Tangled is a modern day reminder that long before Pixar, Disney ruled (and birthed) the animated picture. Now Disney owns Pixar (which is neither here nor there; the studios still work independently) but of late Pixar has had the edge over their forebears by quite some margin. Thankfully, Tangled – fittingly Disney’s 50th animated feature – represents a triumphant return to form for the House of Mouse, and is a genuine delight.
Last year’s The Princess And The Frog was well-received in general by critics, and on paper looked the more likely candidate to reawaken the magic of Disney, but this adaptation of the Rapunzel fairytale is everything we’ve come to expect from the classic era(s) of Disney animation: thrilling, funny, touching, it’s a fantastic family film.
Tangled updates rather than modernises the classic story of Rapunzel, and thankfully avoids going down the route of pop-culture references (which initially invigorated but eventually stifled the Shrek franchise), choosing instead to make the references to modern day life subtle and understated. In this version of the story, Rapunzel’s hair is imbued with a magical quality which has the power to heal and, importantly, to restore youth. It is this latter power that causes Mother Gothel (villain of the piece) to kidnap Rapunzel and lock her up in a tower, raising her as her daughter, ostensibly out of love but in reality for the powers contained within her hair. When a charismatic thief stumbles upon the hidden tower, Rapunzel will finally get her chance to see the outside world she has dreamed about.
Mandy Moore (as Rapunzel) and Zachary Levi (as Flynn Ryder, her ‘rescuer’) prove irresistibly charming company. Their faultless voice work is helped a great deal – as is everything else in the film – by frankly breathtaking animation. The film is visually dazzling, both artistically and from a technical standpoint. Everything from Rapunzel’s seemingly endless locks to the subtlest movements of the characters faces and clothing is rendered brilliantly. It really does hark back to the days when nobody bar nobody did this stuff better than Disney. This is Disney’s first CGI picture that will really knock your socks off simply because of the way that it looks.
All of that would mean nothing without substance, however, and the film has plenty of that to boot. Aside from our two leads, a host of supporting characters add flavour and variety to the action. Flynn, having stolen from the castle, is being chased down by the old-school captain of the guard, whose horse Maximus (voiceless but wonderfully expressive) provides a great deal of the film’s many laughs. He also proves (along with Rapunzel’s chameleon friend Pascal) that the intrinsic hilarity of animated animals with physical ticks is far from losing its effectiveness. Mother Gothel, unfortunately, is not the strongest villain in Disney’s long canon. Her motives are interesting but she is let down a little by what is one of the film’s few weaknesses: the songs. There is nothing bad in here, but musical set-pieces such as her early ‘mother knows best’ song (beautifully and imaginatively set to a theme of darkness and light) don’t quite work as well as they might. Later, a sojourn to a pub filled with dangerous brigands threatens another weak musical number, but soon explodes into a fun-filled dream-themed montage which ends up being one of the stronger musical moments. The film’s most romantic moment (genuinely moving) is also let down a little by its lyrical endeavours, but still remains a visual and emotional standout.
Picking fault with the songs feels harsh, though, because while they aren’t Disney’s strongest efforts, the whole thing is so likable that you’d be hard pressed to let it bother you too much. Once things get going, the film is perfectly-paced and so easy to like that you’ll forget any little niggles. Pixar have rightly been getting most of the animated plaudits in recent years, but Tangled serves as a welcome reminder that before P ixar there was another animation house that led the pack, and here’s hoping that this and The Princess And The Frog are the start of a new generation of Disney excellence.