This is what you get for not seeing “The Princess and the Frog.” Disney eschewed its revitalization of traditional animation for this forgettable CG adaptation of Rapunzel, which goes by the nondescript nom de plume: “Tangled.”
If the recent announcement that the animation giant is placing a moratorium on fairy tale films should come as a surprise to anyone, their position on the matter is telegraphed plainly into the first five minutes of their latest and last: modern audiences won’t sit for straight-faced fantasy. The name-change alone underscores the corporation’s feelings on the commercial viability of a tradition it once held proud.
That willful dissolution of magic is a slap in the face to “Snow White” or “Sleeping Beauty.” “Tangled” begins with striking imagery, but buries it beneath a sour, smarmy voice over by this year’s prince-not-so-charming, Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi). As narrator, he cracks jokes at the expense of the archetypical framework—as if he doesn’t, and we shouldn’t, treat the story with one modicum of seriousness. Being cavalier about your own film isn’t a great way to hook your viewers.
Thus “Tangled” is a disengaging experience from the outset. It downplays its fairy tale roots, but then never defies them. It disinterests us in its world, and then asks us to spend ninety minutes there. Worse, it suffers from sloppy characterization, including one of the single weakest antagonists in Disney history. Donna Murphy plays Mother Gothel to Mandy Moore’s Rapunzel, and neither has a lick of personality. The irksome Flynn is practically the only other human character, with the rest of the world being populated by nameless thugs and townspeople. When so much relies on so few, you’d think more attention would be paid to making them distinct.
Essentially, Repunzel's sole remarkable trait is her magic hair, a plot device that is curiously ignored throughout the film. There are plenty of early gags visualizing how she manipulates it (for instance, in order to lift her mother into the tower), but it's clearly an afterthought as her adventure is set into motion. To illustrate, the princess emerges from a stream without any indication of the added water weight. She never once has her locks stepped on, snagged, or caught in a door. I thought this movie was called “Tangled!” Having hair that long would be a major inconvenience, people!
Maybe I’m splitting hairs (ouch); I probably shouldn’t have expected anything more from “Tangled”—it’s the near unanimous praise I don’t understand. The songs are lousy, the characters are dull (save for one spunky chameleon), and the story merely suffices (but then it’s tough to break something that’s survived hundreds of years). The film is so clearly catered to a younger crowd that my curmudgeonly opinion is somewhat irrelevant, but with Pixar managing year after year to satisfy the storytelling needs of both adults and children, Disney’s “Tangled” is an immediate relic. It’s a film made for twelve year olds who need to be convinced that fairy tales aren’t stupid and boring.
“Enchanted” and “The Princess and the Frog” were classic Disney films despite their flaws. Their creators clearly understood what made the studio in its prime so successful. “Tangled” is a harmless children’s cartoon, but it doesn’t recapture any of the magic the company is known for. Instead, it takes a snide approach to the Rapunzel story while simultaneously contributing nothing to it. I may not be the target audience, but to quote an old friend, “If this is where the monarchy is headed, count me out.”