D: Nathan Greno & Byron Howard. DP: W: Don Fogelman (based on the Grimm’s brothers fairy tale). Starring (voice talents): Mandy Moore/Zachary Levi/Donna Murphy/Ron Pearlman/M.C. Gainey/Richard Kiel.
Joining the Disney cannon this year is the newly animated feature Tangled. Re-titled to emphasize that the story is not just about the girl in the tower with the long hair named Rapunzel. The change smells a little like a marketing ploy to get a few more boys in the audience. However, regardless of mine and others annoyance at this tactic, Tangled actually turns out to be musically enjoyable and actually not just about the girl.
Mandy Moore, of previous pop star and want-to-be-taken-seriously-as-a-musician fame, delves into her first headlining feature as a voice over actor. Having always preferred her acting over her music, I (like others?) was cautious of whether or not this casting would work to the projects favor. Thankfully, Moore has not only the right amount of spunk in her voice, but also the right amount of innocence and joy to bring Rapunzel to life. In this version the Grimm brothers’ creation longs to break through her prison, yet admits that she’s scared to venture out on her own. Yet the lighting of lamps every year on her birthday (done by her royal parents to commemorate her kidnapping and to light her way home) intrigues her too much to not have an adventure when the right opportunity comes along.
That opportunity comes in the form of Flynn Rider, voiced by Chuck television star Zachary Levi. Full of bravado and Aladdin like stealth, Flynn reluctantly agrees to take Rapunzel to see the lights in exchange for the satchel of his she has stolen. Thankfully, the rest of the film follows their dysfunctional yet charming adventure and relationship. Allowing the adventure and new experiences to be the focus, rather than romance. Even Moore’s Rapunzel doesn’t hide her insecurities and inability to process the world outside her tower, a recognition not tackled in similar Disney films.
Immediately fitting and enjoyable are Alan Menken’s original songs and music. Previously responsible for such musical successes as The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, Newsies, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Enchanted, Menken is clearly Disney royalty and there is nothing wrong with that. Tangled is a musical breeze, with Moore’s voice performing well and sounding accessible, but not too perfect. Moore is given the standard, I wish I was living in the real world/get me out of my life tune, but no audience will be able to dislike the use of such a standard when years later it is still so darn enjoyable. Thankfully, the film isn’t riddled with too many duets as Levi’s Flynn, jokingly, can’t sing. More than memorable is Murphy’s Mother Grothel’s song, “Mother Knows Best.” A cross between Ursula and Matron Mama Morton of Chicago, Murphy is clearly so self-obsessed she needs to create her own spotlight and yes, you will love it…or else?
Lastly, what is timeless about Disney animated features is not just their beauty, charm and joy, but also their accessibility and use of small details to tackle difficult human issues. Moore’s chameleon friend is a natural substitute for the imaginary friend a child would have if they were alone so many hours of the day (obviously an imaginary friend is harder to see on screen than an animal). The chameleon, like other Disney animal friends, is Moore’s secret, a manifestation of her loneliness and her desire to care/love something/someone in a way she is not cared for by her own mother figure. Also, Moore’s long blond locks work as another character, binding her to her tower, their magic being the cause of her pain. One could even argue the use of gender constructs in the film, as Flynn being male is able to explore his freedom, while Rapunzel, weighed down by her femininity (and hair!) must be kept cloistered. Yet even if most audiences don’t recognize what is at work in Tangled, they will surely leave smiling, remembering all their favorite Disney classics, and feeling good that they made time to go to the movies.