The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Disney tangles with old themes, not a new classic

By Alex Bazith

If one thing can be expected from Disney movies, it’s consistency. Dazzling animation, sweeping Broadway-style musical numbers, dashing heroes and plucky princesses that can sell Happy Meals to both boys and girls—it’s all old hat for the dream machine that gave the world “The Lion King,” and now, “Tangled,” a contemporary update of the Grimm Brothers’ Rapunzel yarn. But the latest installment in the Disney canon lacks the freshness of its predecessors, and thus rings a little falser than the laundry list of stand-out predecessors star-gazing youngsters the world over have been nursed on. In a world where Dreamworks’ “Shrek” has inverted fairy tale conventions, is there still room for a tried-and-true Disney Princess formula, even one worth $260 million to CGI it into hand-drawn-animation submission? That is, do Disney’s kiddie fantasies still rule all the land?

Comparisons to recent titles can be drawn immediately, as the film opens with a snarky narration that wouldn’t have been out of place in a “Shrek” sassfest. Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore), princess of a faraway kingdom and possessor of a magical mane of hair, is kidnapped by a wicked old woman (Donna Murphy, a doting harpy with shades of Cruella de Vil and Michelle Pfeiffer from 2007’s “Stardust”), who spirits her away to an isolated tower. There, the old woman raises her as her own, periodically indulging in the restorative powers of Rapunzel’s hair. In order to make sure her surrogate daughter doesn’t escape the security of the tower, the old woman raises her on a diet of horror stories about the dangers of the outside world—the oft-utilized theme of leaving the safety of childhood for the possibly-dangerous wonders of maturity is played rather directly here. But adolescence proves too powerful a force to be held back by parental warnings, so Rapunzel finds herself leaving the tower for an adventure with the foppish Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) in search of mysterious floating lights she instinctively suspects are tied to her past.

“Tangled” plays like an amble through Disney’s film archives—a colorful mash-up of past titles one would expect a Cuisinart to deliver if asked to create a princess epic. Every element of the film feels homogenized and well-used: the animal sidekicks, the royal origins, the not-so-tough tough guys, the action set pieces familiar to past animated excursions (a tree swinging sequence in particular is strikingly similar to “Tarzan”). One gets the sense that the film is aware of its hodgepodge DNA and is trying to play it with an admirable sense of sincerity, but often the logic becomes too predictable, and the drama too forced as a result. The coup de grace, however, is undoubtedly the music. Uninspired and forgettable, Alan Menken’s score is paint-by-numbers pablum that only serves to kill time before the real action resumes.

On the other hand, if the viewer is willing to buy into the premise without cynicism as to the film’s obvious heritage, they’ll find “Tangled” to be more than adequate as a fantasy-wonder fix. The voice acting is first-rate all around. Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi bring a winning mix of innocence and charisma that makes their clichéd roles feel fresh and alive, while Donna Murphy and the other side characters inhabit their parts believably without ever drawing attention away from the action. The animation is textured and beautiful, as close as CGI has gotten to emulating the emotional nuances of hand-drawn animation (considering how much money was spent to achieve this goal, it’s certainly good that this is the case). Though the movie isn’t anything the audience hasn’t seen before, it’s ballsy enough to present itself as if it was, and when the viewer isn’t snickering at how the castle is basically a Disneyland advert or how the horse would be just like the one in “Mulan” if the latter was more of an asshole, they might find themselves genuinely touched by what they see. Also, the hair animations are second to none (if you’re into that kind of thing).

“Tangled” is no revelation. It’s flawed, hackneyed, boring at times and serviced by possibly the limpest Disney music to date. It’s also charming, and a welcome addition to an entertainment tradition that stretches back to before most of our grandparents were born. So take it as it is. If you’re looking for something edgy and experimental, look elsewhere. If you’re in the mood for some good old-fashioned Disney fun, you could do a lot worse.

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