Here’s the beginning of the old “Rapunzel” fairy tale straight from Wikipedia (with slight shortening adaptations:)
A lonely couple that wanted a child lived next to a walled garden which belonged to an enchantress. The pregnant wife, as a result of her long-awaited pregnancy, noticed a rapunzel plant planted in the garden and longed for it to the point of death. For two nights, the husband went out and broke into the garden to gather some for her; on the third night, as he was scaling the wall to return home, the enchantress caught him. He begged for mercy, and the old woman agreed to be lenient, on condition that the then-unborn child be surrendered to her at birth. Desperate, the man agreed. When the baby girl was born, the enchantress took her and raised the child as her own, naming her Rapunzel. When Rapunzel reached her twelfth year, the enchantress shut her away into a tower in the middle of the woods, with neither stairs nor door, and only one room and one window.
Here’s how the Disney movie “Tangled” chooses to tell it (with editorial:)
Once upon a time a single drop of sunlight [aka a meteorite] fell from the heavens, and from [the crater left by] this golden drop of sun grew a magic flower. It had the ability to heal the sick and injured. An evil witch found it first, and instead of sharing its magical power [how exactly does one share a magical flower’s healing powers? By starting a nursery? Distilling its oils? What was she supposed to do?] she horded its healing powers, and used it to keep herself young for hundreds of years. And all she had to do was sing a special song [that the aliens taught her when they abducted her that one time.] Nearby lived a king and pregnant queen. The queen got sick and the whole kingdom went looking for a magic golden flower [that they didn’t know existed. It was the only one, remember, and that single golden drop of sun fell to the earth hundreds of years before.] But the king’s guards found the flower and picked it [see, they weren’t too keen on sharing it either. At least the witch let it keep growing. One magic flower in the whole world and what do they do? Rip it up by the roots. The queen’s sick, after all. No time for messing around.] They made a tea out of it, and it healed the queen [and nobody had to sing a special song or anything.] A healthy baby girl was born, with beautiful golden hair. But the evil witch [who somehow figured out that the beatiful golden hair had the same magical healing properties as the flower. Apparently it’s like pot; it stays in your hair long after it’s passed out of the rest of your body] kidnapped the princess, who she locked up in a tower.
OK, so you get it – the rewrite is terrible. The old story is much better, even with its creepy “I’ll trade my daughter for my life” father’s bargain. Thankfully, this ridiculous backstory only takes up about five minutes of Disney’s newest princess fairy tale and once it’s over and done with, “Tangled” can get on with being a much better, though not exactly a great, movie.
Mandy Moore plays Rapunzel as a spunky teen, dying to get out of the tower and see what’s up with the strange lights that always appear on her birthday. (This is all I’ll say about the strange lights; it’s a search & rescue tactic I doubt the FBI has ever tried.) Broadway star and Tony award-winner Donna Murphy plays her mother and is, quite frankly the best part of the movie. She channels the passive-aggressive backhand-complimenting Mother type quite well, and when she sings, she steals the show. Her big number “Mother Knows Best” is easily the best song in the movie, (though the pub romp “I’ve Got a Dream” is more fun, and almost as good.)
Enter Flynn, a dashing thief who stumbles into Rapunzel’s tower. She begs him to take her to see the lights; he reluctantly agrees. And off we go on a wacky adventure involving frying pans, mimes, glowing lanterns, and is destined to end in “happily ever after.” Unfortunately, along the way, Flynn’s personality gets old fast. This is not a guy you want to be on an epic adventure with. (You know that old joke where the moderately good-looking guy says “I didn’t want to have to do this,” and then gives the girl “the look?” Can someone please tell the Hollywood joke-writers that it wasn’t funny the first time (I’m pretty sure I saw it on “Full House” in the ’80s) and it isn’t funny the 700th time, either.)
“Tangled” has some great sequences, including the most magically romantic scene in a Disney film since the carpet ride in “Aladdin.” The song itself isn’t great– though you’re bound to hear it at wedding receptions in the near future – but the animation makes up for it. There’s also a creative, humorous, and very well-paced adventure scene; indeed, there’s about half an hour there in the middle where everything’s clicking. But there’s also plenty of lame jokes and real clunker scenes — most of them involving an anthropomorphic horse and a really annoying lizard. (as far as comic relief goes, I much prefer the “ruffians with hearts of gold” subplot to the smartass animals.)
Disney has made an attempt to meld old-school storytelling with state of the art animation with “Tangled.” I’m not sure it works. The weird thing about this (relatively) new CGI animation – the characters don’t look like people so much as animated dolls. Which is fine in Toy Story, where they are animated doll, but “Tangled,” with its blond, big-eyed, statuesque heroine, can’t quite escape the weird feeling that you’re watching one of those direct-to-DVD “Barbie” movies.
And if you really want to get into it, there are plenty of problematic things about “Tangled.” First off, is the familiar evil false-mother so prevalent in Disney princess movies; I can already hear little girls everywhere screaming “you’re not my real mother! You’re an evil witch who stole me from my REAL parents” when their beleagured moms won’t buy them a Rapunzel doll. Also, Rapunzel sings a song titled “When Will My Life Begin?” ….right before the dashing young man comes crashing into her life. Feminists aren’t going to like that.
But I can already her you yelling at me, “Lighten up! It’s a kid’s movie, for heaven’s sake!” Ok, fine. But truth be told, I can’t really decide if “Tangled” is a crummy movie with some great moments, or a pretty good movie with some really terrible moments. I’ll guess you’ll have to decide for yourself.