The Mouse House has slain the two-headed dragon of Snark and Sarcasm, overthrown the Ogre of Unoriginality and stormed the castle of Children’s Dreams! O.K., that last one sounds kind of creepy, but fear not, Disney’s intentions are pure and just. Nathan Greno and Byron Howard’s Tangled – the fiftieth feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios – is an earnest, unironic and enchanting take on the classic tale of Rapunzel. It’s the studio’s first film in a long time that feels essential. Having dabbled in some DreamWorks-baiting (Chicken Little) and some Pixar-impersonating (Bolt) in recent years, Tangled recalls the golden age of Disney, and is perhaps their best film since The Lion King. Gone are the annoying (and instantly dated) pop-culture references and vanquished are the rather lame forays into the “future”. Disney are asking us to look back (first with Tangled and next with Winnie the Pooh), reminding us why they’ve been the number one name in children’s entertainment for over 80 years.
Tangled feels both familiar and fresh; the hallmark of any instant-classic. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman has reinvented the classic Brothers Grimm tale not by modernising it (and you just know some producer in Hollywood was hoping to make a live-action version in a hair-salon starring Katherine Heigl), but by creating a new mythology; one that honours and expands upon that which already exists. Our villainess is Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), a crazed, elderly woman so desperate for eternal youth that she steals a magical child (a crueler writer would insert a Madonna joke here; just thought I’d note that). The child is, of course, Princess Rapunzel (Mandy Moore); born with the aid of a sunlight-infused flower, Rapunzel’s ever-growing hair can heal the sick, ensnare the devious, and offer eternal life. Gothel snatches her from her royal parents, and keeps her “safe” in an isolated tower.
The twist: Rapunzel isn’t trapped in the tower; she’s not handcuffed to the radiator, nor is she chained to her bedposts. She’s guilted into staying in the tower by her overprotective surrogate-mother; frightened into imagining the horrors that lay outside her door. When Rapunzel turns 18 and finally makes her escape (which she does with the roguish, porn-star-name-having Flynn Rider, voiced by Zachary Levi), she merely intends to spend a few days in the real world. Within hours, she regrets her decision, and is distressed to have inflicted such pain and worry upon her loving mother. Flynn offers her some cursory solace, and simultaneously explains why Tangled is so wonderful. He says that disrespecting and upsetting one’s parents is a part of growing up; “a little rebellion” is a necessary ingredient in becoming an adult. Disney – perhaps frightened by the post-Shrek state of satirical kids’ films – has veered away from reinterpreting classic fairy tales. Finally, and fifty films in, they recognise that reinvention is a necessary part of “growing up”. This doesn’t mean they have to change who they are deep down inside, but instead, to unearth the elements that made them great, and introduce themselves to a new generation.
Those elements include: wondrous, catchy songs penned by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater; sumptuous CG animation (That gorgeous hair! Those beautiful character designs!) which understandably required a record-breaking budget to render; wonderful voice work from Moore, Levi and Murphy; a number of heart-swelling sequences; romance; passion; thrills; et cetera! I understand Tangled went through a number of changes during its six-year production; from story to style to title (the film was originally called Rapunzel Unbraided). You would think that this would lead to a catastrophic failure; how could an artist’s vision survive such overhauls. Well, maybe we should look at it in another light. After six years of meticulous crafting, Disney has delivered a wildly enjoyable treat in Tangled. After all, you only slave over the things you love. And this one was definitely made with love.
Tangled arrives in Australian cinemas January 6, 2011.