Rapunzel Lets Down Her Bountiful Blonde Hair in Disney's Winning New Musical
Considering how many classic fairy tales Walt Disney adapted for his early animations, it’s a wonder the Mouse House founder never followed through on his desire to do the same for Rapunzel, the Brothers Grimm’s account of a fair-haired maiden trapped in a tower high above the German countryside.
Seventy years after Disney first sent the story into development, where it languished and seemingly died of neglect, comes Tangled, his empire’s 50th animated feature and, since Pixar ushered the studio into the digital age with Toy Story, one of its most rewarding.
Taking cues from a 200-year-old playbook, screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Cars) gives his heroine recognizably modern sensibilities, but resists cluttering his story with glib pop-culture references. The result is a coming-of-age adventure tweaked just enough to seem fresh.
Ripped from the crib and held tower-bound for the next 18 years by the manipulative Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy), Rapunzel (pop star Mandy Moore) is a princess unaware of her lineage. Her days are a tedious round of hobbies – she sings, she dances, she paints – but never is she allowed to descend from her perch.
Rapunzel isn’t waiting for her prince to come. Convinced by Mother Gothel that men are snaggletoothed monsters, she’s happy to keep her distance, though she longs for worldly pleasures she’s never known – the sun warming her comically overgrown locks, the feel of grass underfoot. When a handsome stranger ascends her tower uninvited, she does what any proper young lady might – she knocks him cold, thrice for good measure.
He is Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi, of TV’s Chuck), a thrill-seeking thief who dreams of stealing enough money to live like a king. Valiant? Hardly. But despite his personal failings, Flynn is neither hard-hearted nor entirely self-obsessed. To Rapunzel, he’s merely her ticket out of the tower, but as they let down their guard – and, of course, her hair – passions ignite.
No map of the human heart is needed to figure out where that will lead, but one of the joys of Tangled is that Rapunzel and her rough-and-tumble beau share a natural chemistry. Their romance never feels forced. Nor do Alan Menken’s songs, seamlessly intertwined with the storytelling and impressively handled by Moore, two-time Tony Award winner Murphy and Levi, whose vocal prowess is a welcome revelation.
Also welcome are the movie's richly rendered visuals. Though 3-D has once again become more of a marketing gimmick than an aesthetic enhancement, Tangled is an achievement handsome enough to make those plastic glasses seem worthwhile, its look a pleasing complement to a familiar story smartly retold.