Film Review: Tangled

I must love this job. Why else would I get up at 8.00 am on a chilly Sunday in December to attend a film preview in the company of hundreds of overexcited children? As I hid behind my 3D specs and shrunk into my cinema seat, the little tykes played hide and seek in the theatre’s enormous curtains and risked second-degree burns by leaping over the footlights. Then ‘Tangled’ began and all was calm, once the cheering had subsided. This was the real reason we were there, to see the fiftieth animated feature from the Walt Disney studios.

Even if you have lived your whole life in a deserted lighthouse on the west coast of Scotland, the Disney brand would be hard to avoid. For many of us, the studio’s films are an intrinsic part of our childhood. Even when we grow-up, they remain with us, perhaps just as a memory or, for those who have chosen to procreate, because they have had to be watched over and over again on DVD until their imagery has been permanently etched into their retinas. Whatever your feelings are about Disney corporate ethics (or lack of) and their homogenised perception of our small world, you must admit that they make damn fine cartoons.

It is too early to tell where ‘Tangled’ will rank in terms of classic Disney but it is certainly cast in that mould.  The film is a re-telling of the fairy tale ‘Rapunzel,’ although great liberties have been taken with the story. Our heroine (voiced by Mandy Moore) is born into royalty but only just. She and her mother survive a tricky labour thanks to the use of a magical flower picked from a nearby hillside. The bad news is that the power of the flower was also keeping the witch-like Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) from growing old and withered.

With the plant’s life-force transferred into the baby Rapunzel, Gothel kidnaps the girl and imprisons her in a tower far, far away. Here Rapunzel acts as a fountain of youth on legs for her captor with the roots of her powers (excuse the pun) found in her extraordinarily long and surprisingly practical golden hair. Many years later, the outside world intrudes in the roguish form of Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), an outlaw fresh from a break-in at the royal palace. Rapunzel manages to overpower the thief (she’s handy with a frying pan) and hide his ill-gotten gains.

Soon, a deal is struck.  Flynn will get the booty back if he helps Rapunzel escape and takes her to see the flying lantern show which she has only ever witnessed from afar and which, unbeknownst to the girl, is held in her honour. The pair take off on their journey on which they are to face a great deal of danger and adventure as well as inevitable romance and a few zingy musical numbers.

Modern Disney animation comes in two distinct forms. There is the Pixar variety (Toy Story, Up etc.) which is loved by grown-ups almost as much as by children, probably because the films often contain a lot more depth than movies actually aimed at adults. Then, there is the more classic Disney style which can trace its ancestry back to ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ in 1937. ‘Tangled’ is a mixture of both of these schools. It harks back to traditional storytelling and yet stops to wink at the audience so they will not take the film too seriously.  Since the DreamWorks studio debunked the genre with the ‘Shrek’ trilogy, there is possibly no other option.

There is a great deal of magic at the heart of ‘Tangled’ and the animation itself is dazzling. Although computer generated it pays tribute to the Disney artists who have laboured away with pen and pencil in the past.  3D does actually add something to the film. When the floating lanterns leave the screen and hover right in front of your face, it will be a hard man who does not feel at least slightly choked.  Looking great is all very well but the film also needs well-drawn (in more than one sense) characters to hold your interest. Rapunzel and Flynn are standard, good-looking and wide-eyed Disney leads but the supporting cast, both human and animal, provide the real pleasure. There are genuinely scary villains in the Stabbington Brothers, whose name alone justifies the film’s PG certificate.

Despite being a horse, Maximus is on the side of law and order, and determined to bring Flynn to justice.  Many of the laughs arise from the antics of Pascal, Rapunzel’s pet chameleon. I have no idea why she would have a pet chameleon but Disney is never one to pass up on a merchandising opportunity. Colour changing chameleon shaped night-lights anyone?

The film has several exciting action scenes, with the best seeing our heroes running from a burst dam, a sequence which would not look out of place in an Indiana Jones movie.  The musical moments are good too, with songs by long-time Disney song smith Alan Menken, who also penned ditties for ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ amongst others. The tunes in ‘Tangled’ are not as instantly memorable as the classics in the earlier films but no doubt they will grow on you over time. By far the best number in the film is a rousing sing-along in a den of thieves which has an air of Monty Python about it.

Try and come up with the names of all fifty of Disney’s animated features and see how far you get. There are some pretty obscure ones in there and Pixar output does not count.  During its long history, the company has produced the odd duff effort but ‘Tangled’ is definitely not one of them. It is rather brilliant and enormous fun for young and old alike. ‘Tangled’ is a film which can sit alongside its antecedents without fear of looking out of place.

Director: Byron Howard, Nathan Greno
Cast: Donna Murphy, Mandy Moore, Ron Perlman, Zachary Levi
Runtime: 100 mins
Cert: PG

About Alan Diment

Is a freelance writer and film critic. A total film buff who lives and breathes movies.

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