Not always with the most positive of reactions from fans, historians, critics, and the world at large, Disney has a way of making classic tales uniquely their own. The talents of the Disney animators and producers are again on display with their latest feature, the 50th full length theatrical feature from Disney Animation Studios, Tangled, which hits Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow.
A retelling of the classic story of Rapunzel, Tangled features Mandy Moore voicing the role of Rapunzel and Zachary Levi as Flynn Rider, Rapunzel's knight in shining armor/prince/good guy come to rescue the damsel. Or, that's the character that Flynn turns into, initially he's in with a pretty bad crowd and something of a thief.
The film is actually told through the eyes of said thief as a flashback, with him informing everyone right up front that he will in fact perish in the piece. He opens the story by telling us the tale of how a single drop of sun once reached the Earth and caused a special flower to grow, a flower used by the evil Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) to stay young forever. Mixing the old with the new, Rapunzel comes to be born after the king's wife falls ill and he sends men out to find the magic flower to heal the queen. Gothel takes umbrage with the procuring of the flower that was keeping her alive and upon realizing that Rapunzel's hair now has the same properties as the flower, kidnaps her and brings her to a tower to live.
As with so many a fairytale, things in Tangled rely on the highly improbable. Flynn randomly finds Rapunzel's tower on his escape from stealing the crown of the missing princess from the king and queen and happens to do so right as Rapunzel is itching to leave the tower and discover what the lights in the sky that appear every year on her birthday are (the king and queen hold a vigil/party every year for their missing daughter). It is, in short, a preposterous confluence of events which push the story forward, but they occur, the story gets going, and the laughs and enjoyment keep on coming.
The truth is that no matter how ridiculous everything which occurs in the film is, and it is all rather ridiculous, it is still also all hugely amusing and wholly pleasing to watch. Flynn is nothing but empty bravado with a heart of gold and Rapunzel wholly over-exuberant and naïve. It is a match made in heaven and as Flynn takes Rapunzel on a trek to see the lights (as part of an agreement to get back the crown which Rapunzel grabbed when Flynn appeared in her tower), the two fall madly in love with each other. Of course, Rapunzel doesn't know who she is, can't really trust Flynn as he hasn't been entirely honest with her, and has a whole lot of mother issues tied up around her case of Stockholm Syndrome. But then, the course of true love never did run smooth.
On top of all of that are several fun-at-the-moment but not always terribly memorable songs; excellent CG animation; and larger than life voice performances by Moore, Levi, Murphy, and the rest of the cast which includes Richard Kiel, Jeffrey Tambor, Ron Perlman, and Brad Garrett. There is one particularly beautifully animated scene near the end of the film during the lantern festival for the princess which will stay with the viewer—any viewer—long after the final credits have rolled.
I am only semi-convinced that the dizzying animation, storytelling, jokes, and amusements that the film offers make Tangled a film for the ages and in the same class as so many of the studio's other works. That is a question only time can answer, but it is not outside the realm of possibility. What the film certainly is however, is proof yet again—as if anyone but the naysayers needed it—that Disney animation doesn't wholly rely on the wizards at Pixar in order to keep itself alive. There are a number of great moments in Disney's fractured fairytale, from a scene at a local bar named The Snuggly Duckling to the aforementioned festival sequence with the lanterns, and a whole lot to love in the film.
With the Tangled Blu-ray release, Disney also proves yet again that they know exactly how to deliver a film to homes in high definition. The colors, detail, and imagery in the film as a whole is absolutely spectacular. The palette is bright and rich, and the colors pop off the screen here. You'll notice no issues in the transfer, and again, the lantern sequence at the festival is truly mesmerizing in high definition. The 7.1 DTS Master Audio soundtrack is equally good. The sound is rich and full, with music all around you and during crowd and action sequences the surrounds are used to great effect (even if they don't come into play as much at other times).
As for the extras included on the two-disc Blu-ray release (the second disc contains a DVD), that is something of a mixed-bag. The film is also being released as a four-disc set with a 3D Blu-ray, and that is the only set to include a digital copy of the film as well. It is unfortunate, but if you don't need the 3D Blu-ray, you'll still have to pay for it if you want the digital copy. The two-disc release does contain the relatively standard set of bonus features including deleted scenes, extended songs, two alternate openings to the movie, an exceedingly brief look at all 50 of the films to come from Disney Animation Studios, and a making-of piece hosted by Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore. Entitled "Tangled: The Making of a Fairy Tale," the featurette has a highly produced feel but Moore and Levi still manage to be jubilant enough about their lines that it not only successfully imparts some (but not a ton) of information but remains enjoyable for audiences of all ages.
Tangled is unquestionably a unique spin on the story of Rapunzel, but is a spin which works very successfully. It isn't exactly your classic prince-and-princess-fall-in-love fairytale, but it is fast-paced, at times dizzying, and actually fun for the whole family to sit and watch together. You can't ask for much more than that.
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Tangled (2010) on Blogcritics.