Before the movie starts, the viewer is informed that Tangled is Walt Disney Pictures' 50th animated feature film. Now, they say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and people warn against re-inventing the wheel, but Tangled is little more than the basic formula used on all 49 of its predecessors. The trailers present a hazy picture of what the film might entail, but it's 92 minutes of Official Licensed Disney Magic, so much so you can see the "TM" over each sparkle. Occasionally, a side character or musical number will conjure up just enough energy from the animation or characterization to actually strike a chord, but for the most part, the film is little more than a pleasant retread of well, well worn territory.
This time, the legend is Rapunzel (said character voiced by Mandy Moore), with emphasis on the dashing hero Flynn Rider (voice of Zachary Levi) to make sure the film plays equally well to boys and girls. Flynn is a thief, fresh off of stealing the princess' crown, when he accidentally stumbles upon the tower while looking for a hiding place. Rapunzel has no idea the crown is hers, or even that she's special: she's been locked away in a tower thanks to her endless, glowing locks, which have the power to restore youth and vibrancy to the evil Gothel (voice of Donna Murphy). Gothel has told Rapunzel that she is her mother, and the outside world is too dangerous for Rapunzel to bear, a ruse that's worked well enough for 17 years, but now that Rapunzel is turning 18, she's ready to see the world -- crown as bait -- when Flynn just happens to pop in.
Some positives first. Tangled is downright gorgeous. Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard have developed a style of CG animation that perfectly replicates the classic look of Disney's pen-and-ink heroes and heroines in three dimensions, then drops them into lush, vivid worlds that find the perfect balance between photorealism and caricature. Like any good Disney cartoon, the heroes are also aided by animal friends: in Rapunzel's case, a silent but loyal chameleon named Pascal; for Flynn, an initially antagonistic guard horse named Max. Animals with character always lend themselves to particularly clever animation, and both creatures are energetic and funny (Max, in particular, is clearly based off of a dog, which allows for boatloads of jokes kids will eat up). The film is being released in 3D, and while I'm sure both presentations are perfectly adequate, there's one nighttime sequence -- believe me, you'll know it when you see it -- that lends itself fully to the format with a quiet, fragile beauty.
Yet, there's no spark to Tangled, which meanders around looking for something to do. There's a jaunty musical number in a thieves' bar, but after that, the process by which Gothel goes about hunting down Flynn and Rapunzel is fairly lax. Whether Gothel is more concerned about losing her life or Rapunzel learning of her true heritage is unclear, and her vague plan to scare Rapunzel back to the tower seems like it relies on a whole lot of chance, given Rapunzel is Gothel's only means of survival. There's also very little chemistry between Rapunzel and Flynn, while Flynn himself is a man of two equally unconvincing facets. Either it's hard to buy that Flynn's spent any time robbing to get by or it's hard to buy that he'd care about Rapunzel, both which may or may not be thanks to Levi's completely forgettable characterization. Not that Moore is more memorable; Rapunzel has a requisite bit of 21st century grrl power, but her unfulfilled princessism is really the only thing going on with her character.
All in all, one could do worse than Tangled, sure, but given all 50 of those previous animated features, it's equally easy for one to do better. Last year's The Princess and the Frog wasn't exactly a show-stopper, but it had distinct characters, infectious tunes, and a pleasing ending that must've warmed my heart more than I happened to notice. Walking out of that film, I wasn't sure it was overwhelmingly special, but sitting here considering Tangled, I can only concede that Princess was a much better movie. The most interesting thing about it is that they changed the movie's title from Rapunzel to Tangled in order to attract the all-important young boy audience. It's a generic title, befitting a generic dollop of generic Disney paste.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.