Let the cash-cow shine

With The Princess And the Frog, the Disney company did an arguably successful recall to the classic animated musicals many of us watched a million times as children. Most of these, as we know, are Disney’s version of popular European fairy-tales or, quite often, the “Disney-fying” of historical material.  Their latest effort, Tangled, feels like a Disney classic with CG coating.

Tangled is a reimagining of Rapunzel, a fairy-tale first penned by the Brothers Grimm (which is itself an adaptation of Mademoiselle de La Force’s Persinette), in which a young girl with enchanted hair is taken at birth by a witch, Dame Gothel, from her parents, and sealed in a tower.  The girl is eventually discovered by a prince, who proposes to her, and despite Dame Gothel’s efforts, the two escape and live happily ever after.

Rapunzel is perfect Disney fodder.  Dame Gothel, given the German name of “Mother Gothel” and played by Donna Murphy, provides all the allegory we need for a film like this.  She is the overprotective parent.  She encourages Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) to “let down her hair,” but only as far as this will serve Gothel’s needs, and never lets Rapunzel leave the tower.  Rapunzel herself is a character I admit to being surprised at: ever barefoot (a purity/innocence motif) and classically “rebellious” but also fun to spend time with.  Her voice is never shrill, ignorant or unwelcome, and her transformation from blonde to brunette in the end is a bit of a switch for Disney.  Trying to make up for ages of hair-ism, perhaps?  (Though you can’t entirely blame Disney; the Brothers Grimm were committing these acts of atrocity toward women with “imperfect” appearances long before the dawn of film).

The new characters, including Prince Eugene (Zachary Levi), secondary villains the Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman), and a singing thug with a hook (Brad Garrett), provide the necessary cast backbone to make the story not only a successful fairy-tale, but also a watchable and engaging adventure.

Music-wise, the film more or less delivers.  A few of the songs radiate the obnoxious teenie-bop and hip-hop vibe which will be eaten up by kids who are currently the age I was when The Lion King was released, but the “Healing Song” Rapunzel repeats until we memorize it and “Mother Knows Best,” the vintage Disney bad-guy-bolero, are thoughtfully composed.

As of January 1, 2011, Tangled is the second most expensive film ever made, and is, appropriately, a better film than the one just above it on that list (though it was made by the same company).  It conveys a sense of “moral”  as do the Grimm fairy-tales and every Disney cartoon before it, but this “message,” if we can say one exists, seems to be aimed more at pre-parents than the children themselves.  I’m hoping the children, at least, can leave this film with a wide grin.

Tangled (2010); written by Dan Fogelman; directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard; starring Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi and Donna Murphy.

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