Long eclipsed by their neighbors at Pixar, the flailing animation wing at Disney decided to return to their glory days, namely the late-’80s/’90s renaissance that sired gaudy Broadway shows The Little Mermaid , Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. The first result out of the gate, last year’s The Princess and the Frog, was too busy by half, but it undeniably had the striking, lovingly crafted feel of Disney’s classic hand-drawn cel animation. Tangled, the studio’s 50th toon feature, isn’t, but it’s sturdier, calmer and a much more clear signal that the next Disney renaissance is yet to come.
A revamp/mutilation of Rapunzel, Tangled bears even less resemblance to the Grimm tale than their Hunchback of Notre Dame did to Victor Hugo. In keeping with the company’s financially wise obsession with princesses, lowly Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is now a scion of royalty, snatched away by hag Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) and stored in a remote tower. There, her magical blond locks are exploited to keep her kidnapper vaguely MILFish. It’s no longer a prince who happens upon her tower, but an allegedly charming rogue (Zachary Levi) who speaks in modern vernacular. These two crazy kids skip the part where he’s gorily blinded by thorns; Rapunzel vacates her prison extra early and gets embroiled in derring-do with badass horses, mugging chameleons and near-naked geriatrics. At one point, she even becomes a hippie.
Part Fractured Fairy Tale, part not, Tangled works best when it plays as a Disney adaptation of the Greek film Dogtooth. Never allowed outside her spacious digs (though escape eventually proves comically easy) Rapunzel has been raised to believe Gothel is her mother and the outside world is a den of cruelty and heartbreak.
The action that follows her escape is more frenetic than inventive, but the character of Rapunzel is a Disney masterpiece unto herself. Moore’s enthused line readings and her character’s sprightly design create a lively portrait of ravenous longing, complete with eyes large enough to consume the world. Rapunzel’s touching vim is almost enough to atone for the tuneless tunes from returning songman Alan Menken.