A girl with magical hair and serious mother issues attempts to escape her tower and see the world in Tangled, a Disney retelling of the Rapunzel story.
Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore) here is a princess, stolen from her crib in the castle by a witch, Gothel (Flynn Ryder). Gothel, a very old woman, had been keeping herself young with a magical flower. But that flower was taken by the king’s servants and fed to the pregnant queen when she was sick. Rapunzel — specifically her shiny gold hair — possesses the flower’s powers when she’s born. So Gothel hides her away in a tower, never cutting Rapunzel’s hair (which turns brown and loses its power when cut), and feeding off the power to stay young. She tells Rapunzel that she, Gothel, is her mother and that the world outside the tower is a terrible place.
But even the most dire warnings can not keep the now 18-year-old Rapunzel from hanging out her window and singing about wanting to see the world. Particularly, she wants to go see the flying lanterns that appear in the night sky every year on her birthday (a way of remembering her back in the kingdom she knows nothing about). Gothel, of course, refuses and tells her never to bring up leaving the castle again. But then a thief, Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi), happens upon her tower while escaping from palace guards (he has stolen the missing princess’ crown). Expecting him to be one of those horrible fiends her mother has warned her about, Rapunzel conks him on the head with a frying pan and locks him up in her closet. At first she’s going to tell her mother about him — as proof that she can take care of herself and thus deserves a chance on the outside. But after the mother proves unmovable on the matter (and before she spills the beans about Flynn), Rapunzel hides his bag containing the stolen crown and tells him she’ll only give it back to him after he escorts her to the lantern show and then returns her safely. Thus begins the journey that, inevitably, brings our couple together, throws them in the path of other wacky characters and leads to at least two more major songs.
Once upon a time, Disney wanted to add to its pantheon of princesses and so it embarked upon a version of the Rapunzel story. But since its most recent previous entry, The Princess and the Frog, was not a runaway The Little Mermaid-like success, Tangled was, according to various reports, crafted to be less overtly princessy and more boy-friendly. Perhaps because of that, there is something decidedly unsparkly about Tangled. It doesn’t feel like a cotton candy princess fantasy. It also doesn’t feel like the rollicking adventure that, say, Aladdin (a boy-friendly movie that also contained a princess) was. And for all that I wasn’t thrilled with the theme-park-ish take on New Orleans music that we got in The Princess and the Frog, Tangled is particularly musically weak. It is sort of shocking how middling the songs are when you think about the Broadway-quality songs of Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and the other late-period Disney cartoons.
Tangled feels like a faint copy of so many other animated tales and so many better Disney stories. Rapunzel is kind of a fun, quirky heroine — smart and strong but weird after all those years spent more or less alone in the tower (Ryder shoots her some funny looks for deliberating with a lizard named Pasquale). But there is a flatness about her personality (but not her person, thanks to deftly crafted three-dimensional effects). Likewise, Flynn feels like an Aladdin knockoff. He satisfactorily fulfills the requirements of a rapscallion-with-a-heart-of-gold character but he also seems more like a type than a fully formed person.
Theme-wise, the movie goes to a lot of weird places with Rapunzel and her youth-chasing, abusive mother. Overprotective parents, dead parents and evil stepparents are fairly common in these kinds of movies but it’s strange to see a mother figure who is loved by her daughter but also is quite horrible. She has an evil queen quality that may scare the littlest movie goers, and that, on top of the idea that the person you grow up thinking is your mother might really be an old hag keeping you prisoner to use your hair as a magical Botox treatment, seems quite dark and unsettling.
Also dark and unsettling is the movie’s mythology about Rapunzel’s hair. It goes from being a flowy beautiful gold mane that glows when she sings a special song and has healing powers to being blah and brown, nothing special, when cut. I get it, story-wise, but the way it’s presented just seems odd. (There is also something about the way the movie ends — if you know the fairy tale you’ll remember how the whole hair thing shakes out — that activated my dormant feminist literary criticism skills but I’ll leave that for this movie’s target audience to discuss 15 years from now in their women’s studies class.)
Most of my problems with this movie will likely be unnoticed by the kids seeing this movie and irrelevant to their parents (between crazed on-Thanksgiving-vacation kids bouncing off the walls of my living room and sitting through a ho-hum cartoon, I’d pick Tangled too). And it does have pleasing visuals —bright and reminiscent of the watercolors of the past while still very much the 3-D computer generation we’ve grown used to. B-
Rated PG for brief mild violence. Directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard and written by Dan Fogelman (from the Brother Grimm story), Tangled is an hour and 32 minutes long and will open in wide release on Wednesday, Nov. 24. The film is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.