With the 50 feature films they have produced since the studio began Disney has been comfortable sticking to a pretty standard formula. Basing the majority of their movies on well-known fairytales, Disney has created a series of character archetypes and story lines that are so well-known that the word Disney itself has become an adjective describing any art form that over-sentimentalizes (or â€œbrings an innocent magic toâ€) a story weâ€™ve all come to know well.
The latest film that falls easily into this formula is the Disney animated musical Tangled which tells the well-known fairy tale of Rapunzel. It has a lot of the story attributes you would expect from a Disney musical â€“ an evil stepmother who selfishly craves youth and beauty, a charming male lead who is also a fugitive, an innocent girl who breaks free from a closeted life to discover what sheâ€™s been missing, a non-speaking animal with human intelligence, and one or more parents of a main character who are deceased. However, it also has the same thing that makes these formulaic Disney movies so endearing â€“ a funny, charming story that can warm any soul.
Screenwriter Dan Fogelman and the directing team of Nathan Greno and Byron Howard get their first shot at making a Disney animated musical and they approach it with great respect to the studio. Other aspects of the creative team are similar to what we have seen and heard before including songs by the great Alan Menken whose credits include all Disney movies of the 90s – Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and more. The creative team shows deference to the great Disney films of the past, but besides the digital animation there is nothing that is remarkably new or exciting enough about the film to earn it a spot in the Disney movie hall-of-fame.
The well-known story surrounds Rapunzel, an innocent and literally wide-eyed young girl who has been locked in a high tower in the middle of the forest by her mother who claims it is for her own good. Her remarkably long hair has the power to heal wounds and the ability to maintain and restore youth in anybody who wraps themselves in it and inspires Rapunzel to sing. A young and handsome fugitive named Flynn Ryder changes things when he climbs into the tower to escape capture and promises to take Rapunzel to see the annual releasing of the lanterns in town in return for the jewels that he has stolen. The adventure begins with the two of them pursued by the law, Rapunzelâ€™s mother, and two vicious Stabbington brothers.
The entire plot of the story is evident within the first few minutes of the film and throughout its running time there are no surprises or directional changes. However, that is not uncharacteristic of a Disney movie. What typically makes their movies so magical is the ability to transport an audience into the world of the fairytale. Tangled does a successful job with its excellent score and its undeniable ability to make every little girl wish she was Rapunzel. However, it fails to lack the same sense of nostalgia for adult viewers that previous Disney films achieved. Also, after the 2007 film Enchanted did such a brilliant job of parodying the Disney formula, itâ€™s hard to take future endeavors seriously.
Alan Menken has created at least two new memorable Disney songs in â€œMother Knows Bestâ€ and â€œIâ€™ve Got a Dream.â€ The former is sung in a showcase of dark and abstract animation where the directors use imagery to represent the fears that force one to keep themselves captive. The latter song is the highlight of the movie, featuring a male chorus singing in a bar reminiscent of Gastonâ€™s hangout in Beauty and the Beast. Itâ€™s an excellent song and dance number that hilariously displays Disneyâ€™s well-known message that not everyone is as they seem. The rest of the songs leave much to be desired appearing in short snippets rather than full numbers. The writers and directors seem to have mistakenly breezed over the best moments of the movie in order to get to more unnecessary dialogue and exposition.
In Tangled, Disney returns to computer animation after their attempt to revive hand-drawn animation with last yearâ€™s Princess and the Frog. The characters have a very typical look with modern-looking characters dressed in period clothing. The animation is top-notch with some breathtaking scenes including the lantern release that is animated well-enough to be real, but feels completely dream-like.
Bottom Line: Tangled is very much a Disney movie in both a good way and a bad.