Disney has a rewards program. Each DVD or Blu-Ray comes with a code. You put that in at the website, collect points, and when you get a certain number of points, you get free stuff. You might remember a few years ago, when I was obsessing about the Disney classic Condorman, I obtained my copy by going through all my Disney DVDs, cashing in points, and getting Condorman as a reward. Well, as the years went on, I kept dutifully collecting my points, and when I got home from Christmas vacation, I noticed I had enough points to get a free copy of Tangled on Blu-Ray. I'd been curious about Tangled for some time, and during my Christmas vacation, I discovered my 4-year old niece has entered the Disney Princess phase and Tangled is her first favourite movie. Seemed like as good a time as any to finally see it. I clicked the links, put in my address, and Tangled arrived in the mail 6-8 weeks later.
It seemed like I'd been reading about Tangled online for most of the 2000s. This retelling of the fairy tale of Rapunzel has long been the pet project of legendary Disney animator Glen Keane. First it was going to be traditionally animated, then when Disney announced traditional animation to be dead, it became computer animated. Keane said that it was going to blend traditional and computer animation in a way that had never been seen before, but the final product is very much CGI. Keane had to step down as director in 2008. "Non-life-threatening health issues" was the reason given at the time. With all the changes that the film went through throughout the 2000s, I remember when that first trailer came out. We heard the pop tune, we saw the jokes, and the reaction was, "Aww, crap. Disney turned it into some kind of Shrek knock-off, didn't they?"
There's a whole story behind that trailer as well. Originally, the film was going to be called Rapunzel, but when The Princess and the Frog failed to meet studio expectations, the logic was, "I guess people don't want princess movies anymore," so they changed the title to Tangled , designed an ad campaign to focus on the character of Flynn Rider and sold it as an action movie.
Anyway. The trailer lowered expectations. So when it finally did come out in the holiday season of 2010, a lot of film critics and Disney fans were pleasantly surprised that it was an old-school Disney princess film, complete with Alan Menken songs! (Menken, for those who don't know, is the guy who co-wrote all the songs for most of Disney's legendary output in the 1990s.) So I figured I should see it someday.
So how did Disney adapt the story of Rapunzel? Well, in their version, thanks to a magic flower healing Rapunzel's mother during pregnancy, Rapunzel was born with a magic power: her hair can heal. Only hitch: she loses the power if her hair is ever cut. Enter our villainess, Mother Gothel. Coveting that magic power to stay young and healthy forever, she kidnaps the infant Rapunzel and raises her as her own daughter. She keeps Rapunzel locked in a tower, and Rapunzel stays put with Gothel's tales of how horrible and dangerous the outside world is.
Flash forward many years. Rapunzel's 18th birthday is nearing. Needless to say, being cooped up in a tower for all her life, she's got a raging case of cabin fever. Every year on her birthday, she sees this huge mass of floating lanterns rise up over the horizon, and she's grown curious as to what they are and what they represent. Despite her pleas and requests to see it, Mother Gothel forbids it. And then, enter one Flynn Rider, the dashingest dashing rogue who ever did dash. Flynn's on the run from the law, having swiped a crown from the royal treasury (spoiler warning: it's Rapunzel's crown), and while running through the woods, he stumbles upon the tower where Gothel keeps Rapunzel. Subduing Flynn and hiding his treasure, Rapunzel strikes a deal with him: take her to see the lanterns, and she'll return his ill-gotten gains. So the two set off for the kingdom, with Gothel, Flynn's old accomplices, and palace guards seeking to bring in Flynn all hot on their trail.
That's the thing. This isn't a princess movie as much as it is a road trip movie. And like a lot of road trip movies, it is funny as hell. And it's not the pop culture referencing, sarcastic self-referencing that is Shrek. We've got great character comedy, and classic cartoonish slapstick. In the great Disney tradition, we need our animal sidekicks to provide the humour. Rapunzel's got a pet chameleon named Pascal who's appropriately cute and clever. And Rider is being pursued by Maximus, a palace horse that seems to be an equine version of Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive. He just will not give up the hunt.
The songs. The songs are good. Menkin does bring things a touch more modern than what we heard in his 1990s output. And there's a few that I find myself humming.
The voice acting is really good. That's another thing where I read about lots of changes of the years. Kristen Chenowith was originally announced to be doing the voice of Rapunzel, but in this final product, it's Mandy Moore, and she is really good. Zachary Levi, who was riding high as Chuck on Chuck when the film came out, does a good dashing hero in the form of Flynn Rider. But I really have to single out Donna Murphy doing the voice of Mother Gothel. Trekkie that I am, I'm really only familiar with Murphy as Anij, Capt. Picard's perpetually sleepy girlfriend in Star Trek: Insurrection. But, in her dayjob, Murphy is a Broadway diva (diva in the classical sense, "a multi-talented performer), and she is just spectacular as Mother Gothel, switching from the warm and motherly, to cold and calculating at the blink of an eye. And she's got some amusing songs, too.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining Tangled was. I look forward to making a double-feature with Frozen, when that hits home media. Welcome the new era of CGI Disney princesses!