I haven’t been too kind to Disney films lately. To be fair, it’s because the films I’m reviewing haven’t been all that great. From Home on the Range to Chicken Little, Disney has faltered in trying to match the magic and adventure of some of their earlier pictures. Looking to regain some traction, Disney returned to one of their staple elements: that of the Disney princess. Of course, this couldn’t be your typical “wait around to be saved by a prince” Princess movie. Gone were the days in which a princess could sit idly by and allow someone else to do all the work. Tangled followed in the footsteps of late 90’s Disney heroines, focusing on a young woman who makes her own choices and chases after her own dreams.
Given Disney’s recent track record, this could have been a train wreck. Instead, it wound up being a genuinely great film that is easily on par with some of the greatest Disney classics. I don’t make that claim lightly though. There are a number of reasons that this film is so endearing and enjoyable, but nearly all of them have to do with Disney finally striking a perfect balance between classic and modern storytelling.
We’ve got the Disney princess motif, always a big money-maker. They’ve also dug up a classic children’s story that they hadn’t adapted yet. Somehow, even though they tend to completely veer away from the original source material in these instances, it works out incredibly well (and results in fewer traumatized children, I’m sure). On top of that we’ve got a return to the traditional Disney musical. Yes, there have been songs featured in recent Disney releases, but this was the first in quite a while to actively feature characters singing within the narrative of the movie. You don’t realize how important they are to a Disney picture until they’re not there.
These classic tropes help ground Tangled in Disney’s past, while the creative team was able to likewise give the characters a more modern spin (without making them too modern and of their time, which could only lead to them seeming “dated” in a few short years). Gone are the one-dimensional characters of yore. Here, instead of nameless and boring Prince Charming, we get Flynn Rider, a roguish and somewhat selfish thief who stumbles upon Rapunzel hidden away in a tower. Here we see a pivotal shift in the story as well: in the original story, the prince climbs Rapunzel’s hair and rescues her…and that’s it. She’s a pretty passive princess. Here, Rapunzel was kidnapped as a baby and doesn’t even know she’s a princess, and literally blackmails Flynn to taking her to the city to see the mysterious “floating lights” she’s been mesmerized by her whole life.
Blackmail and a dream will take a girl far.
While the ensuing story is fun and sweet enough all its own, what really stands out are the details. All of the supporting characters have their own personalities. Yes, some are more fleshed out than others, but they all lend something to the story. The villains are truly unlikable, while the heroes and sidekicks are actually worth rooting for.
Speaking of sidekicks. Thank you Disney for bringing back the animal sidekick. Pascal, the adorably expressive chameleon of Tangled, is one of the cutest things ever. Go ahead, try and tell me I’m wrong. He doesn’t speak, but his face conveys emotion so well that he’s one of the biggest highlights of the film. When a speechless side character can leave a mark like that, you know you’ve got a winner. I don’t think I’ve loved a sidekick so much since Pocahontas’s Meeko, and that’s saying something.
I’m hesitant to reveal much of the plot here because, unlike the older films of my (and likely your) youth, this is a much newer release, and it’s possible fewer people of my generation have seen it yet. I don’t want to ruin the whole story (although spoiler!: there’s a “happily ever after” ending, because this is Disney and that’s what you do). Suffice it to say that Tangled marks a turning point in my view of Disney’s animated films. After years of searching for the perfect balance between fun and sentiment (and let’s be honest, chasing after the brilliance that is Pixar), the studio finally managed to produce a truly great story. I actually feel bad for Tangled, as it seems to be too often overshadowed by the insanely popular Frozen, released just a few short years later (but more on that in another post). This is a sweet, funny, entertaining film that finds the perfect blend between magic and reality, classic and modern.
The “too stinkin’ cute for words” chameleon is just a bonus.