TANGLED: Of Charming Rogues, a Broken Family, and Long, Long, Long, Long Blonde Hair

Tangled (2010) – The 50th Walt Disney Animated Feature – Directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard – Starring Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Brad Garrett, Ron Perlman, Jeffrey Tambor, Richard Kiel, M.C. Gainey, Paul F. Tompkins, and Frank Welker.

Yes, yes, yes.

TANGLED is a fantastic movie and a fitting anniversary film for the Walt Disney Animated Classic line. Fittingly and promisingly, TANGLED both embraces Disney’s princess past as well as it brings it into the present, creating in Rapunzel a stolen princess who has simple wants: she doesn’t want to meet Prince Charming and live happily ever after, she just wants to get out of the tower she’s spent her life trapped in and see the outside world. Even when she realizes that she’s the missing princess, she has no desire to be a princess; instead, her reunion with her parents comes almost as an epilogue to the film’s story. That moment – that wonderful moment – of them coming together is about the reunion of a child with her parents; it has nothing to do with their status as King and Queen and her status as a princess.

Disney has done a wonderful job of reworking the idea of the princess story with TANGLED, largely by eliminating all the royal baggage.

This is the story of a drop of sunshine that hits the ground and becomes a magical flower that has the power to heal the sick and injured. Gothel (Donna Murphy) finds the flower and uses its healing powers to keep herself young for centuries. She hides it so no one can ever find it, but when the pregnant Queen gets sick a massive search is undertaken and the flower is found. Because the royals either don’t understand the flower or are greedy, the use the whole dang flower, ruining it so no one else can use it.

Because screw the commoners.

They make the Queen a nice golden flower soup and she drinks it and it saves her and makes her baby magical. Gothel doesn’t want to grow old so she sneaks into the baby Rapunzel’s room and cuts off some of her glowing, healing hair.

The hair dies and Gothel realizes that if the hair ever gets cut it loses its power, so she does the only rational thing a woman can do in her situation – she kidnaps the baby and raises it as her own in her hidden tower that no one can find. Rapunzel (an amazingly good Mandy Moore) grows up a captive in her own home. Gothel indoctrinates Rapunzel with the belief that the outside world is super dangerous and she can’t hack it out there in the real world. Since Gothel has never been a parent or apparently read any stories with parents and teenagers in it, she doesn’t understand this is sure to cause Rapunzel to rebel.

Or, maybe there’s just something about the human condition that can’t stand to be caged.

This desire is symbolized in the film by the yearly release of sky lanterns from the castle, launched on Rapunzel’s birthday by her parents. The lanterns draw ?the young girl’s attention; with her limited view of the world from her tower window, the sky lanterns take on a magical quality. That they are released on her year every single year makes her feel like they’re just for her. Which, of course, they are. In the movie’s present, Rapunzel is about to turn 18 and she wants to be able to leave the tower and view the lanterns just this once.

Gothel won’t allow it. Manipulative and selfish, Gothel is a truly horrifying villain because she is all too real. While she knows how to extract the power of the flower, this isn’t a woman whipping up evil potions or growing to the size of a giant. She’s just a mean person, plying her wickedness on a kidnapped child, and she forbids Rapunzel from leaving – now or ever.

While Gothel is out, a fleeing thief named Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) ascends the tower’s outer wall and climbs into Rapunzel’s room – where he promptly gets whacked unconscious by a frying pan wielding Rapunzel. Flynn has stolen the princess’ tiara from the castle, he’s ditched his associates the Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman) in the chase, and he’s just looking for a place to hide from Maximus.

Maximus is a horse, but he doesn’t talk. Rapunzel has a pet chameleon named Pascal, but he doesn’t talk, either. TANGLED keeps the talking to the humans in the film, even though it does give Maximus and Pascal human qualities. (It actually gives Maximus as many dog qualities as human ones.) TANGLED even pokes a little fun at the traditional Disney films by having birds swirl around Rapunzel when she first leaves her hidden lair.

In many ways, TANGLED is much closer to a DreamWorks or Pixar film than a traditional Disney movie. Unlike the well-meaning but disappointing Princess and the Frog, TANGLED doesn’t mind breaking from tradition. DreamWorks has made busting Disney’s chops a common part of their films, so it’s nice to see Disney has a sense of humor about it. (Most likely, it’s John Lasseter and the Pixar folks who have a sense of humor about it.)

Rapunzel ties up Flynn and forces a deal upon him – she will give him his stolen tiara back if he agrees to take her to the sky lantern festival and bring her back. Flynn is reluctant but he goes along with it, because he’s a thief and he wants that tiara back. When Rapunzel first gets outside the protective zone, she’s ecstatic. Then she’s despondent. Then she’s ecstatic. Then she’s despondent. And on and on. The day’s events are cut down into a comedic sequence that sees Flynn sitting by, clearly wondering what he’s got himself into with this girl.

Rapunzel is a well-rounded characters, full of heart but by no means infallible. She’s about to be 18, but she’s still a little girl because of her mother’s manipulation and sheltering. I was momentarily worried (in part because I’d just watched The Little Mermaid) that when Rapunzel first laid eyes on the handsome (and unconscious) Flynn that this was going to be a love at first sight story.

It’s not.

Rapunzel and Flynn – his real name is Eugene – do end up getting married, but theirs is an earned relationship, which makes it so much more satisfying and emotional over the last third of the film. Eugene does get her to the castle for the sky lantern festival, where Rapunzel sees a painting of the missing child and starts to think it may be her.

So she runs right to her parents.

Except that’s not at all what she does. Rapunzel spends the days singing and dancing and painting with the people of the kingdom. It’s such a thrilling sequence to see this girl cut loose and revel in her freedom, while at the same time hiding Eugene from the palace guard. Earlier, she’d convinced the ruffians in a bar to let Flynn go because she had a dream and convinced them through a sing-a-long to identify with her through all of their shared unrealized dreams. In that sequence the singing and dancing was played for laughs, but this time around it’s played simply for joy and it’s a magnificent experience.

Things turn even more emotional when Eugene takes Rapunzel out of the water to watch the sky lanterns being released. It’s the emotional centerpiece of the film as Rapunzel and Eugene realize that they’re in love with one another. It’s too early for a happy ending, so Gothel and the Stabbington Brothers put their plan into motion, getting the two of them separated: Eugene gets tossed in jail and Rapunzel gets taken back to the tower, but it’s only for a short break. The ruffians from the sing-a-long bust Eugene loose thanks to Maximus alerting them of his predicament and Rapunzel finally realizes that she is the missing princess and rebels against Gothel.

You can see where it goes from there, but just because you see the finish line coming doesn’t mean it’s not an enjoyable ride home.

I love TANGLED. It’s such a fresh, beautiful, truly emotional movie that it speaks to the power of animation. When a critically injured Eugene slices off Rapunzel’s hair to prevent her from saving him and trapping herself with Gothel for eternity, thus consigning himself to death, it’s a honestly heartrending sequence. Rapunzel (her hair now short and brown) tries desperately to save him, singing the song that activates her hair and healing powers, even though she knows it won’t work.

But she does it anyway because that’s what you do when someone you love is dying in your arms. Even though you know it won’t work, you try it because it’s all you have.

And because it’s a fairy tale, it works, and then Rapunzel and Eugene go to the castle, where Rapunzel is reunited with her parents in one of the most stirring animated moments of recent memory. TANGLED is a triumph for Disney, a sign that the old company is perhaps ready for another period of greatness.

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3 thoughts on “TANGLED: Of Charming Rogues, a Broken Family, and Long, Long, Long, Long Blonde Hair

  1. Am I wrong for thinking that Gothel is amazingly hot? I love her big show stopping number; “Mother Knows Best”. And there’s that absolutely astounding action sequence that wouldn’t be out of place in an Indiana Jones movie. You know the one I mean.

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    • Talent is always sexy, and the voice of the woman who plays Gothel says she’s got loads of talent, so I’m not going to say you’re wrong.

      This is just a great, jam-packed movie. I’ll be buying this one for the collection.

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  2. I finally got to see this for the first time about 3 weeks ago, and it is now my favorite princess movie. I have two daughters, ages 2 and 4, who are going through a princess stage (called “childhood,” I’m told by other mothers), and I’m so delighted that I have this and “Frozen” to show them to counteract the fluffy unreality of “Cinderella.” And honestly… reading the end of your review choked me up — this is such a grand movie!

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