Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Considering a film’s capacity to depict any conceivable image, you’d think every film would take the time to present something memorable. Even silent films could stage a chariot race, depict ancient Babylon, or part the Red Sea. Nowadays, it can all be done on a computer. All it takes is imagination, and it’s a sad thing when imagination is lacking in a large number of films throughout the year. It’s something to celebrate when imagination has been effectively employed.

In Tangled (I want to say Rapunzel because I think Tangled is a bad title), Disney’s secondary feature of the year, imagination is certainly not lacking, and this little movie entertains, touches your heart, and fills your eyes. To its advantage, the story is kept elemental. Rapunzel’s hair is endowed with healing powers, and evil Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) steals Rapunzel at infancy from her King and Queen parents and sequesters her in a tall tower in a hidden canyon so that she can enjoy Rapunzel’s hairy Fountain of Youth all by herself. Meanwhile, the bereaved King and Queen commemorate their child’s disappearance by launching a floating lantern that symbolizes their undying hope in her return; this ceremony has grown over the years into a dazzling spectacle involving everyone in the kingdom.

Mother Gothel is a nightmare version of the overbearing, overprotective mother. As an animated character, she’s just as chilling as Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey) in Black Swan. Even though Rapunzel’s hair keeps Momma G. from aging, the old witch’s eyes are dark and fierce, and her hair looks like a cast-iron version of Elsa Lanchester’s hairdo in Bride of Frankenstein. While her fearsome head of hair stands out in scary contrast to Rapunzel's long, silky strands, Mother sings that “mother knows best,” and her threat that Rapunzel will never see the outside world is a shocker that starts the girl to rebel.

During eighteen years of captivity, Rapunzel has not lost her spirit. She knows how to be alone, as seen in an energetic musical montage. She cleans, cooks, does jigsaw puzzles, and covers her walls with paintings that later reveal an image reminding her of her true origin. She wields a wicked frying pan when the handsome outlaw, Flynn Rider, intrudes upon her space, and she turns the frying pan into the kingdom’s weapon of choice. In addition, the character of Rapunzel is evoked with more substance than many of Disney’s beautiful princesses whose waists are too narrow for their spinal columns. Here Rapunzel is endowed with a full femininity that is sensual and mature, and did I detect a little open-mouth action when she and Flynn kiss in an enchantingly romantic moment?

While Rapunzel tries to figure out why her “mother” is so adamant about keeping her away from other people, Flynn Rider, a dashing outlaw in the tradition of Errol Flynn, tries to convince Rapunzel of his sincerity while he evades the authorities, led by a horse, sans rider, who provides ongoing humor and helps save the day in the end.

Though cheerful and never overwrought, the songs blur together and sound like versions of previous Disney numbers. One song, “When Will My Life Begin?” seems reminiscent of “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, which is at least thematically appropriate since both Ariel and Rapunzel long to see what it’s like beyond their boundaries, and both have overprotective, wrathful parents. Rapunzel doesn't have the singable songs that turned Disney successes like The Lion King and The Little Mermaid into classics, but this little hit stands out because of its touching portrayal of the spirited Rapunzel, its lively action and innocent humor, and its ability to surprise your eyes with a number of outstanding images.


Fletch said...

Methinks they should have publicized those images a bit more beforehand...from the trailer, I would have never guessed that the movie offered anything so beautiful as the two images you chose. My interest in seeing this just shot up...

Richard Bellamy said...

Thanks, Fletch. Funny how previews sometimes work and don't work. The preview made it look silly and I wasn't interested. But the story is kept elemental and serious, and the film is more visually enchanting than the silly bits in the preview let on. I'm glad the preview didn't reveal the images I posted here. Then, again, the preview didn't convince me to see the movie.

Sam Juliano said...

The resurgence of this beloved fairy tale began back in 1997 when Paul O. Zelinsky won the Caldecott Medal for his magnificent "Rapunzel," certainly one of the most accomplished winners ever, and one that has held the stage since as the definitive book constription of the Grimm Brothers' children's classic. The staggered perspectives, luminous lighting and gorgeous ornamentation in Zelinsky's oil paintings set a standard for this kind of book illustration, that no doubt had some sway with those at Disney, when they firmed up the decision to move ahead with TANGLED. You've penned a very fine review here, stressing the not-so-small-pleasures to be had by Disney keeping it all so simple. I liked the film too, and was happily surprised by the better-than-expected Menken score (the song "I See the Light" played in the film's centerpiece lantern sequence is a bonafide show-stopper) and the spunky nature of our heroine, who makes very good use of a kitchen frying pan. In a year of fine animation (TOY STORY was tops, but MY DOG TULIP, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, DESPICABLE ME and THE ILLUSIONIST were memorable to varying degrees) TANGLED pushes most of the right buttons.

Richard Bellamy said...

Sam - Yes, what a wonderful year for animation - which makes up for a lot of the poor live-action films. I always liked the Rapunzel story and what I love here is that there is a classic, moralistic tone to this movie, and the story is not modernized or made silly. I liked this movie!