Reaching the round number 50 in any endeavor is worth celebrating, especially when it involves something historic like Disney's animation legacy. Tangled is the studio's 50th 'toon, reaching back to the first — 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — for inspiration.
Hard to believe Tangled is the first Disney animated feature based on a classical fairy tale since Beauty and the Beast two decades ago and that it avoids the ironic snarkiness that fairy tales have become since Shrek. Based on the Rapunzel story, Tangled is extraordinarily sincere by today's standards, with themes of self-empowerment and supernatural deceit that Snow White faced and remain timeless.
Richly drawn with a combination of hand-painted and computer-generated images, Tangled looks as lush as a magical kingdom fantasy should. It also is a movie that isn't afraid of the dark, tinting several scenes in shadows and dim candlelight for full sinister effect, plus one of the genre's best villains. A sequence involving thousands of floating candle lanterns being reflected on a lake while a romantic ballad plays is one of the most gorgeous things I've seen on screen all year.
But Tangled is also a lot of fun, despite the shortage of wisecracks and cameos by fairy tale caricatures. No talking animals here, although when they're as amusing as a loyal chameleon and a horse who's partly bloodhound and cop-flick action hero, they don't need to speak. The brothers Grimm never envisioned such things, but they probably wouldn't object.
Mandy Moore voices Rapunzel, a princess kidnapped as an infant by the evil Gothel (Donna Murphy) because her enchanted hair keeps the hag looking youthful. Gothel hides Rapunzel in the fabled tower to live in solitude, scaring her away from the outside world. Into her isolation comes Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi), a swashbuckling thief bringing most of the modern humor with him.
They strike a deal: Flynn will guide Rapunzel to see the "floating lights" that she doesn't know annually mark her disappearance, and she'll hand over the crown he stole from the palace. Her wish is his inconvenience until Gothel and two of Flynn's accomplices join the palace guard on their trail.
Tangled would be a satisfying adventure on plot and 3D sensations alone. Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard sweeten the mix by going old school for much of the musical score (penned by the composers for several Disney classics). Except for one tune that sounds like Radio Disney bait, the sound track is filled with potential Broadway showstoppers. (Memo to the Mouse House: Nobody but Murphy should be cast as Gothel; her Mother Knows Best is a knockout.)
Yes, Tangled is an auspicious marking of Disney's occasion but perhaps something of an endangered species. The movie went into production as a knee-jerk reaction to Shrek's success and arrives when fairy tale spoofs are played out. I'm especially concerned about the preview trailers attached to Tangled: the silly, sugar-fueled Mars Needs Moms and Cars 2 that just feel wrong except for the studio's accountants. Tangled is a nice look back for Disney fans, since looking ahead is depressing.
Steve Persall can be reached at Persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.