Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Well, since I've seen Tangled twice now, I think it's about time I review it, hmm? :) Simply put, Tangled is the best Disney movie I've seen in YEARS. The Princess and the Frog (click to read my review) was a step in the right direction for Disney animated features, but even though I loved the look of the film, the end product left me feeling rather ambivalent. Tangled blows past Princess, indeed it blows past everything to come from the Disney animation studios since the mid-1990s. It dares to reach for and magically, wonderfully, manages to recapture the Disney "magic" that captivated me as a kid - and for the record, that childlike sense of awe and wonder was present both times I saw the film. :)
The story of Rapunzel is one I remember being a favorite of mine when I was a child - if memory serves, it was included in "the big green fairy tale book" (my name for that tome) that had been my mom's during her growing-up years. (Note to self: find out where that book is asap!) Though Tangled changes the set-up of the traditional story, I found I didn't mind the alteration at all. Instead of "rampion," a drop of sun falls to earth, growing into a magical flower that possesses healing properties. And instead of Rapunzel's parents being lettuce-craving-fiends who give up their child so they can temporarily satiate pregnancy cravings (seriously?!), her parents are a beloved (and responsible - HA!) king and queen. When Mother Gothel, an evil crone, steals Rapunzel to hoard the youth-giving properties possessed by the child's hair, Gothel is clearly set up as the enemy, with no "excuse" that she was somehow "wronged" by Rapunzel's parents. And what an enemy she is - Gothel brings a whole new level of crazy to the idea of manipulative, controlling stage mamas. (I love that Disney kept the name Gothel for their adaptation, since that is the traditional name of the witch in the fairy tale.)
So this time around, Rapunzel is royalty - a lost princess who grows up to be a spunky but sheltered girl who wants nothing more than to experience the wide world beyond her tower - but lacks the courage to take the first step. Mandy Moore provides the voice of Rapunzel, and from everything I've ever seen Moore in, her personality "fits" the character perfectly. Mother Gothel is voiced by Donna Murphy, and she may just be the biggest scene-stealing wicked diva to steal the show in a Disney film since Ursula in The Little Mermaid. My mom thinks the Gothel character was based on a young Cher, and upon further reflection I think she might be on to something. Gothel is wonderfully over-the-top, and does guilt on a level I don't think I've ever seen in a Disney film. *wink*
While I love this new Rapunzel, the character of Flynn Ryder, voiced by the one and only Zachary Levi, stole the show for me. Flynn's character is the type I fall for every time in movies or books - the bad boy with a heart of gold. Since Tangled performs a royal role reversal between Rapunzel and her romantic counterpart, Flynn comes from peasant stock and dreams of nothing more than dollar signs and how to acquire unlimited wealth. That dream seems to be the pinnacle of success to Flynn - until he meets a girl with a less materialistic dream, and her fire and bravery starts to change his view of the world and his role in it. When it comes to "leading men" in Disney films, I've always gravitated towards the ones with plenty of character - from the "classic" years, Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty beat Cinderella's prince every time - for goodness' sake, he takes on a dragon (not to mention the dance in the forest is to die for)! From the animation "renaissance" Disney experienced in the 1990s, Aladdin was a favorite (I adored his bad boy charm) and the Beast - well, he fell for a booklover and that's a major win in my view. :) Flynn has a touch of a young Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power in his demeanor, and I just adore that.
The sidekicks in Tangled have quickly become some of my favorite Disney supporting characters EVER. Pasquale the chameleon and Maximus the palace horse never speak, but their actions and expressions speak louder, more hilariously, and more effectively than any dialogue possibly could. In fact, I think it's rather refreshing that the Tangled filmmakers went the route of not having Pasquale and Maximus speak (like Sebastian the crab, etc.), as it made their characterizations all the better. I loved how the friendship developed between Flynn and Maximus - from hunted and hunter to uneasy (but hilarious) truce to friends, watching Max drive Flynn crazy provided some of the film's funniest scenes. And Pasquale's penchant for a "tough guy" stance in the tiny package of a chameleon was too funny for words.
The first time I saw Tangled, I felt the movie would be pretty much perfect if only it featured traditional hand-drawn animation instead of computer generated. Having seen the movie twice, I've pretty much gotten over that qualm - the look of this movie has grown on me and it is absolutely magical. Rapunzel's world is lush with color and light and life. The sets and costumes reminded me just a bit of the live-action musical version of Cinderella - The Slipper and the Rose. I'm curious, to those who've seen the film - did you feel like it was supposed to take place in the late 18th century maybe? I realize that it is probably an exercise in the ridiculous to try and give a "real world" classification to a Disney animated film, but Tangled's setting felt very unique to me in its role in the Disney canon, and I loved that.
The music is a little bit of a mixed bag. I enjoyed it, don't get me wrong, but it's not quite at the level of classics like The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. The score was composed by Disney mainstay Alan Menken, whose amazing work contributed to making Mermaid, Beauty, and Aladdin the unforgettable classics that they are known as today. Menken's collaborator on those films was the brilliant Howard Ashman, who sadly passed away in 1991 at the age of forty, bringing an end to a musical partnership that truly was a match made in heaven. Since the Menken/Ashman days, songs in Disney animated features have been rather hit-or-miss, and such is the case with Tangled. Glenn Slater is Tangled's lyricist, and going by his IMDB page I am wholly unfamiliar with his credits to date. Most of the songs fall in the category of cute but forgettable - "Mother Knows Best," "When Will My Life Begin," and "I've Got a Dream" (the big production number). "Mother" is my favorite of the three - in the initial performance Gothel steals the show vamping it up on-screen. Unfortunately in my view, "Mother" gets one reprise while "Life" gets two - I am not a fan of constantly reprising songs, it gets old. End of story.
My favorite song in Tangled is the lovely duet between Flynn and Rapunzel - "I See the Light." It's the perfect marriage of music, lyrics, and animation. It's a gorgeous high point to the film, the moment the breathless romantic in me was waiting for - when Flynn and Rapunzel at last, finally admit their growing feelings for each other against a spectacular backdrop of floating lanterns. I freely admit to also being biased in favor of this song since it prominently features Zachary Levi's singing talents. Any time an actor I like can also sing - well, that elevates said actor to a whole other level of awesomeness in my book. :) Score-wise, and it's probably no surprise, my favorite track "Kingdom Dance" centers on another Flynn/Rapunzel moment. The music is full of so much life and joy it can't help but lift your spirits - and watching Flynn gradually soften towards Rapunzel, and then the look on his face after he gets the village girls to braid her hair - swoon. It's absolutely priceless. I just wish Zachary Levi could have played the role in a live version of the story, but his animated self ain't half bad, so I'll take it. *wink*
Full of romance, high adventure, and genuine humor, Tangled is a classic that I'll look forward to revisiting for years to come. In the spirit of the best, classic Disney animated features Tangled is an entertaining, laugh-out-loud thrill ride from start to finish, with a timeless appeal no matter what your age. I adored every second of this movie, and I sincerely hope that this marks the type of animated feature Disney is committed to producing in the future. Now, please release the DVD so I can watch this over and over and over again? Thanks. :)