Having only recently revived its cartoon fairytale division Disney abruptly announced earlier this week that it’s leaving the business for good. Which is a shame because few cinematic staples have proved more consistently entertaining -- or more effective as a babysitting tool. With its final fairytale adaptation Tangled a lively comic take of the classic Rapunzel fable the venerable studio can at least say that it’s exiting the genre on a high note.
Tweaks have been made to the original Brothers Grimm story most notable of which is that Rapunzel’s (Mandy Moore) trademark golden locks are now imbued with magical powers -- specifically the ability to halt or reverse the aging process -- that are activated conveniently enough whenever she serenades them with her dulcet voice. Born a princess she was plucked from the cradle by a capricious crone Mother Gothel (Broadway star Donna Murphy) who locked the child in a tower and raised her as her own daughter. Obsessed with preserving her youthful looks she employs Rapunzel as her own private botox clinic while taking steps to ensure that her little Patty Hearst never learns of her true royal heritage.
As befitting current social mores this Rapunzel is not the proverbial damsel in distress waiting patiently for a prince to come rescue her. Modern-day fairytale heroines simply must be more proactive. Though preternaturally naïve she's impressively well-read for a child abductee and she brims with curiosity about the outside world. On the eve of her 18th birthday she desperately longs to experience it first-hand despite the many dire (and entirely fabricated) warnings from "mother" about its inherent dangers.
Rapunzel's opportunity to escape comes when a wily bandit named Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi) attempts to hide out in her tower only to be knocked out and taken captive by its plucky resident who coerces him into acting as her bodyguard during an impromptu tour of society at large. This flip of the traditional script sets the stage for the kind of climactic clash of opposites that can only ever result in eternal love.
Lyricist Glenn Slater and Oscar-winning composer Alan Mencken both Mouse House veterans collaborated on the Tangled soundtrack and while the film’s musical numbers aren’t likely to inspire a blockbuster Broadway musical (though I’d love to see how all that hair would fare on-stage) they partner nicely with the script’s buoyant comic tone moving the narrative forward instead of distracting us from it as musical numbers so often do. The story falters a bit in the third act -- especially during its disappointing climax during which Rapunzel suddenly discovers that her hair possesses Lazarus-like abilities -- but not enough to bring down the film as a whole.
What impressed me most about Tangled was its visual aesthetic which effectively marries the charm of the old-school hand-drawn style with CGI's unsurpassed ability to awe. (All sorts of innovations were required to properly render Rapunzel’s 70-foot mane which shimmers and glows with a life of its own.) Wrapped together in a wondrous 3D package it serves as a fitting farewell to a fine filmmaking tradition.