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The Hair Comes Down, not the Charm

Movie Review: Tangled (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Tangled is the new, holiday-timed Disney release of the story of Rapunzel, un-enchantingly titled, allowing it to sound like a description of the conflicted emotions inside the head of a girl in a cheap, 90s romance novel-turned-movie. That primarily cosmetic criticism is an indication of a telltale tendency in a film that tries exceptionally hard to serve itself up as a dish of richness and fine taste. It tries, and it just about always succeeds.

After the infant Rapunzel is touched with a magical flower, she is stolen from the king's palace by the wicked Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy, voice), who seeks to preserve her youth with the enchanted hair of the babe. When the child spends 18 years of her life in a far-away tower, kept from the world, a now mature Rapunzel is visited by a fleeing bandit, Flynn Ryder/Eugene Fitzherbert (Zachary Levi), who winds up in a position to help the young princess see the floating lights of the city, which – unbeknownst to her – are left every year in her honor.

Cutely voiced by Mandy Moore, the Rapunzel we get to meet on screen here is much like the one from our child storybooks, but tweaked to reflect the ambitions of the modern girl. You can't argue with the creativity that made classic childhood stories great, but you can adapt them to reawaken their appeal. Tangled does just that.

Unnecessarily, it takes the old, innocent childhood tale and makes it into something more than it needs to be, but this does not hurt it. It replaces a good portion of the story's innocence and mixes in a lightly humorous pandering to adults and general audiences. No harm there, but this will make it more of an initiating viewing experience for the little ones, who will have to be brought in early and made comfortable learning about death, theft, deceit, bloodshed, violence, and mortality. The film carries a well-deserved PG rating.

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.” Everyone seems to expect her to do it. Who needs a drawbridge or tower gates when you have a girl's 70-foot-long hair and her willingness to let all who would use it do so as an elevator cable to ride up on? When she leaves the tower, Rapunzel travels everywhere and that Suave-less, golden hair is collecting dust and dirt on a no doubt maddening scale, but you don't need a good shampoo or conditioner when you've got magic hair, or when you've got the wonders of animation. What you do need is focus, a thing Tangled totally has. 

The animation is absolutely remarkable, but the most lovable and winning combination of emotions is not found in the dialogue of the (average quality or somewhat less) musicals, but on the faces of the characters as they interact.

It tries to do too much, but what it does it does damn well, even being crowded with uncalled-for beginning and ending narration, a sly, arrogant “good” guy in the person of Eugene Fitzherbert (whose personality may not be received as well as hoped for in the eyes of audiences), determined soldiers, a law-enforcing horse, and exceptionally gruff mercenaries. And then there is the entire kingdom of festive souls. The least important background piece made to pass for a townsperson or shopkeeper in the city is made to seem as lively and involved as any of the main characters. Everything is strikingly brought to life.

Mother Gothel made me think of Cher every time I saw her, but her witch-like qualities make her as intimidating as Cruella de Vil or the Wizard of Oz's “Wicked Witch of the West.” Drinking barbarians that show tender sides and pursue dreams are what we could have had more of. Who knew hook-handed ogres could play the piano? I'm also down with having more law enforcement horses like Maximus.

Tangled may not give us anything terribly close to the more traditional versions of the German fairy tale the world is used to hearing, but it proudly puts its own “magic” to work in a story that deserves as much respect.

(JH)

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Grade: A+ (4 stars)
Rated: PG (for mild violence)
Directors: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Summary: The longhaired Princess Rapunzel has spent her entire life in a tower, but when she falls in love with a bandit who was passing by, she must venture into the outside world for the first time to find him.
Starring: Mandy Moore "Rapunzel" (voice), Zachary Levi "Flynn Ryder" (voice), Donna Murphy "Mother Gothel" (voice), Ron Perlman "Stabbington Brother" (voice),
M.C. Gainey "Captain of the Guard (voice)," Jeffrey Tambor "Big Nose Thug" (voice), Brad Garrett "Hook Hand Thug" (voice), Paul F. Tompkins "Short Thug" (voice), Richard Kiel "Vlad" (voice), Delaney Rose Stein "Young Rapunzel / Little Girl" (voice),
Genre: Animation / Comedy / Family / Musical
Trailer

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