50th time lucky?
Image: Walt Disney Pictures
There is a lot of history riding on the back of this film, the fiftieth feature-length offering from that house of the 80 year old mouse, Disney. Tangled has been in production for ages, swapping titles and casts like nobody’s business. It was, until recently, called Rapunzel, and is a Disney-fied version of the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale about a young girl with impossibly long hair. The question is then, after all this time (both in terms of the production of this particular film, and the years Disney has been making animated features), does Tangled live up to our expectations, or is it something we should brush aside? Suffice to say, in terms of this reviewer’s jokes, things might get hairy…
The first thing that needs to be acknowledged about Tangled is that the animation is stunning; glossy, strong and manageable (no Polar Express-style terrifying dead-eyed ani-humans here). Indeed, it is so lovely that it doesn’t detract from the film when moments are taken away from the narrative to focus on it; the floating lanterns are particularly well realised. It might not be the classic cartoon Disney of the past, but it is certainly a worthy successor.
The voice work is great too, but personally I found that having actors as recognisable as Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore caused me to step out of the picture more than I normally tend to do with Disney. I love a good famous villain voice, such as Jeremy Irons in The Lion King, but I prefer the main characters to come with fewer connotations. This said, the leads are very charming, and by the end they will have you rooting for them. The villain of this piece, Mother Gothel, is a fun presence, but never really reaches the heights of the best of her predecessors. Indeed, she often comes across as a watered down cousin of Ursula from The Little Mermaid, with most of the vocal bombast but none of the real menace.
Better luck is had with the animal support. Pascal the lizard is a very Disney creation, making the cute little animal noises so familiar from his filmic antecedents (Evinrude in The Rescuers, for example). Children will adore him, and I can already envision fluffy green tails poking out of stockings come Christmas. The best thing about the film, however, has to be Maximus the guard horse. A lovely rounded character, even without the ability to speak, Maximus brings comedy to every scene he appears in, and his hate/love relationship with Levi’s Flynn Rider is particularly fun. Imagine a silent version of the petulant llama from The Emperor’s New Groove, skipping the line between friend and foe, and you will probably begin to see why he works quite so well.
And what, you are no doubt asking, of the songs? I will admit that the first time I saw the film, none of them stuck in my head. However, second time around shows that there are actually a couple of good numbers to be found. The first song is unbearably twee and rubbish, but things pick up with the villainess’s ‘Mother Knows Best’ (although, following my earlier assertion, it is a bit like a weaker version of ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’) and reach their peak with ‘I’ve Got A Dream’, a great, rowdy sing-song with Levi and Moore putting in some memorable solos.
The whole film comes to an end rather too quickly, with Mother Gothel’s demise especially lacking sufficient fanfare. There are too many moments when you can imagine how much better Pixar would be doing things – despite the long creative process, it often feels like Disney should have held off a while longer to finish combing out the kinks.
Where then does Tangled fit in the ranking of Disney films? For children, this is certainly one which will not disappoint. They won’t be as lucky as I was, being born at just the right time for the 90s reissue of Snow White, and then the joys of Aladdin and The Lion King, but they are far luckier than the poor little ‘uns who got Home On The Range as their first cinematic experience of Disney, and for that they should be thankful indeed.
By no means a classic, Tangled is still quality entertainment. Children are going to be thrilled, and adults won’t be bored. That old Disney magic hasn’t gone yet, but afterwards you might want to brush up on some of the classics.