For whatever reason – the disappointing box office of The Princess and the Frog, a felt need to pander to little boys – this reworking of the Rapunzel tale is being sold as an action-heavy, smart-alecky fairy-tale spoof. But in reality, Tangled is a lovely musical firmly rooted in the classic Disney tradition of princesses and the evil women who would harm them. So don’t tell your boys, but by all means take them.
To appease the boisterous set, there is Flynn Ryder, a cocky, acrobatic would-be thief who becomes the unhappy guide for Rapunzel. After Ryder seeks refuge in Rapunzel’s tower, she bribes him into leading her on her first trip to the outside world. Making things difficult are not only the palace guards on Flynn’s tail – including a royal horse with the investigative instincts of Columbo – but also Rapunzel’s possessive “mother,” a hag who kidnapped the girl as a baby and kept her captive for the restorative power of her magic hair.
This Mother Gothel, as she’s called, is a wonderful villainess who can proudly stand next to the Maleficents and Ursulas of Disney’s past. Voiced by the Tony Award-winning actress Donna Murphy, Mother Gothel comes across as a vain housewife of Fairy-Tale Hills who is hooked on a magical form of plastic surgery. (Is it just coincidence that, when rejuvenated by Rapunzel, Mother Gothel looks like Cher?)
Some of the most delicious scenes are between Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) and Mother Gothel in the tower, in which the older woman desperately tries to keep up the ruse with a girl who has grown into a questioning teen. The passive-aggressive Gothel gets an insidious show-stopper – “Mother Knows Best,” with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater – as well as some of the movie’s best lines: “You know I hate leaving you after a fight, especially when I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Visually, “Tangled” is frequently astonishing. And I have to confess it’s thanks in part to the use of 3-D. Towers figure prominently in the tale – from Rapunzel’s cleverly precarious perch to the soaring spires of the kingdom’s castle – and co-directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard use extreme angles and the additional visual depth to accentuate the sense of wooziness.
Also enchanting is a lush sequence toward the end in which thousands of illuminated paper lanterns rise from the castle over a lake. Rapunzel sits rapt as the lanterns float around her, and we do the same as they seemingly float around us. It’s so captivating, I bet even boys will appreciate it.