Tangled (2010)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 11/26/10 01:47:24

"Even without Pixar, Disney can still occasionally get these things right."
5 stars (Awesome)

"Tangled" is probably my favorite thing that the direct descendants of Disney's original feature animation group has done since "Aladdin", in no small part because it's the first of their digitally-rendered features that embraces what worked during that 1990s run of success. From the Alan Menken score, to the fairy tale source, to the visual style, Disney has managed to put a slick new 3-dimensional paint job on the things that they've been hiding in the attic.

A fair amount of backstory leads into the film's present, but once there, the situation is like this: Princess Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore) was kidnapped as a baby by Mother Gothel (voice of Donna Murphy), who locked Rapunzel in a tower and raised the girl as her own daughter in order to have the use of her magical golden hair, which heals injuries and restores youth. Meanwhile, back at the castle, dashing thief Flynn Ryder (voice of Zachary Levi) and the Stabbington Brothers (voice of Ron Perlman) are fleeing with a stolen crown. Ryder stumbles upon Rapunzel's tower, and she makes a deal with him to guide her to the castle so that she can see the paper lanterns that fill the sky on her birthday every year in person.

There are a few ways that Tangled has a hard time equaling its cel-animated forebears. As comfortably familiar as Menken's score is, none of the songs by Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater are terribly likely to be remembered after the movie ends (they're fine, and it's nice that the film doesn't shrink from being a musical). Also, digitally-rendered animated films have had a hard time with human figures for the entire history of the medium, especially women. When not attempting photo-realistic motion capture, what happens is that stylized male characters are often bulked up and thus solid-looking, while the likes of Rapunzel and Gothel are slender, with thin necks and big heads (and in Rapunzel's case, very wide eyes), creating the impression of a mannequin that can be tough to shake.

With any luck, the audience's collective eyes will eventually adjust to that, especially if the argument that this is exactly how the characters from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin would look rendered in three dimensions - and the characters like Rapunzel and Flynn are as wonderfully expressive with minimal lines as the characters from those films. Then there are the more overtly stylized characters, especially the animals; Rapunzel's chameleon friend Pascal and dedicated police horse Maximus are wonderful bits of cartooning, able to display a ton of personality without words, delivering slapstick and character comedy in equal measure (an almost off-screen shot of Maximus aghast that he might be eating stolen apples made me laugh out loud).

These characters not only fit into their world well, but it's a great-looking movie all around. While the environments are most pointedly not photo-real, they are lush and detailed in the same way that the backgrounds of cel-animated films were more elaborate than foreground elements. The virtual cinematography, for lack of a better term, is also outstanding - directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard move the camera about freely but not ostentatiously, and they make as good a use of the third dimension as any animated film yet has. Tangled was almost certainly composed with 3D in mind, and makes excellent use of depth without doing much in the way of throwing things at the audience.

The voice cast is also well chosen, and both they and the animators who provide the other halves (or more) of the characters' performances are given a little more to chew on by Dan Fogelman's script than one might expect. The relationship between Rapunzel and Gothel is really awful in some fundamental ways, and one wrong step with it could make the movie no fun at all. And yet, Moore and company show us Rapunzel afraid of hurting the woman she thinks is her mother without making us feel icky, and the scene that gets Gothel out of the way long enough for Rapunzel to escape wouldn't work if it didn't get us to believe for one short moment that Gothel has some affection underneath the greed and vanity. Levi's given some obnoxiously cocky lines to speak early (the kind that would fit into the more annoyingly self-aware Shrek knock-offs), but we do eventually buy him becoming a better man.

Perhaps most importantly, the movie is consistently funny. It goes in silly directions without undermining its characters, has occasionally zippy dialog, and plenty of physical and visual humor. Rapunzel's exciting, energetic personality gives a joyous and friendly feeling to even the bits where we're kind of laughing at her expense, and when we're not laughing, there's a feeling of invention that hits the same parts of our brains. Aside from that, they filmmakers aren't afraid to make one-off and recurring jokes without underlining them, and manage to recapture the tone of Aladdin, in that the characters feel contemporary without it seeming forced.

In many ways, "Tangled" feels like Disney finally getting things right - this is their first digital/3-D animated feature that does the sort of fairy-tale adventure that Disney has traditionally done better than anyone else (last year's traditionally-animated "The Princess and the Frog" aside), and does so with flying colors.

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