Last year, Walter Disney Pictures introduced its first black princess in The Princess and the Frog. This year marks another milestone in Disney royalty with its first digitally-animated princess in Tangled. Disney has experimented with digital animation before in an attempt to copy the success of Pixar and challenge competing animation studios such as DreamWorks. But a majority of their digitally animated outings have lacked the trademark magic the company is celebrated for. Like The Princess and the Frog, and to another extent Enchanted, Tangled recaptures the magic of some of the best Disney classics. While it's not quite as magnificent as the other two films I just mentioned, Tangled is still a wonderful film from directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno that further proves that Disney is back on track.
The film opens with an old lady named Gothel, who discovers a yellow, glowing flower with miraculous abilities. Rather than sharing the plant with the world though, Gothel hoards the flower so she can live forever. Gothel risks extinction, however, when the king's guards find the flower and return it to the castle. The flower is given to the queen who is pregnant and fatally ill. The queen is cured and she gives birth to a golden-haired baby girl that now possesses the same magic of the flower. Gothel kidnaps the princess and raises her in a remote tower. She never cuts the child's hair though, for then the flower's power will be lost.
As you've probably guessed, the princess's name is Rapunzel. Now approaching her 18th birthday, Rapunzel wishes to leave the tower just for a night so she can see a festival of floating lanterns held in the distant kingdom. But, of course, Gothel refuses. Rapunzel finally gets her ticket out of her tower when a thief named Flynn Rider, voiced by Zachary Levi, stumbles into her room. After uncovering a stolen crown in Flynn's satchel, Rapunzel blackmails him into guiding her to the festival.
It's hard not to love Rapunzel herself, supplied with the endearing and eager voice of Mandy Moore. She both looks and sounds a lot like Reese Witherspoon sharing the same undeniable ability to win the audience over. The cocky Flynn Rider is another fun departure from the traditionally bland Disney princes with no personality. Although at times the character seems a little embarrassed to be in a fairytale. On their journey Rapunzel and Flynn are aided by a winning supporting cast, including a little chameleon and band of roughhousing thugs with hearts of gold. One of the most remarkable characters in Tangled is simply Rapunzel's hair. Her never-ending strands of locks seem almost alive as Rapunzel uses her hair as rope, a whip and a vine.
The most interesting dynamic of this movie is between Rapunzel and Gothel. In a great voiceover performance, Broadway veteran Donna Murphy fashions Gothel into a villain along the lines of the fairy godmother in Shrek 2. What adds another level of wickedness to Gothel is that she has convinced Rapunzel that she truly loves her and cares for her well-being. Their relationship resembles that of Quasimodo and Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Perhaps Gothel does have some affection for the girl she has come to call her daughter. In the long run though all she really cares about is using Rapunzel for her own gain.
If I have one minor squabble regarding "Rapunzel," it's that the songs from composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater are catchier than they are timeless. To refer to a song as catchy though is hardly a criticism. Maybe I've just set my standards too high for Menken, who has won eight Oscars for his previous work in Disney animations. There is one song in Tangled that is every bit as magical as the ballroom sequence in Beauty and the Beast. The name of the song is "I See The Light," the best sung and best animated musical number Disney has produced in a long time. But I wouldn't dream of spoiling the sheer awe of the scene.
While it may be digitally animated, the look and atmosphere of Tangled feels as authentic as classic Disney animations. Where digital animation has essentially dominated the market, Disney has proven that they are the one animation studio that can tackle both 3D and 2D animation in contemporary cinema. I think the recent serge of quality at Disney has a lot to do with John Lasseter's promotion to the company's principal creative advisor. Acting as a producer on Disney and Pixar projects, Lasseter demonstrates Walt Disney's same ability to ensemble the most talented animators and storytellers to make the best films possible.