Thinking back, it’s remarkable how fast Disney’s quality control went down the tubes. After the disappointment of Pocahontas, it periodically aspired to the heights it has attained in the early ’90s (The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, The Emperor’s New Groove), but predominantly produced forgettable features in the hopes of striking gold (does anyone remember Treasure Planet or Home On The Range? Anyone?). When Pixar’s John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer and adviser at Disney in 2006, the studio’s animated output seemed to respond positively. 2008‘s enjoyable Bolt won Disney their strongest plaudits in a while, whilst The Princess And The Frog also performed well. With Tangled, Disney have produced their best film in over a decade; it’s a fun frolic that cleverly borrows from both the output of other studios and Disney’s own back catalogue.
Before Tangled was ever released, it was under immense pressure to perform as it is the 50th animated feature from the House of Mouse. It is somewhat apropos, then, that the story is a back-to-basics interpretation of a fairytale. That said, Tangled is a little bit more contemporary and knowing than Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is kept in a tower by a witch (Donna Murphy’s Gothel) who kidnapped Rapunzel as a baby and raised her as her own child so Rapunzel’s mile-long magic hair would help Gothel maintain her youth. Like most fairytales, it’s a simple story and needs some compelling characters to keep the momentum going. Rapunzel is a hardier little lady than most Disney heroines, and her would-be rescuer Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) is a cad through and through. Their chemistry is the key to Tangled, and the barbs and jibes bounce back and forth between them nicely. Once they escape the tower, they get caught up in beautifully rendered hi-jinks and action set-pieces
What Tangled boils down to is an above-average melange of classic Disney elements and newer (but still familiar) material. The reinterpretation of a fairytale is pure Shrek, but it works when delivered with great wit (thanks to writer Dan Fogelman) and visual beauty; for a CGI ‘toon, Tangled looks warm and dreamlike compared to Dreamworks’ usual style. The main characters are helped along by a great supporting cast, notably Murphy’s wicked witch and animal sidekicks (a horse and an adorable chameleon) who are mercifully deprived of the ability to speak. Shrek‘s Donkey may have been voiced by Eddie Murphy, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t annoying! Indeed, the lack of A-list stars in the voice cast is refreshing in itself. What isn’t so refreshing is the classic Disney-ness of it all. It’s primarily for kids, so darkness and threat are kept to a minimum, whilst Alan Menken’s score and songs are so-so at best. It’s not a home-run, but Tangled is solid proof that there’s life in Disneyland yet.