Rarely did I get to actually go to “The Movies” as a child. The family instead always went to what we called the “$1 show” at the cinemaplex that showed movies that had been released a few weeks or months prior. However, my parents always made an effort to get me to the latest Disney release, probably because they knew how my eyes would light up as the Disney castle formed from what I could only assume was the swelling of “When You Wish Upon a Star”.
These were always special occasions. The theater felt a little cleaner, the screen seemed slightly brighter and the sound always felt a tiny bit crisper. The chairs were comfier too. I, of course, didn’t fully realize this at eight years old, but I did know that going to the “real” theater was special. As soon as the titles began, I was glued to my seat and I attempted to not blink for the remaining duration of the film.
Being the kind of girl who didn’t understand why I couldn’t wear dresses all the time, the Disney “Princess” movies were my favorites. I would spend countless hours after school memorizing every line to Beauty and the Beast, I replaced Jasmine with Barbie as my favorite doll, and for a while every toy I had I deemed “Ariel.”
I had a theory that Disney categorized their films into three groups: all kids (101 Dalmatians), boys (The Sword and the Stone), and girls (Sleeping Beauty). These movies were never made for parents. Adults had their own movies; Walt Disney movies were just for us, the kids.
All of this banter does have purpose, I promise. Something was lost for me when the shift from traditional animation moved to that of the Toy Story / Shrek variety. The focus seemed to move away from making films that were exclusively for children and focused on making movies that kids would enjoy, but adults wanted to see just as much.
I am certainly not bashing this. I loved all the Pixar films and countless others from this new generation of animation, but this deviation saddened me nonetheless; the way the end of any era always has a lingering melancholy. What Tangled has proven to me was that this shift does not exist because of how a film is made, but how it is told.
Tangled is a retelling of the classic fairy tale Rapunzel. It is fitting that this is the tale in which Disney attempts to merge both their old-school storytelling with the modernized post-Shrek style of animation. It is a classic but pliable story.
In fact, virtually the only plot points from the original story kept are Rapunzel’s long hair, being trapped in a tower, and a witch. Nearly every other element of the story is modernized and altered to fit what I can only assume could be called “the Disney formula”. It is the story of a girl who is lonely and discontent and finds her prince charming, who in turn rescues her from the vices that keep her from being happy.
This girl also has very, very long hair which is the key to her curse and her redemption. The plot is certainly as simple as that, however in today’s modern society, the film is not content to allow the heroine to simply find her hero, be rescued and live “happily ever after”.
This is what impressed me about the film. Somehow Disney has managed to merge old and new, by telling a classic fairytale from a fresh perspective. It does this while still keeping all of the “classic” elements intact. Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is still a quintessential Disney princess with big eyes, long flowing hair (obviously) and a need to find her one true love.
However, she is a bit of a bad ass who is practically a superhero due to hair that can perform karate type moves. She also has the ability to simultaneously fall for her romantic lead and rescue him on occasion as well. Her Prince Charming is found in Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi). This character has zero emphasis placed on being a Prince, but he oozes charm to the point of sliminess.
He is a thief who wants nothing more than wealth and fame and has no interest in wooing the girl unless there is a reward for him involved. They fall for one another because they actually talk about things, not just because she saw him from a window. It’s a switch from the original story that I think I can live with in this day and age.
While the film certainly moves away from damsel in distress seeking cute hero to rescue her into a happily ever after, it still allows some Disney archetypes to stay wonderfully the same. There is still the wicked witch who is sickeningly sweet until threatened, then slyly sways Rapunzel into traps.
Donna Murphy voices this witch, Mother Gothel, in such a deliciously evil way that it almost feels as though her words could slither into snake form and poison with a single syllable. There is also the faithful and loyal creature-friend to the princess, this time in the form of Pascal, the chameleon. I will admit, he is pretty darn cute. He acts as all ‘Jiminy Crickets’ must; he has a watchful eye and the ability to guide Rapunzel even though he is not in human form.
Also worth noting is that Disney has revived the musical element of the animated classic. I counted at least five songs throughout and while Disney scores have a tendency to be a bit on the corny side, for me, the music instantly took me back. I enjoyed the reprisal of the Disney formula through and through.
As a child, I had no concept of Disney movies being a man made product. The animated Disney collection just existed; it always had and always would. The films’ perfections seemed innate. Once I realized those images were drawn by a team of trained professionals and not wondrously conjured by Walt himself, the magic was lost a little for all future films. I’ve always associated this with the first stages of my coming of age.
Tangled certainly moves away from traditional Disney animation and attempts to jump on the CGI / 3D bandwagon, but it manages to do so while still keeping the heart of all those old movies that I know and love. Yes, I realize now that Disney didn’t create this movie just for me, but I found myself wanting to revisit all my old favorites at the film’s conclusion.
I have a feeling that Rapunzel will fit in nicely with the other Disney princesses, even if she is a bit feistier than the originals. Maybe she can show them a thing or two about the 21st century, while still maintaining that good old fashioned charm.