Disney’s 50th animated feature is a real treat combining wonderful animation, a compelling storyline, dazzling set pieces and the return of the legendary Alan Menken on music duty.
Tangled tells the story of Rapunzel, a young girl imprisoned in high tower by Mother Gothel, who uses her magical hair to maintain her youth. She becomes fascinated by the sky lanterns that she sees every year on her birthday and is curious about the outside world which she has been told is a ghastly, dangerous place. The chance to escape comes with the arrival of debonair thief and scoundrel Flynn Ryder, who sees the tower as a good place to hide from the authorities since he’s just stolen the crown jewels.
Tangled looks incredible, from the golden flowing locks of Rapunzel’s hair (which is almost prehensile) to breathtaking set pieces – particular highlights are bursting dam which leads to a spectacular flood and a frankly gorgeous scene on a lake where glowing lanterns fill the sky, their reflections shimmering on the water.
The decent but unremarkable Princess and The Frog was touted as a return to classic Disney but if anything it’s Tangled that takes that accolade. Rapunzel’s innocent but eventually feisty nature and Flynn’s cocksure demeanour are perfectly poised to play off each other. Their developing relationship actually goes some way to be believable and in a tradition which usually demands nothing more than a smouldering look for love to blossom, that’s actually quite remarkable.
Mother Gothel ranks as one of the best Disney villains in years, but it’s not because she possesses “phenomenal cosmic powers”, it’s her psychological conditioning and abuse of Rapunzel which makes her formidable. It’s difficult not to think of the sliminess of The Little Mermaid’s Ursula or Cinderella’s overbearing Lady Tremain – both villains which are experts in vindictive manipulation. There’s an excellent scene where Rapunzel first escapes and see-saws between the exhilaration of freedom and despair at how she thinks she’s a bad daughter – psychological indoctrination at its best (or worst) – after all the worst cage is the one you get your opponent to build for themselves.
While Flynn and Rapunzel make up the meat of the story, most of the comic scenes are stolen by Maximus, a relentless palace horse who seems to be part bloodhound. He continues the tradition of silent but hilarious sidekicks (think The Magic Carpet from Aladdin) and a smile creeps in every time he’s on screen.
But what really lifts the film is the return of genius Alan Menken whose score and songs are absolutely wonderful. It’s a remarkable achievement to craft songs which will be hummed even after the film has finished so it’s not for nothing that Menken has been nominated for a record 9th Oscar.
Tangled may not be on par with the best films of the Disney Renaissance (the four films released from 1989 to 1994 – The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King – 3 out of 4 for which Menken received two Oscars) but it’s certainly the best Disney Animated Feature to be released in the last 10 years. Highly recommended.