Disney celebrates its 50th animated feature by releasing Tangled, a loose adaptation of the fairy tale “Rapunzel” that combines the storytelling conventions of the old classics with today’s computer animation. In many ways, the placement of this movie at that particular studio tally is a very fortuitous one. Tangled is a mostly harmonious work that pays reverence to Disney’s traditions and embraces the continuing advances in the medium of animation.

Two generations of Disney artists worked to bring Rapunzel, the extravagantly long-haired girl locked away in a tower, to life. Legendary animator Glen Keane (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast) designed the characters and was the project’s original director. He eventually stepped down and was replaced by Nathan Greno (directing debut) and Bryan Howard (Bolt). The music is by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Glenn Slater (Home on the Range, Mermaid on Broadway). This lineup of creators ensured that “Tangled” would have representatives of both today’s animation industry and the Disney renaissance of the 1990s.

The story these people have crafted is quite a delightful one. I’m joyful to say Tangled generally avoids the bathroom humor and anachronistic humor (though Rapunzel and her beau, Flynn Rider, do speak with modern tone and vernacular) that has affected fantasy films from studios like DreamWorks and Blue Sky Entertainment. It is not concerned with parody or irony in the way that Shrek or Disney’s own Enchanted are. Instead, it tells a genuine fairy tale whose plot twists the Brothers Grimm story while staying oddly faithful to it. The story has a reasonable pace to it that offers a few lovely moments of observation and character introspection.

The characters we meet here are a highly likable bunch. Rapunzel is a jittery fireball played amiably by Mandy Moore. Flynn (Zachary Levi) can a little too much of a smart-aleck, but his chemistry with Rapunzel makes their courtship one of Disney’s most organic romances in ages. Mother Gothel, the villainess played with aplomb by Broadway veteran Donna Murphy, combines many of the most dastardly traits from Disney’s rogues gallery into a fun package. The animal sidekicks, a horse named Maximus and a chameleon named Pascal, provide much of the film’s lively visual comedy. (Maximus in particular has the sort of exaggerated expressions that would be right at home in a Chuck Jones short.) This cast features not a single dull figure, a rarity in Disney’s animated lineup.

Though my natural instinct is to prefer hand-drawn animation to computer animation, I think the use of CGI is ultimately beneficial to the film’s story. Hand-drawn hair is sometimes just shaped patches of color with a few distinguishing lines for highlights, and that technique could have made Rapunzel’s 70 feet of hair look like rope. The computer programs Disney’s animators have used (some of which they wrote just for this movie) created every individual hair on Rapunzel’s head and imbued them with a sheen, grace and elasticity (if an occasional thickness) that could not be done on paper. The rendering and lighting effects (especially those of the floating lanterns in the romantic ballad “I See the Light”) are also impeccable, making this movie look like a moving oil painting of a romantic medieval setting.

One of the comparatively weaker aspects in Tangled is the music, which is both competent and slightly underdeveloped. These songs, which do have the best lyrics I have ever heard from Slater, highlight and explain the characters well while lacking a dynamic presentation. Most of these numbers just visualize the lyrics without adding anything that imaginative. (“When Will My Life Begin,” in which Rapunzel lists her daily routine, is nothing compared to the resplendent art deco visualization of “Almost There” in last year’s The Princess and the Frog.) “I See the Light” is the biggest exception. That song is another great Disney love sequence, even with the awkward switch from internal singing to external singing.

Even if certain aspects do not grant Tangled the status of instant masterpiece, the movie is certainly very good as both an animated feature and a family movie. It is a modern CG film that replicates some of the magic of Disney’s old classics, one that kids who grew up with Cinderella and kids who are growing up with Shrek can enjoy equally and enjoy together.


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