the retro look of Tangled, with its glowing, brightly colored settings, and even its use of 3-D. Best of all, the movie features two delightful supporting characters who continue yet another Disney custom without saying a word of dialogue. Rapunzel has a little chameleon friend named Pascal, who acts as comic Greek chorus, while the hero, Flynn Rider, has an extraordinarily expressive equine adversary named Maximus who earns many of the movie’s biggest laughs.
Tangled doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s not mired in the past, either. The filmmakers have taken the best of the Disney tradition and filtered it through a flip, modern sensibility, visually and verbally. As in the live-action movie Enchanted, they know their audience wants to have its cake and eat it, too, acknowledging the familiar fairy tale tropes (with particular echoes of Sleeping Beauty), turning some of them on their ear, but stopping well short of self-mockery, so when, at the climax, we’re meant to care about these characters and pull for them, we do.
The score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater may not be memorable, but it serves the movie well enough, and the voice actors give it their best: Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, Broadway veteran Donna Murphy as the old crone who poses as her mother, and Zachary Levi as the dashing, wisecracking (and self-invented) Flynn Rider.
I’ve seen Tangled twice. I’ve even seen it work its magic on my class of 20-somethings at USC, not the target demographic for this kind of picture. They cheered at the end, and I hope audiences around the world echo that response.