Ranking the Disney Canon – 14: Tangled

“This is the story of how I died. Don’t worry, this is actually a very fun story and the truth is, it isn’t even mine. This is the story of a girl named Rapunzel.”- Flynn Rider

Tangled was the 2010 release for Walt Disney Animation, and the most recent release we’ll be looking at on this list, since Winnie the Pooh, the 2011 release, was released in theaters after this list had begun. Tangled was directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, both of whom were major parts of the Bolt retooling from 2008. For both men, this was their first original directorial effort. Tangled should also be noted as Disney’s first computer animated fairy tale, and to be perfectly honest, one of the first mainstream computer animated fairy tales from any major studio. It’s certainly an interesting way to look at the modern animation landscape.

Tangled is a take on the story of Rapunzel, and starts with the story about how Rapunzel came to be all alone in that tall tower. Rapunzel has magical glowing hair that has the ability to heal, thanks to the magical flower that was given to her mother, the queen in order to save her during child-birth. Mother Gothel, who had been using the flower to heal time’s wounds, ends up kidnapping Rapunzel in order to retain this power. The kingdom has the tradition of sending off floating lights on Rapunzel’s birthday, hoping that she will eventually return. Rapunzel dreams of one day seeing these lights, and finds the opportunity in her grasps when Flynn Rider, a noted thief who has just stolen the crown from the castle, happens upon Rapunzel’s tower. Together, they head off on an unforgettable journey to the kingdom to see the floating lights.

STRENGTHS

One thing that I am truly starting to realize through this countdown is that the best Disney films have the best Disney characters. I know that may seem like an obvious remark, but you’ve seen these posts. You know that many of the paragraphs are describing how great certain characters are, and the reason is that those character are part of the film’s heart and soul. My point here is, Tangled is a film that carries on that great Disney tradition. It certainly is the greatest post Renaissance Disney film, and, in my estimation, one of the best in Disney history, as evidence by the Top 15 ranking. And it starts, for me, with the return of great characters.

And great characters in Tangled starts with its main character, Rapunzel. Rapunzel is so pure, so youthful, and so easy to love. Part of what makes Rapunzel so great to me is the fact that she feels so real, just as all the great Disney characters do in some way. She feels like a child in every way, yet still has those teenage bits in her. She is written perfectly as a person who hasn’t left her single location for 18 years. Her pure joy of experiencing the world for the first time makes so much sense. The connection that she has with Mother Gothel is so complex and yet so fantastic considering that she has been caring for her for 18 years. In a modern animation world where every hero has to be super aware and extremely butt kicking, Rapunzel is a return to the youthful wonder that  Snow White, Cinderella, Alice, Ariel, and Belle had back in their day. One of the best examples of this in the film is the scene where Rapunzel is figuring out what the crown is for. Of course she wouldn’t know what that is, and that’s what makes her great.

Mandy Moore gives, what I believe,  one of the greatest voice performances in modern animation history. She adds so much to the reality and the youthfulness of Rapunzel. Almost every word that comes out of Mandy’s mouth is perfect for the line. Every joyful glee is packed to the brim with bubbling happiness, every emotional scene filled with powerful tears. Mandy was the perfect choice for the role, in every way. She is what makes Rapunzel sparkle, and what makes me so happy every time I watch Tangled. Or one of the many reasons.

Another reason is Rapunzel’s love interest from throughout the film, Flynn Rider, AKA Eugene Fitzherbert, but I’ll just call him Flynn. Fueled by another fantastic voice performance, this time by Zachary Levi, Flynn is such a fun character. His bravado mixed with his shock,horror, and annoyance with the situation he has found himself in. And yet he never goes so over the top where his eventual emotional scenes don’t feel real. In fact, I love the “distinction” between Flynn and Eugene that the film presents. It’s so fun to watch Flynn the character, and so emotionally satisfying to watch Eugene the real life person, and he’s the guy you root for. Luckily, Flynn never loses the fun that makes him a great, classic character.

Rapunzel and Flynn, like many of the great Disney couples, are fantastic on their own. It is when they are together, however that the pair really shine. The chemistry the two have together, fueled by the wonderful performances of Mandy and Zachary and the great script, is unbelievable. From the moment they meet, there is such a fire between the two, a hilarious and wonderful fire.  Their dialogue just lights sparks, their personalities bounce off each other perfectly. We are truly into the classic Disney relationships now, and Rapunzel and Flynn deserve to be in that category.

Part of the way the relationship builds is that Flynn and Rapunzel are one of the few Disney couples to have constant interaction throughout the film. Their journey together from Rapunzel’s tower to the kingdom is a wild ride, and a great one to watch. The necessity of having the two together allows Rapunzel and Flynn to have so many funny and wild exchanges and adventures together, and allows for a full exhibition of their personalities and their chemistry. Seriously, there is not a moment where the two falter together at all. It’s so perfect. It really is uncanny.

But in the end, it is their love for each other, and the way each changes the other, that makes the relationship as classic is should be remembered. Their emotional scene together where Flynn reveals Eugene to Rapunzel is wonderful, and the two’s care for each other at the end of the film, Flynn’s desperation to escape from prison to save Rapunzel and Rapunzel willing to sacrifice herself to save Flynn both are wonderful moments of character evolution and emotional overload.

But let’s not forget the there is more of the film than just Rapunzel and Flynn. And there are more classic Disney characters in the pile as well. The two animal sidekicks of Tangled, Pascal and Maximus, are wonderful additions to the silent Disney character family. Let’s begin with Pascal, the weaker, but still great, of the two. A chameleon is an inspired choice of partner, considering Rapunzel’s love for painting, and Pascal has a great personality, the wise sage who may think he’s a little smarter than he is. The film gives Pascal a great friendship with Rapunzel and a hilarious weirdness with any other character he comes in contact with, especially Flynn. Their interaction at the river is just hilarious.

But the real show stealer of Tangled is Maximus, the loyal palace horse. It’s amazing how animation can turn a silent horse into one of the most expressive and hilarious characters in the film and among the greats in Disney Animation history. Seriously, Maximus kills every time he is on-screen. His animation is absurdly good and is one of the greatest uses of CG character animation. Because of the expressive nature of the character, Maximus is allowed to have some fantastic physical comedy, both on his own and with other characters. His rivalry and eventual friendship with Flynn is one of the film’s comedy highlights. But Maximus shines in his super serious, rule following personality. His expressions throughout the entire film are just priceless. I can’t stress how awesome Maximus is in this film. He’s just awesome.

And then, of course, there is the film’s villain, Mother Gothel. I know she has some mixed reception out there, but personally, I really enjoy her as a villain. Maybe part of it was because it was refreshing to have a villain who wasn’t all about TAKING OVER THE WORLD MUHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA, especially after that exact motivation derailed the villain of Princess and the Frog (seriously, the last true villain he had that didn’t have a WORLD DOMINATION plotline was Gaston. You could possibly argue that Frollo didn’t either, but still, a long time.) but I just love the Broadway Divaesque, Over the Top performance that Donna Murphy gives in another wonderful voice acting triumph. The character has so many subtleties and nuances that make her a full, fleshed out villain and a true character. She may not rank among the Greatest Disney villains, but I still think that she does a wonderful job for the film.

OK, let’s finally move away from characters to talk about some of the other things that Tangled does so well. One thing that continues to amaze me is the film’s animation and it’s style. Tangled looks different from any other CG animated film, at least to me. The characters look like a perfect fix between the best of Traditional and Computer Animated design. The film in general looks a bit softer and cartoonish than some of the other films currently on the market, and it absolutely works. And the detail in this film is striking as well. Rapunzel’s hair is particularly a triumph, and if you know anything about computer animation, you know how difficult is was to keep that hair in line, and watching the film, you know nothing ever goes wrong with it.

One of the things that the animation does that you certainly won’t notice unless you really slow things down, is the fact that Tangled uses the classic animation principle of squash and stretch, a true rarity in Computer animation. Squash and Stretch is the classic technique of exaggerating the motion of the animation in order to achieve comedic effect. And Tangled uses this alongside the design to have some fantastic uses of physical comedy. This can best be seen by slowing down parts of the dam action piece, especially when Flynn tries to escape by swinging on Rapunzel’s hair. It’s such a subtle thing, but it subconsciously makes sequences funnier, as well as making the animation design and feel even closer to the classic Disney features. It is such a small touch, but it ultimately works amazingly.

And the design and Animation work together to make an absolutely beautiful film. Every set is ripe with details, and even though this is not one of the Disney films centered on nature, the nature settings in this film are gorgeous. And this is all before getting to the kingdom itself and the famous “I See the Light” sequence, which is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen in Computer Animation. I love watching this film just for the animation. It still stuns me, and it’s proof enough that Computer Animation can be just as beautiful as the traditional type.

Tangled is one of those films where I have to compliment the direction. Nathan Greno and Byron Howard do a fantastic job with the shot selection all throughout the film. Their direction during the action sequences is fantastic, as is captures the tension, the action, and the humor all in one fell swoop. Their choice of shots for the final escape from prison and final confrontation also combines these elements and adds the element of being heartbreaking. It really is spectacular direction.

Tangled also succeeds on the merits of its script. This film is hilarious. I will contend that it is absolutely one of the funniest Disney films of all time. Every character has their comedic moment, just like in Aladdin, and every scene has at least on great laugh. There is no wasted scene, no sense of downtime. Every scene is great in its own way. But like all of the great Disney comedies, it is able to mix the drama in there without so much of an issue. It is a really, really strong script.

And finally, the soundtrack. I know this also has received some mixed reviews, but personally, I enjoy it. I feel this is another Alan Menken success. One of the things I truly like about the soundtrack is how each song has a different feel to match the character. I like how “When Will My Life Begin” has a bit of a pop sound for the teenage Rapunzel, how “Mother Knows Best” has a broadway sound for the Over the Top Mother Gothel, and how “I’ve Got a Dream” is almost vaudevillian for the hilarious thugs.And of course, “I See the Light” is the film’ highlight, and a wonderful sequence. I think each song is catchy and fun, and while it may not be Alan Menken’s strongest soundtrack, it’s still a great one for his track record. Also, the score is amazing. “Kingdom Dance,” “Horse with No Rider,” and “Realization and Escape” are among Menken’s best scores.

WEAKNESSES

Well, this is it. The final section of weaknesses! I don’t have any major weaknesses for this film! Nothing! Not to say that is perfect, Because nothing ever is. It really just is I have nothing that comes to mind that I need to say.

Originally, I going to use this section to argue against perceived weakness, but I realized I really just argued against those in the strengths section. So, from now on, NO MORE WEAKNESSES SECTION! CHEER IT UP!

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Tangled’s best moment is not only my favorite moment in the film, but one of my all time favorite film moments. The Kingdom Dance segment is just brilliant in all regards, and was the number one thing I remembered walking out of the theater. I could just watch this segment over and over and over again. It is the most played song on my iPod, after all. Before the actual segment is another one of my favorite moments, where Rapunzel woos Maximus to not hurt Flynn.

The film’s best song is, no doubt, “I See the Light.” Not only is the song wonderful and beautiful and a classic love song, but the visual of the floating lights is absolutely stunning.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Tangled is the true return of Disney Animation to me, as it mixes the best aspects of Walt’s era and the Modern age of Animation. It is beautiful, hilarious, and features fantastic characters that I hope will continue to live on in the Disney community. If Disney animation can continue on the path that Tangled set, We are in for another great era of Walt Disney Feature Animation.

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4 thoughts on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 14: Tangled

  1. Tangled is one of my favourite Disney movies, top ten easily and most likely top five, so I am really curious what you put above it. I agree with you, the animation is different from all the other CGI movies, not even Frozen manages such a perfect blend between traditional and CGI.

    When it comes to weaknesses – I think the first song is the one weakness this movie has. It’s okay though, just not as gripping as other I want songs. The soundtrack of Tangled makes up for it ten times with the outstanding score (especially “Kingdom Dance”, “The tears heals” and the one when they release the lanterns) and the other song (my personal favourite is the healing incarnation, but I see the light is just as good).

  2. My reception with some CGI Disney films are a little mixed at times, but when such movies like ‘Tangled’ are able to keep me on my seat with a wonderfully crafted story with unforgettable characters and music it definitely makes it worth the price of admission. First time seeing this flick in theaters and I felt compelled to take on the journey of the cast in one of the most hilarious adventures I’ve seen. I enjoyed watched the growth in the development of both Rapunzel & Flynn (A name I prefer to call him by too), the Maximus moments are among my favorite, and there is definitely a good reason why ‘I See The Light’ was the song picked to win an award (Despite not winning overall). While I may mixed feelings for the title choice, ‘Tangled’ remains a classic film to watch whenever you have that longing for adventure, to leave the world you knew, and to take on such a memorable journey with realistic characters. It’s a timeless fairy tale return with great twists (The hair’s healing effects being the one that makes this version an original) and I am proud to have seen this film.

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