The CG-animated "Tangled" is perhaps Disney's most calculated effort since 1997's "Hercules," often caught begging for love from every demographic. It's a gorgeously mounted motion picture with impeccable artistic flair, but there's something rattling in the engine of this film that doesn't sit right, a desperation that grows more insistent as the movie motors along. Disney magic gives the feature a satisfying lift, but the ride is rocky, caught between the lights of Broadway and the battering ram comedy tempo of a Looney Tunes production.
Stolen from her royal parents as an infant, Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) has been raised by the villainous Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), who needs the child's magical mile-long locks to keep her youthful appearance. Housed inside a tower, Rapunzel has been taught to fear the world, watching the kingdom grow from her windows, passing time with arts and crafts and palling around with her pet chameleon. Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) is a vain professional thief who accidentally comes across Rapunzel's hideaway while on the run from the criminal partners he betrayed and the horse he offended. Agreeing to escort a curious Rapunzel through a land she's not familiar with, Flynn comes to understand the young girl's value to Gothel and the limits of his own frozen heart, finding there's more to the innocent adventurer than just lengthy hair.
Following last year's "The Princess and the Frog" with another tale of storybook royalty, "Tangled" endeavors to hip up the old woes of Rapunzel, turning the fairy tale into an action/musical/farce concoction that plays to every corner of the room. Not that the broad sweep of appeal arranged by directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno is distasteful, it's just grabby, with "Tangled" pulled awkwardly between two wildly disparate tonalities, encouraging an unsettled ambiance as the production hovers restlessly over laughs, drama, and songs. The schizophrenia is not a deal-breaker, but it brings about a few cringe-worthy moments as the action tornadoes about.
One half of the film is devoted to song, with Disney stalwart Alan Menken brought into the fold to lend the film a Broadway polish, scrounging up a handful of tunes that prepare the interior life of the characters into a musical feast. Moore (the pop princess with a brittle vocal range) and Murphy (the theatrical pro smacking home runs) trade tunes as "Tangled" captures a classic Disney mood, with song and dance hitting a jubilant, communicative nerve that recalls the storybook yearn of "Beauty and the Beast." The numbers are memorable, if not entirely hummable, yet they're a fine return to form after the divisive zydeco strains of "Frog."
The other half of "Tangled" shakes the funny bone, with the character of Flynn acting as the film's ambassador of comedy. Competently throated by Levi, the incessant sarcastic position of Flynn makes for a hero that one could happily see captured and removed from the film altogether. "Tangled" goes very broad with Flynn, giving him a Wile E. Coyote aura that's tough to enjoy when the rest of the feature elects for a more traditionally regal stance. The screenplay's irreverence is masterful for a film of more uninhibited energy, yet "Tangled" doesn't juggle the madcap escapades (enhanced through a 3D presentation) with enough conviction, careening between scrapes and singing indecisively.
While a focal point never quite arrives for "Tangled," the elegant craftsmanship of the feature is indisputable. Though CG-animated, the picture waltzes like classic animation, with expressive characters, elegant movement, and painterly backgrounds combining to give the picture a special sway. A film highlight is a sky lantern ceremony, where Rapunzel is finally offered a look at the glowing, floating visual that's consumed her daydreams for most of her life. It's a somber event turned into animation wonderment, helping "Tangled" achieve an emotional resonance it doesn't otherwise earn. The opulence extends to lush forests, water antics, and a supporting cast of burly brawlers, who fall under the lost princess's blonde spell, each one encouraged to live their dream. Each one imaged with tremendous detail and articulation.
"Tangled" doesn't challenge Disney storytelling procedures in the least, but it has its charms, perhaps best viewed with the sound turned all the way down, offering the sumptuous, jubilant animation what it truly deserves: silence.