Let down your hair!

Yesterday, after three years of anticipation, I finally got to watch Disney’s Tangled.

Twice in fact (thanks to a last-minute cancellation of How Do You Know? Maybe the God of Movies was watching out for me). And I’m glad I did – Tangled is one of the few films I could watch again and again.

Disney’s 50th animated feature is an unabashed return to its Renaissance era, when little mermaids, bookish beauties and warrior princesses reigned supreme.

Tangled has everything we could once rely upon from a Disney cartoon – action, romance and comedy by the bucket-load. The songs aren’t too bad either, if not on par with the likes of “A Whole New World” and “I’m Gonna Be a Mighty King”.

I’ve always been intrigued by the Rapunzel fairytale, with its themes of entrapment, isolation and over-protection.

Considering its prominence, it’s almost a surprise that Disney hasn’t tackled it before, along with Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty . Then again, they probably wouldn’t have been able do it justice until recently, in terms of the neat tricks they pull with hair, the film’s defining attribute.

Not to mention how breathtakingly beautiful the whole film is – it takes 3D to a new level. As it should. At $260 million, Tangled is the second most expensive film ever made, after the $300m Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. No.5 Avatar is  a relative bargain at $237m!

But I say it’s money very well spent. I lost myself entirely in the lusciously rendered world, full of shimmering fabrics, fluttering flowers and floating lanterns. The look of the film was  reportedly inspired by Jean Honore Fragonard’s The Swing.

Of course, all this beauty would be pointless without a rollicking story and appealing characters. Without giving too much away, Disney’s Rapunzel takes quite a departure from the source material. (I’m guessing animated teen pregnancy is a taboo they’re not willing to bust for the time being.)

The tale they construct around the girl with the endless hair involves a flower sprung from a drop of sunlight, which has the power to heal all ills, including the ravages of age. It’s quite a simple mythology executed in a straightforward manner, which I think is what Disney should stick to.  (See Atlantis and Treasure Planet for poor examples of Disney cartoons with live-action sort of stories.)

The traditional fairytale is turned on its head and updated, in an empowering and timeless fashion. It’s not groundbreaking these days for the princess to be the one doing the rescuing and redeeming, but I’m still glad they stuck with it. More than anything, Tangled is a sincere exploration of what it means to come of age and gain independence.

Rapunzel, voiced by Mandy Moore, may be my favourite Disney heroine so far. (Admittedly, I tend to prefer the sidekicks – hello Flounder and Genie.) She’s naive and innocent, yet pro-active and self-sufficient. She looks at the new world around her with appreciative eyes and a skip in her step. Apparently Kristin Chenoweth was the original choice, but I’m glad they went with Moore, as ambivalent as I am about her acting ability,  Rapunzel sounded like the curious and mostly fearless teenager she was meant to be.

Rapunzel makes an excellent comic (and romantic) foil to Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), a charming thief who owes much to Errol Flynn, and such Disney rogues as Aladdin and Phoebus. I’m no doubt automatically biased because Levi is one of my TV boyfriends – but his voice was just spot on for Flynn, equal parts gallant and goofy. Like Chuck, if he was a criminal. I really rooted for these two as a couple, and felt their romance played out believably, with just a touch of saccharine at the very end.

And as usual, the sidekicks stole more than their fair share of scenes. Rapunzel’s sole confidant is Pascal, a cool and knowing chameleon, and Flynn’s most dedicated pursuer is Maximus, a badass palace horse that acts like a dog. I’m quite relieved the animals weren’t talking this time, especially since the non-verbal communication was done so well that the characters’ personalities came across even more strongly.

Non-verbal-communication was excellent in the film overall, with lots of dialogue-free scenes, which again exemplified what can truly set animation apart from live-action. (Not that a lack of dialogue can’t be well used in the latter, of course.) The best and most heartbreaking was one between Rapunzel’s royal parents, who have been mourning her for years.  (In fact, the king and queen have no dialogue at all.)

I didn’t find Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), the villain, particularly standout, but she did the trick. I was reasonably amused (and suitably disturbed) by her brand of manipulation – and she was the reason for one of the film’s most haunting scenes, in which she brushes the infant Rapunzel’s shining hair, and explains to her why she can’t leave the tower.

Tangled has been criticized for its “pandering” marketing, including the rename (from Rapunzel, a title that has stuck in some non-English countries – ie Raiponce in France) and de-emphasizing of the musical elements, in an attempt to attract a wider audience.  (The Princess and the Frog, while acclaimed and reasonably profitable, fell short of sky-high expectations.) However, I don’t mind the name change in the least, and if it means that more people will see it, then that’s surely a good thing. After all, I want to them to keep making films like this!

While many critics are saying Tangled doesn’t measure up to Disney’s best, nor is worthy of the status of 50th animated feature, I believe that in time regard for it will only rise. It will age well. If 2010* wasn’t alreadyToy Story 3‘s year (deservedly so), it would definitely have been Tangled‘s. It’s a shame it missed out on an Oscar nod, but I’m sure those Disney honchos will be able to more than console themselves with the box office receipts.

So go on… let down your hair and watch the best non-Pixar Disney film in a long time.

*In terms of US release dates. Tangled came out in November 2010 across the pond.

5 thoughts on “Let down your hair!

    • I knnoooow. Wasn’t intentional at all. We had to get out of the house in the evening so sis could cook dinner for boyfriend. When we got to the cinema, they decided to cancel How Do You Know, due to unpopularity (WTF? They turned at least 6 people away that I could see!). The only thing we hadn’t already seen (and showing within two hours), was The Mechanic, a Jason Statham film *shudder*. My mum decided she’d prefer Tangled for the first time to enduring that – and I preferred to see it again than the alternative!

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