A couple of months ago, I read an article bashing the not-yet released Tangled for starring a princess and therefore promoting weak heroines. I couldn’t really follow the logic because a princess doesn’t have to be weak (Cinder Edna, anyone? Or hell, Xena anyone?). So, I went and saw it myself. Turns out, it’s not only a good movie, but it sends a good message to little girls. Shocker!
Princess Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) was taken from her real home by evil witch Gothel when she was just a baby. Her real parents and their kingdom light floating lanterns every year in the hopes that she’ll see them. And she does see them… from a really tall tower miles away. Wanting desperately to know what the lights are, but afraid of the outside world thanks to her selfish “mother”, Rapunzel blackmails a trespassing thief (Zachary Levi) to take her and her rather cumbersome yards of blond locks to the city.
Some smart changes were made to the original tale. The whole “bartering your unborn child for your wife’s weird pregnancy cravings” sends the wrong message to a modern audience. Changing the premise also made the witch’s motives more sinister; now, she uses the magic in Rapunzel’s hair to keep herself young. She only pretends to love and protect her “daughter” from the outside world so she can keep her lifetime supply of beauty treatment.
The other big change is to Rapunzel’s personality. In the versions I always heard, she was kind of mopey and very “woe is me”. Say what you will about the sexism in princess stories, but I always appreciated that Walt’s Cinderella was a “things aren’t so bad” sort of girl and you get the same attitude from this Rapunzel. The first big song describes how she spends her day. She doesn’t mope, she paints… and reads… and practices guitar… and practices ventriloquism… etc. Sure, she’s restless and desperately wants more from her life, but she isn’t just sitting around!
I’m really impressed by Mandy Moore in this role. So much of the role is about the girl experiencing the world for the first time and Moore’s exuberance sells these moments. There’s a great montage of Rapunzel wavering between the joy of freedom and the guilt drilled in her brain from her mother. As someone who is admittedly an anxious and over-analyzing person, I’ve experienced that scene before in my own life.
What’s interesting is that the tower is the smallest obstacle in Rapunzel’s path. She actually gets down pretty easily. The hardest challenge is realizing that 1). she shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting more and 2). she isn’t weak like her “mother” says. Sure, she assumes she needs a man to take her safely through the woods, but every time they get into a scrape, it’s Rapunzel that saves them. She realizes that to be constantly afraid of the world forces you to miss out on all the great things about the world. Again, good message for little girls!
Flynn grew on me as the story progressed. Rapunzel teaches him to be less selfish, but it doesn’t feel trite. Of course they fall for each other, but compared to most fairytale movies, the two have more time to build chemistry and it feels genuine. On top of that, Levi kept the character funny. Donna Murphy was strong as Mother Gothel, but it took me a while to figure out just how much the witch actually cared about Rapunzel and how much was just pandering (hint: all pandering). Speaking of confusing, for most of the movie, I really didn’t know if Rapunzel was aware that her hair had magical powers. We find out towards the end that she does know, but that really should have been clear from the beginning. Her knowing drastically changes the dynamic of her relationship with Gothel and I wondered about it in the back of my mind for the first hour plus.
Believe it or not, there aren’t too many other characters with speaking lines besides the main three. I will say, the immeasurably fantastic Paul F. Tompkins, Brad Garrett and Jeffrey Tambor are splendid as three of the thugs that our princess inspires. The obligatory silent Disney animals are Pascal the chameleon and Maximus the doggy-like horse and both are charming (although where she got a chameleon we’ll never know). Maximus reminded me of the prince’s horse in Sleeping Beauty, but there’s a different dynamic between him and Flynn; Maximus was stolen by Flynn and is not particularly fond of the thief. Hilarity ensues, of course. Rapunzel’s real mother and father are also silent, but there is a wonderful moment where we see them prepare for their missing daughter’s 18th birthday. It’s a touching moment and parents can appreciate the heartache the couple faces.
Something I can’t believe I haven’t touched on yet is how visually gorgeous this movie is. The whole world is full of color and you understand why our heroine is filled with awe. Unlike most computer animated productions, Tangled has more in common visually with the traditional animation of Disney golden years. It feels like it was drawn by hand, which I find to be really refreshing.
I liked the songs (written by Glenn Slater and Disney superstar Alan Menken), especially that first song I mentioned above – Mandy Moore’s singing voice is no joke and you kind of can’t help but smile. The problem is, I’m not sure if these will become classics compared to the animated films of my childhood. I remember “Part of Your World” and “Friend Like Me” quickly ingrained in my brain as a kid. I’m not sure if it’s just because they are more memorable or because I was young, but Tangled‘s songs just don’t seem as iconic. A side note: Gothel’s main song is good, but is obviously choreographed specifically for the 3D. I’m sure it looked great that way, but the scene felt flat for me in 2D.
For me, Disney’s real cinematic triumph for 2010 will always be Toy Story 3. That being said, this is the first non-Pixar CGI Disney film that really shines. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Overall: With some lovely songs, a gorgeous design, quirky side characters and a heroine who knows how to save herself, Tangled is the best kind of princess movie and one all little girls should watch.
3 1/2 out of 5