Disney's Tangled is an inspired blend of the old and the new, a film that uses cutting-edge animation techniques to produce a classical look and feel, and one that revitalises a familiar tale with a contemporary sensibility. The story is that of Rapunzel, the young woman with the abundance of hair who is imprisoned within a tower and must await the arrival of her handsome prince before she can be rescued. Directors Byron Howard (who co-directed the entertaining Bolt) and Nathan Greno, along with scriptwriter Dan Fogelman, have retained some elements of Grimm's fairytale while junking others. The prince is no longer a prince, but a crafty thief, and instead of spending the whole narrative cooped up in her tower, Rapunzel is quickly released to embark upon an action-packed romantic adventure. That the filmmakers can deliver such rousing entertainment while staying true to the conventions and traditions of the fairytale is Tangled's great achievement.
There are moments of clumsiness, but they are rare. One occurs right at the start, when the expository voiceover sets up the narrative in an inelegant fashion. Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) is a princess whose golden hair has magical properties that are coveted by the villainous Gothel (Donna Murphy, excellent). She snatches the infant from her cradle one night and whisks her away to an isolated tower, which is where Rapunzel remains for the next 18 years, unaware of her heritage, and exploited by the woman she believes to be her mother, who draws age-defying energy from the girl's tresses. Rapunzel is trapped not only by the tower, but by the overwhelming fear of the outside world that Gothel has instilled in her. With her only companion – a small chameleon named Pascal – Rapunzel gazes at the outside world, curious, lonely and unfulfilled. As she asks in one of the fine songs Alan Menken has written for the film, "When will my life begin?"
Enter Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), the thief who inadvertently ends up as Rapunzel's guide when she gets her hands on his stolen loot and blackmails him into leading her towards the mysterious lights that appears in the distant sky on her birthday every year. Flynn is cocky, selfish and vain (a running gags centres on his dismay that the Wanted posters bearing his image can't get his nose right), while Rapunzel is a neurotic mess when she first ventures into the outside world, with one of the film's funniest sequences showing her flip-flop between joy and despair as she is overwhelmed by her newfound freedom. The narrative is straightforward, with Flynn reluctantly leading Rapunzel towards her destiny while Gothel pursues them, but the filmmakers augment the storyline with clever twists, maintain a breathless pace that allows them to segue neatly into the musical numbers, and find room for a couple of memorable supporting players, with the determined, dog-like horse Maximus a particular highlight.
Above all, however, the most memorable aspect of Tangled is simply how gorgeous it is. The whole film has a rich, painterly quality throughout, and the visual style pays homage to earlier Disney fare while imbuing every shot with an enticing warmth and splendour. Anyone who knows how hard it is to animate hair in a CGI production will be suitably impressed by the manner in which Rapunzel's flowing locks have been rendered; her hair looks spectacular whether the heroine is swinging from it, using it to hold Flynn captive, or simply letting it drag behind her as she wanders through the forest. There's an effortless quality to the way Tangled displays its aesthetic beauty, and at times it outdoes itself, with the sequence of floating lanterns offering a heart-stoppingly ravishing interlude that elevates the film's most romantic moment (and is one of the finest uses of 3D I've experienced). It's at times like these that Tangled rekindles some of the Disney magic we remember so fondly from the 49 features that have gone before, while also establishing itself as a satisfying fairytale that's fit to stand alongside any of the studio's films.
Read my interview with Byron Howard and Nathan Greno here
Read my interview with Glen Keane here