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Tangled (Nathan Greno/Byron Howard, 2010)

January 3, 2012

Originally written for and published in a March 2011 issue of the Glasgow University Guardian

Since their film is the 50th of Disney’s theatrically released and in-house made animated features, the staff behind Tangled might be expected to have a reasonable amount of pressure bestowed upon them to live up to such a somewhat prestigious position. A welcome surprise in a decade’s worth of mostly middling or outright poor fare from the company, excluding the Pixar branch’s output, Tangled not only lives up to that position but is also one of the finest films in Disney’s history.

A take on the Brothers Grimm’s Rapunzel, the film immediately sets itself apart with a unique visual style. Though made using CGI, it was modelled on earlier, hand-drawn Disney films and the traditional look of oil paintings on canvas. Effortlessly fluid and with glowing lighting and colours, the animation maintains a dreamy gorgeousness throughout. A modern approach also extends to the film’s narrative and tone. There’s a meta voice-over, but the film is thankfully free of the irritating post-modern and pop culture reliant humour prominent in most American animation post-Shrek. The characters are rooted in the fairy tale source material, but, unlike in much of the earlier Disney animations, both leads are strong, intelligent, and they actually get a good amount of character development throughout the running time. The token love story angle, meanwhile, is based around natural growing affection rather than the traditional “love at first sight” notion. The villain is also unique for Disney; bereft of magical abilities herself, she gets by on cunning wit alone and is delightfully passive-aggressive. A less creative approach is applied to the film’s musical numbers, but Alan Menken’s songs contain great charm, and further wit, and receive beautiful visual accompaniment.

As the title change from the source material may suggest, this film isn’t solely about Rapunzel, and it deviates stylistically from the “princess pictures” of Disney’s past. Tangled is, in fact, surprisingly action-packed, and these sequences are wonderfully realised, stunning to look at and genuinely thrilling. The film often has a feel similar to the similarly action-oriented Aladdin, but this is  far superior to that ultimately weak member of the Disney canon. On the voice-acting front, Mandy Moore makes a charming Rapunzel, while Donna Murphy and Chuck star Zachary Levi are hilarious as the villainous “mother” and the clueless thief hero. The arguable scene-stealer is actually a police horse character; free of speech, his priceless expressions and antics involving trying to be a blood hound provide some of the best slapstick material in recent memory. Tangled itself is also a best in recent memory, in terms of not only the Disney company but also American animation and the adventure film genre in general. The whole thing is a thoroughly enjoyable surprise.

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