Sunday, November 28, 2010

REVIEW: Tangled Rapunzel

Disney's Tangled literally glows, particularly when our heroine Rapunzel, and our hero, Flynn are riding in a boat watching the launching of countless lanterns that float like luminous orbs around them. It is the single most magical, romantic scene in any Disney film since the ballroom dance in Beauty and the Beast.

If only the rest of the movie were that great.

Make no mistake, Tangled is very much worth seeing. I recommend it highly. But in a number of ways, it's a beautiful disappointment. No one should have expected it to stand alongside the triple crown of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. But except in fleeting moments, it's not even as good as last year's Disney movie, the criminally undervalued The Princess and the Frog.

I've always hated the fact that Disney switched the title of the film from Rapunzel to Tangled. Most people know immediately what Rapunzel means, and even if they don't, it doesn't take much explaining: princess with really, really long hair. A generic title like Tangled sounds like it could be about anything from people who can't tie knots very well to defective hairspray products.

In a way, however, the title is appropriate in ways the filmmakers never intended. Tangled is a better title for the movie's tortured development process than for the film itself. It began in the hands of master animator Glen Keane and then ended up in the hands of the folks who made Bolt. The look changed from a moving oil painting to a pretty but less adventurous visual scheme. The lead role went from Kristin Chenoweth to Mandy Moore.

That's not to say all the changes are for the poorer. The hero, voiced by Chuck's Zachary Levi,  is dashing and witty. Rapunzel's sidekick, a chameleon named Pascal, is silent, but visually hilarious. Flynn's horse, Maximus is a rare breed - a handsome steed who is actually mostly antagonistic toward its rider. The villain, Gothel (Broadway vet Donna Murphy) poses as Rapunzel's mother but is actually a greedy woman who kidnapped Rapunzel to use the magical healing powers of her hair. Gothel is the best kind of villain - one who can seem supportive at one moment, only to turn dastardly the next.

Best of all is Rapunzel herself. She is one of Disney's most fascinating princesses - a neurotic mess with magical hair who's a lot of fun to be around. In a very funny and touching scene, when Rapunzel leaves her tower for the first time, she alternates between jubilation at being free to despair at being disobedient and afraid of the outside world. Much as I love Kristin Chenoweth, Moore turned out to be an ideal choice for the role. I've always through Moore was an underrated talent, both as an actress and as a singer.

So it is a great pity that she gets no great songs to sing. Tangled's single greatest Achilles heel is its pedestrian song score, one of the least memorable Alan Menken has ever composed. Menken needs a great collaborator to soar. Certainly no one can fill the shoes of the late Howard Ashman, but Menken has done strong work with Stephen Schwartz, his lyricist on The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Enchanted, among others. Unfortunately, his partner in Tangled is Glenn Slater, who worked with Menken on the similarly bland tunes for Home on the Range.

The Tangled songs are OK but no more than that, and worst of all, they sometimes get in the way of the story. For instance The song "I've Got a Dream" is not only a pale retread of "Gaston," but its goofy style clashes with the more sentimental tunes.

And the film as a whole suffers from that inconsistency in tone. When the film tries to be straightforward and romantic, it works wonderfully. But at times the filmmakers try too hard to be hip and contemporary, and the results are jarring.  Memo to Disney: Stop trying so hard to be sassy and hip. That is not your strength. Leave that to DreamWorks. Don't be afraid to be a bit retro, because if you focus hard enough on the heart of the story, the rest will take care of itself.

I find it ironic that one of the key story points is that if someone cuts Rapunzel's hair, it turns brunette and loses its power. Somewhere along the way, that's what happened when Rapunzel became Tangled. If Mermaid, Beauty and Aladdin are the gold standard, then The Princess and the Frog is the silver standard, and Tangled is the bronze standard.  It's only occasionally excellent. Disney can - and should - do even better.


NOTE: I saw the film in 3D and found the effect very similar to what Pixar does with their movies. It's a nice bonus, but not essential to the film.


David M. Allen M.D. said...

The songs were better than I expected, but this was not primarily a musical like the big three. But I loved, loved, loved this movie.

Great heroine and great villainess in the best Disney tradition. And the story kept me guessing. Best Disney movie cartoon since the big three.

Anonymous said...

But definitely not as good as them.

Scott Copeland said...

I can't go along with best Disney movie since Aladdin. I'd rather watch The Princess and The Frog, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Tarzan, or yes, even Treasure Planet before Tangled. All the above I would give at least an A-, which I can't give to Tangled for essentially the reasons Eric gave.

Anonymous said...

Maximus belongs to the head of the palace guard, representing law and order. Flynn Ryder is a wanted thief. There's the antagonism, also played up in the gag when Flynn gives him a bag of red apples.