Tangled Promo Image

I’m a bit late to the party but I had a chance to see Disney’s 50th animated feature, Tangled. As you might expect, it’s 3D animation. Disney seems to be moving away from traditional animation though apparently cells (or at least a digital form of them) aren’t quite dead yet. Their forays into computer animation have usually been aided by Pixar, such as the Toy Story series, and it seems to have become trendy to point and laugh at Disney and how creatively bankrupt they’ve become.

Well, if Tangled is any indication, Disney hasn’t quite reached bottom. Perhaps it’s because it was their 50th animated feature, but Disney reached deep to bring back the magic of the classic 90’s flicks we all grew up with and loved. And you know what? I think they managed to do it with Tangled.

As you might be able to tell from the title and image, Disney has decided to do its thing with Rapunzel, the story of a young girl with incredibly long hair locked away in a tower by a witch. But to add a little more magic, Rapunzel’s real parents are a king and queen, and the witch is interested in the girl because her hair holds the power of a flower that provides healing and perpetual youth. She takes the girl by cover of night and raises her as her own daughter, trying to convince her that it is in her best interest to stay cooped up because the outside world is too nasty and terrible. But like any teenage girl, she becomes curious and rebellious. To commemorate the lost princess, the citizens float bright lanterns into the night sky, and having seen this from the window of her tower on her birthday every year, Rapunzel is determined to see it in person for her 18th birthday.

And then there’s Flynn Rider. He’s a bandit of some renown, though they can never seem to get his nose right on the “Wanted” posters. And this time he has stolen a crown from the royal family. In his frantic struggle to lose his pursuers, he scales Rapunzel’s tower. But it’s out of the fire and into the frying pan, half-literally, as Rapunzel clocks him on the head with the cast-iron fry pan she keeps handy. She takes his satchel, containing the stolen crown, and strikes a deal with him. He takes her to see the lanterns at the kingdom, and she returns his satchel. Thus begins their adventure and their romance as they outrun thugs, kingdom guards, and the insidious plotting of Rapunzel’s “mother”, who is determined to turn the pair against each other and convince the girl that she really should stay in the tower after all.

The animation is extremely well done here. I was actually incredibly surprised to find that Pixar wasn’t involved. The character designs are beautiful and Disney gets extra credit for Rapunzel herself. I haven’t seen a Disney heroine as lovably adorable as Rapunzel since The Little Mermaid. And the music is fantastic, as you might Alan Menken‘s work to be. Don’t recognize him? He has arranged music for almost every other Disney feature, including beloved classics The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

But it’s difficult to articulate what I really feel is this Tangled’s greatest asset: the magic. Somehow, the elements blended together and I felt like I was watching a Disney piece from the 90’s, the classics I grew up with from a time when Disney was the name in animation and there were less caricatures of Michael Eisner driving the company into the ground. In some ways, it was formulaically Disney, right down to the funny animal sidekicks and powerful romantic ballad. It is, in short, classic Disney for a new audience.

But being formulaic is a double-edged blade for Tangled. In some ways, it is too formulaic. It’s too easy to constantly draw comparisons to The Little Mermaid, and while I don’t think Mandy Moore as Rapunzel was a bad casting choice, she was the same character in this movie as she is in almost every other movie she has ever done: teenage girl (often) rebelling against an overprotective parent and falling in love with the first boy to come along who is willing to put up with it all (A Walk to Remember, Chasing Liberty, Saved!, …need I go on?). The romance is also very standard for Disney: they meet, have adventures together, there’s a betrayal that splits the two apart, and they manage to push through it and prevail anyway. Sometimes, while I was watching it for the first time, it felt like I’d seen this picture before.

But overall, Tangled was worth the time I invested in it and more. It’s a great film, even if it’s sometimes a bit cliché. But at the same time, the blending of classic elements with modern technology and writing contributes to the feeling that you’re watching a true successor to the Disney features you loved growing up. If you think that Disney has entirely lost touch with its creative past, you might want to give this film a shot. In me it inspired some confidence in Disney’s potential to turn around from darker times.