Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from other movies.
What do you think of when someone says the words “Walt Disney Company”? Chances are good that fairytale princesses, catchy musical numbers, family-friendly humour and awesome villains immediately come to mind. For years, Disney was best known for its hand-drawn, animated adaptations of traditional fairy tales (most titles from the Grimm catelogue), and to this day, movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty not only remain beloved family classics but also manage to stay timeless. They set the standard for animated movies way back in 1937, and upheld it for decades.
Then, unfortunately, sometime around the movie Treasure Planet in 2002, Disney movies started to falter. It was as though Disney had run out of ideas and had resorted to gimmicks and cliches that came off as obvious promotion for lines of Happy Meal toys. With the rise of Pixar animation studios and their brilliant work on movies like Toy Story, A Bug’s Life and Monsters Inc., Disney’s 2D animation department just kinda faded into the background until it had a very brief resurgence in the form of The Princess and the Frog in 2009. But beyond The Princess and the Frog, Disney had focused its efforts on live-action movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and non-Pixar computer animated movies like Bolt. Which brings us to Tangled. Tangled is a computer animated adaptation of Rapunzel. The fact that it’s an adaptation of the Rapunzel story just screams “Classic Disney”. I’ve always found it strange that Disney never attempted a traditionally animated Rapunzel movie years ago, since Rapunzel is one of the classic Grimm brothers fairy tales and therefore in the same league Snow White and Cinderella. As the Disney Animation Studios logo (celebrating the fact that Tangled is Disney’s 50th animated motion picture) hit the screen before the opening of the film, I was filled with hope that I was about to see the next big Disney thing – the animated return to form that the Disney Company has been in dire need of for almost a decade. Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.
I can’t think of a more appropriate title for this movie than Tangled. Not only does it perfectly describe the tangled mess that is the film, but it also indicates the conflicted nature of the movie – on the one hand, Disney is clearly trying to harken back to its glory days by making a new fairy tale movie, but on the other hand, it’s trying to be hip and modern, and therefore went with a less traditional title. One Variety critic decried the title, saying that calling Rapunzel Tangled is like Disney calling The Little Mermaid ‘Beached’, and he was absolutely right. Other than the source material, one or two songs, and a handful of supporting characters, this is nothing like the Disney that we grew up on. It’s really not a bad movie, but watching it you can tell that the filmmakers were trying to strike a perfect balance between the old-fashioned Disney princess movies and the tongue-in-cheek, pop-culture-riddled humour of computer animated movies like Shrek. Tangled is trying to be the best of both worlds, and the result is that it neither quite works. It’s a series of hits and misses, and I think that perhaps the best way to illustrate this is by just flat-out listing them.
Rapunzel and her tower. Rapunzel is sweet, innocent, and slightly off-kilter, as you would expect one to be if one spent eighteen years locked in a tower. Her incredibly long hair is fun to see on-screen, and you just know that the DVD will have an entire special feature dedicated to creating it. Her opening song about longing to leave her tower and finding ways to entertain herself alone is catchy and upbeat, and the room she calls home feels lived-in. The early moments of the movie with her in the tower were some of the more enjoyable ones for me.
Flynn Rider. Don’t get me wrong, I love the gag about how the people who make his wanted posters can never get his nose right, but he just doesn’t have much in the way of personality. Disney even admitted that they threw him in there to appeal to the young boys in their potential audience. He feels tacked on because he IS tacked on, and anyway the character would have been much more at home in a Dreamworks picture.
The villains. Not only is Rapunzel’s “mother” (in fact her captor) a terrific character who could hold her own alongside any of the classic Disney villains, but she doesn’t actually have any supernatural abilities or magic or anything. She manages to be totally threatening without having to resort to anything beyond her intellect, and I thought that was pretty cool. Also, the Stabbington brothers (both voiced by Ron Perlman) were awesome. In fact, all the thugs in this movie were great.
The songs. I know, it’s blasphemy to say that the musical elements are the weakest part of a Disney animated movie, but it’s true. In order for a movie musical (or any musical) to work, there has to be a rhythm to when the musical numbers occur, and Tangled is totally lacking. There should be a song that opens and closes the movie. There should be a song between the lovers that gets a reprise at some point. The only times the songs worked for me were in the first twenty minutes or so. Rapunzel’s cleaning up song and Mother’s villainous song were both terrific, but unfortunately they’re front-loaded, and none of the other songs were in the least bit memorable (the musical number with all the thugs in the bar was great, but the song itself wasn’t anything to write home about). On top of all this, there were only maybe four songs in the whole movie, which barely even qualifies it as a musical. Also – can anyone think of a computer animated movie that was a musical? Me neither. To my knowledge, this is the first time it’s been attempted, and the result is pretty jarring. Every time someone broke into song. I felt like I was suddenly pulled out of an animated movie and was instead watching a theatrical production. The CG animated look just didn’t jive with the musical elements.
Maximus the horse. I wanted more of this guy. He was hilarious, and while he had some human-like qualities to his personality, he was basically a dog in horse form, which made him so much fun to watch. There wasn’t nearly enough Maximus for my liking.
Pascal the chameleon. WTF?! Why is there a chameleon living in this obviously European-influenced fairy tale world? It’s a bit ironic that the thing that stuck out like a sore thumb in my eyes was a creature known for blending in with its surroundings, but that’s what happened. Pascal’s a cute little character, and yes, perfect for a Happy Meal toy, but he didn’t belong in Tangled. Not only that, but he contributed absolutely nothing to the plot.
I can’t really think of a “HIT” counterpoint for this last one (which isn’t a good sign), but it needs to be mentioned.
The villain’s death. After Rapunzel’s magic healing hair is cut off, Mother withers with age in an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade fashion, reels around and falls from the tower to her doom. But immediately thereafter, we discover that the healing magic wasn’t just in Rapunzel’s hair, but inside all of her. She cries a tear and it heals the wounded Flynn and everything is peachy-keen. Except why, then, did Mother wither with age? It doesn’t make any sense. Mother’s death was so poorly thought-out that I couldn’t even ignore it by being caught up in the emotional moment that was transpiring. It was an instant knock against the entire film, and showed serious sloppiness on the parts of the writers.
For all my complaining, Tangled isn’t a bad movie. It was a nice attempt by Disney to show the world that they still have decades of classic animated fairy tale movies in their catelogue, and that if they really wanted to, they could at least pull off some C-grade computer animated movies if Pixar ever split from them (again). But ultimately, Tangled is a failure. It doesn’t measure up to the level of quality family cinema that Disney has gotten us used to. In my opinion, Disney should leave the computer animated stuff to Dreamworks and Pixar and stick to what we already associate with the company: hand-drawn, traditional animation. Seriously – Disney’s style of traditional animation is iconic, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone whose favourite Disney film isn’t one of the traditionally animated ones. They’ve been making great 2D animated movies for almost a century, and now that no one else is doing it besides Studio Ghibli, they could corner the market. Maybe The Princess and the Frog didn’t score as big as they’d hoped, but who cares? It was still more memorable than Tangled.
3 out of 5