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Tangled Review

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by Simon Crust May 5, 2011 at 9:05 AM

    Tangled Review

    Since Chris has already dissected this film, only a few weeks ago, I don’t propose to spend a great deal of time on the synopsis, preferring to get to the excellent 3D presentation, which is, after all, why anyone would be looking at this disc, so I will just give a few personal thoughts, musings and ideas before moving on to the disc itself.

    Tangled, as most people will know, is Disney’s fiftieth full length animated feature and is loosely based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Rapunzel. I say loosely, I mean very loosely, for Disney only keep Rapunzel’s name, hair and entrapment as well as Mother Gothel for the story elements from the original tale, everything else is pure Disney magic to bring light to what, as with all Grimm tales, is a rather dark story. In it Dame Gothel, an enchantress, demands from a thieving father his unborn child and in desperation he agrees; the child, a girl, is named Rapunzel and on her twelfth birthday is locked in a tower with no doors and only a single window from which Dame Gothel enters and leaves using Rapunzel’s fairy hair with the immortal line “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair.” When a dashing prince hears Rapunzel’s singing and discovers the method of entering her tower room, the pair fall in love and agree to marry, but upon discovering this treachery, Dame Gothel, cuts Rapunzel’s hair, banishes her to the forest to fend for herself and lures the prince to his doom by lowering the cut hair as a trap. The prince, however, survives, albeit blind, but all ends well, when hearing Rapunzel singing, the pair find each other once again, whereupon her tears cure his blindness.

    As you can see, that story, in this form is not a very Disney friendly theme, not least because of the ambiguity of Dame Gothel; she is an enchantress, but not necessarily evil, and only demands retribution for crimes against her – yes, the punishment far outweighs the crime, but nevertheless, this greying of good and evil is something that Disney steer well clear of; it’s ok for a male to be a bit of a rogue (see Aladdin and this film) but when it comes to females, it's very black and white. So, to give Dame Gothel, now renamed Mother, that sinister edge she is seen as selfish and heartless. This is described in the opening prologue where she hides the flower that grew from the drop of sunlight for her own wants. And when the flower cures the Queen, Mother Gothel kidnaps the baby to make use of the life giving hair, again for her own wants, locking Rapunzel, as she is now named, in a tower claiming that the world is cruel and not to be trusted – in effect projecting her own selfish hatred outward. Such behaviour is marketed as being evil and meant to turn us against Mother Gothel, which is reinforced later during the song ‘Mother Knows Best’ and even more so when she point blank refuses to let Rapunzel leave the tower, ever, when her youthful exuberance becomes too much for Mother Gothel to counter. Surely I’m not the only one to find this particular scene, the way it’s lit and framed, to be quite horrific and frightening? Given all the more menace by Donna Murphy’s excellent husky voice that can portray undertones of hate even when complimenting and loving.

    One wonders then, if this has been Mother Gothel’s behaviour towards Rapunzel all her life, how, in her eighteen years, she becomes the typical ballsy Disney princess, able to match her own against the terrors of the world with nothing but her wits and a twelve inch frying pan, but, of course, Disney are applying copious amounts of poetic licence as a truly trapped wretch, even one with magical hair, would be nothing except a terrified shell of a person – but that’s not a good heroine is it? So, along with her seventy foot of magical hair, sparkling green eyes, artistic skill and happy go lucky attitude towards life, Rapunzel is every bit the Disney princess. Voiced with terrific vigour by Mandy Moore who adds much to the youthful wonder and steely determination as well as softly spoken disappointment and resignation when called upon.

    So what of the prince of the original story, well he’s not so much a prince as a thief called Flynn Rider, and typical of such characters is not bad, but rather misunderstood, with a somewhat tragic back-story and a pennant for being morally right even when acting wrong. Voiced with absolute charm by Zachary Levi (who is as charming in my series of the moment Chuck) and who shares a terrific chemistry with Moore that when the inevitable happens, in both sad and happy endings, you do genuinely feel for the characters, even though you just know what’s going to happen.

    As good as these three principle characters are, for the single best character is that of Maximus the horse; a character that uses all the traits from just about every Disney classic sidekick, as part bloodhound, part avenger, part sword dualist and all loyal, the frame's never quite complete until he is on screen, for just like Shrek’s Donkey, Maximus could have a film all to himself and it be a winner. Not so enamoured with Pascal, Rapunzel’s pet Chameleon, who’s only contribution, as far as I can tell, is an expositional device to sell more toys ... but I’m not that cynical am I.

    Another integral element to the traditional Disney fairy tale is that of songs, and this is no exception; regular composer Alan Menken was brought out again to bring life to the tunes like only he can and whilst most do fit as part of the narrative very well, you can tend to see them coming and, for me, each tune tended to sound like a show stopper – you know the type of tune used as a climatic song, and gave the entire production an operatic feel; as if the songs themselves are too grand for the production they are in; this is never more true than for ‘Mother Know Best reprise’ which is an exercise in light and sound excellence.

    As to the story whole, well apparently it has been in production since the 1940’s when Uncle Walt first mooted the idea – not strictly speaking true, although the fact is its pre-production has been rather arduous; it’s initial idea to be a sequel to 2007 smash Enchanted, was then developed as its own independent idea titled Rapunzel; with script changes, director and actor changes, song changes and eventual film title changes it’s amazing the film made it at all. It’s not without its charm and it has everything to make is a Disney Classic, and on balance I enjoyed my time with it, the good far outweighs the bad, but with it striving so hard to be a ‘classic Disney in the traditional sense’ I think it has lost sight of itself as a film; lost in a maelstrom of marketing and hype the film boils down to something quite ordinary no matter how much it made at the box office.