Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review: "Tangled"

"Tangled" is a delightful amalgamation of new and old animation traditions. It's a slick computer-generated movie available in 3-D, but has an old-school approach with a classic fairy tale at its foundation, coupled with Broadway-style musical numbers.

The movie it most reminded me of is Disney's own "Beauty and the Beast" -- and that's a pretty wonderful thing to be reminded of.

Based on the Rapunzel fable by the Grimm brothers, "Tangled" is a far cry from the story about a long-haired maiden trapped in a tower awaiting rescue from an obliging prince. In screenwriter Dan Fogelman's version, Rapunzel is a feisty teen hungry for adventure, and her supposed rescuer is a thief who was just looking for a place to hide from the king's guards, and gets knocked cold by a frying pan-wielding Rapunzel.

There's more magic and mystery added to the tale, too. Rapunzel's mother the queen, deathly ill while pregnant, was healed by a magic flower that bequeathed its spell to the baby's girl's golden hair. Mother Gothel is an enchantress who needs the magic to keep herself young, so she steals the princess from her royal parents and locks her away in a tower.

Rapunzel grows up believing Gothel is her mother, who keeps her protected from a nasty, brutish world eager to exploit her magical hair. The locks take on a life of their own, cascading behind her like an endless bride's train, which she uses to tie her intruder, Flynn Ryder, into knots.

Flynn's a notorious bandit who's just made off with the royal crown -- unknowingly, it's the one Rapunzel was meant to wear -- and climbs the tower to put his pursuers off the scent. He's a cad who thinks too much of his ability to charm others, but agrees to Rapunzel's demand that he accompany her into town to solve the riddle of the mysterious lights that appear in the sky every year on her birthday. (It's actually the king and queen, lighting lanterns in the hope of one day finding her.)

There are some familiar Disney cues. Rapunzel's sidekick is a chameleon named Pascal who doesn't talk, but makes his intentions known through changing colors and mime. Maximus, the best horse in the kingdom, at first is Flynn's nemesis but comes to be a grudging ally.

The trio of principal voice actors are terrific. Mandy Moore gives Rapunzel an earnest-yet-centered quality -- not to mention some terrific singing pipes. Zachary Levi lends Flynn a rapscallion twinkle, and Donna Murphy nails Mother Gothel's screechy high notes, as well as the slithery charm of the low ones.

Jeffrey Tambor, Brad Garrett and Richard Kiel provide the voices of some thugs who turn out to be not so scary, and Ron Perlman is a treat as the Stabbington brothers, Flynn's partners-in-crime-turned-enemies.

I wouldn't go so far as to call "Tangled" a musical, but there are at least three knockout tunes. I especially liked "I've Got a Dream," a jaunty bar song with a sweet core. Alan Menken, who composed music for "Beauty and the Beast" and many other Disney flicks, teams up with lyricist Glenn Slater.

Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard start out emphasizing action and adventure, but as time goes on the film gains heft and substance. One wordless scene, where the king and queen console one another over the loss of their child, is spellbinding in the gut-punch power of their grief.

Pixar has come to dominate the animation wing of Disney, but "Tangled" portents well for the future of fairy tales. This is one of the best princess stories from the House of Walt, since ever and ever.

3.5 stars out of four

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