Disney’s 50th animated feature lets down its hair with Rapunzel. Does this princess earn her crown?
The Story: She does indeed, but it was a long and, umm, “tamgled” voyage to the screen. Uncle Walt had wanted to film the fairy tale. By the time the stars aligned, however, the front office, worried that “girly” movies were losing their luster (2009’s The Princess and the Frog was more the latter at the boxoffice), ordered the name change from Rapunzel to Tangled and played up the “boy” content. Fortunately the cover art (which suggests that Rapunzel, the egocentric brigand Flynn Rider, and the imperious horse Maximus are about to go seriously medieval on someone’s ass) isn’t representative of the movie. Befitting Disney’s most expensive animated production (allegedly $260 million, or about half an Avatar) there is thunderous action and several, umm, “hairbreadth” escapes (the flood sequence is a humdinger) but it’s fun-for-the-family Disney magic, co-directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard and overseen by Pixar guru John Lasseter.
As the studios run out of comic books to adapt fairy tales are the current rage among producers looking for the next big thing in live action. If Red Riding Hood is any indication, however, they have a way to go before reaching the heights of animation in this arena. Not that cartoons always get it right–even the mighty Shrek succumbed to too many glib pop culture jokes. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman has banished these from Tangled, concentrating on how Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore), abducted as an infant by the wicked Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) for the healing and age-defying properties of her ever-expanding golden locks, is sprung from her prison aerie by Rider (Zachary Levi) and finds liberation, Disney-style. (A funny chameleon friend, Pascal, and a chorus line of tough guys with tender dreams including Ron Perlman and Richard “Jaws” Kiel, are involved.) That the computer animation has been given the warmer texture of traditional Disney pictures like Beauty and the Beast was a wise move, recalling their simpler pleasures, and the filmmakers struck gold with their leads. In her own way Moore is as enchanted as Amy Adams in her live-action vehicle, and Levi (Chuck sings!) is a good foil for her pent-up aspirations. Everyone who loves Disney villains, however, will swoon over Murphy. The great musical theatre star (soon to return to Broadway in The People in the Picture) has few opportunities in the movies or on TV to show us what she’s got, and she’s delectable here, witchy, wicked and a mite sympathetic, too. Her haughty exclamation–“Now I’m the bad guy?”–is an instant classic, and her portrait belongs in the hall of shame with Cruella and Maleficent.
Audio/Video: If you’ve bought this combo pack it’s more than likely that the DVD will be used solely for road trips and for weekend stays with Aunt Gladys. I’d say the sound and image (1.78.1 aspect ratio), combined with a smaller pool of extras, give you about $135 million worth of entertainment. The Blu-ray, however, is fit for a king. The look of the film was inspired by the lush paintings of Fragonard, and each frame is fit for a museum, not to mention your home theatre–the money is up there on the screen, and the Blu-ray lets you luxuriate in its swirls of color and fantasy. The 1080p eye candy is matched by a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack (French and Spanish options are also available) that surely bounces, pinwheels, and ricochets about your living room. With two younger-than-Tangled-age kids in the house, though, I was obliged to audit it through headphones, where it certainly kept me awake once they had gone to bed. Someday soon we’ll enjoy the full effect together. (There’s also a 3D version available if you’ve taken your gear to the next dimension.)
Special Features: Before I went Blu I used to moan and groan about all the extras I was missing when I could only watch what was on the DVD provided in the combo packs, so I sympathize with anyone who has to make do with the “original storybook entrances” provided here as the only supplement. On the other hand Disney hasn’t gone all out on Tangled. Besides the entrances featurette where the co-directors explain the genesis of a facet of the film there are (all in 1080p) in vitro deleted scenes that were discarded at the storyboard stage, a clip show of Disney’s prior 49 animated releases, “Tangled Teasers” (amusing throwaway bits and gags that play off scenes from the movie) and “Untangled,” a 12-minute making-of enthusiastically narrated by Moore and Levi.
Bottom Line: Despite a knotty production history Tangled emerges as a “shear” delight, particularly on Blu-ray. Look, I was off the hair puns for several paragraphs.