My housemate Christine is one of those people who only gets around to seeing the movies everyone’s talking about years after the fact.
This is good for me doing what I do because it means I get a perspective on movies long after the hype has died down from someone who hasn’t been swept up in the groupthink that tends to form around any given movie. Christine finally got off her branch to watch Frozen and Tangled. In that order. And this has led her to formulate what I like to call Christine’s Principle. And the principle is as follows: If you’re going to watch Frozen and Tangled, for God’s sake watch Tangled first because boy howdy does it suffer in comparison. Tangled is not bad. Tangled is in fact quite excellent, but it’s just not Frozen and seeing as they’re both Disney CGI movies featuring blonde princesses, doglike hoofed mammals and some seriously questionable parenting the comparisons are inevitable. And in a way that’s unfair to Tangled because, while it is no question not as good a movie as Frozen, I think there are areas where it is arguably superior. What areas you ask? Well, the animation for one. I remember watching Tangled in the cinema and seeing that scene where Gothel is being hoisted up to the tower on Rapunzel’s hair. The textures and colours are all just so sumptuous and beautiful and I remember thinking for the first time that if Disney never went back to traditional animation I could live with that. Then of course I banished the thought from my mind and spent a week cloistered away scourging my back as penance. But there’s no denying it, this is a gorgeous, gorgeous film. It’s rumoured to be the most expensive animated film ever made and the second most expensive film of all time, and it looks like it. It also has a pretty killer script and I would say a better supporting cast than Frozen. In fact, now that I think about it, what makes Frozen so frickin’ great?
Tangled was huge when it came out, but it’s definitely been overshadowed by its younger sister in recent years. Is it time for a reappraisal? Let’s take a look. Oh, but let’s address the elephant in the room first. Tangled was originally called Rapunzel, but the name was changed to make it more gender neutral to appeal to boys. This move has caused quite a controversy so let me very quickly give my opinion on this pressing issue.
Let’s take a look at the film.
The movie begins with our narrator Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) setting up the backstory like the silver tongued devil he is. Long time ago, a teardrop fell from the sun, and instead of incinerating all life on earth, grew into a golden flower. This flower was discovered by an old woman named Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) who found that by singing a certain song, the flower could turn her young again. How did she know the right words? Why a flower? Look, this whole sequence is pretty much a load of plotholes held together by spit and glitter glue. To whit; in the local kingdom the Queen is expecting a baby and, naturally enough, seeing as she’s about to become the mother of a Disney princess her health takes an immediate change for the worst. The king realises that what with his wife about to give birth to a Disney princess it’ll take a miracle to save her, which sounds about right. He has his troops search for this magical flower that he’s heard rumours of…somehow, and they steal it right from under Mother Gothel’s nose.
Um, sorry. As I write this I’m on holiday in the wilds of Wexford with Season 1 of The Wire on in the background so there might be some bleed across. Also, I gotta point this out: Flynn chews Mother Gothel out for hoarding the flower for herself and not sharing its powers, but he doesn’t seem to have a problem with the King straight up stealing it and making it into fucking soup so that no one can ever use it again. I know, I know, he probably doesn’t know how to use the flower properly (even though the rest of his intelligence about this supposedly unknown plant has been right on the money so far). Alright, anyway, they didn’t see the flower’s “Do not use while pregnant” warning label because the Queen gives birth to a baby with a head of golden hair worthy of the god of thunder.
Unfortunately, Mother Gothel, not content to just fucking die because she’s not royalty, breaks into the palace to get her shit back. Instead she finds the baby and realises that by holding the baby’s hair and singing the magic song she can recover her youth. Gothel steals the child and hides her away in a tower far away in the middle of the forest where no one can find her and raises her as her daughter. So the movie begins and Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is now about to turn eighteen. When designing Rapunzel the Disney team had an interesting challenge. The story basically demands that Rapunzel be a beautiful girl with long blonde hair. The trouble is, a beautiful girl with long blonde hair could very easily end up looking like Barbie and everyone hates that dead-eyed skank. I actually love the design for Rapunzel, which is beautiful but also kind of dorky, with freckles, a faint lisp, a button nose and a slight overbite (although I admit I only noticed that last one when I saw the movie in 3d). Rapunzel is paired with Pascal the chameleon, who is just adorable. The two muse about what to do, and Pascal wants to go outside but Rapunzel says that they need to stay in the tower which brings us to the first song When Will My Life Begin?, which shows all the ways that Rapunzel has been killing time in the tower while waiting for something to actually happen. A great Disney movie needs great songs and unfortunately early nineties Alan Menken was unavailable, leaving us with his less talented brother, early 21st century Alan Menken. As an “I want” song, When Will My Life Begin? just doesn’t have the sense of yearning and urgency that you need in a tune like this. It’s pretty, and the lyrics are fine, but whenever I hear this song it sounds to me less like the anthem of a Disney princess and more like the theme music for a Disney Channel sitcom called That’s So Rapunzel! Meanwhile, Flynn Rider and his colleagues in extra-legal entrepreneurship; the Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman), are breaking into the palace to steal Rapunzel’s unused baby tiara…which when I type it out like that is actually a spectacularly horrible thing to do. Flynn was the end result of something called the “hot guy meeting”, where directors Nathan Greno and Matthew Howard got a bunch of female Disney employees together with pictures of guys like Hugh Jackman and Ryan Gosling to cobble together a Frankenstein’s monster of utter hotness.
They manage to swipe the tiara simply by virtue of the palace not having bothered to beef up security after that whole “heir to the throne kidnapped by one wrinkled old lady” affair.
The three crooks rip and run and flee into the forest where they’re chased by the palace guards. At the tower, Rapunzel is working up the courage to ask Mother Gothel if she can leave the tower to see the floating lights that appear in the sky every night on her birthday. These are actually lanterns that everyone in the kingdom sets alight to guide the lost princess back home. Mother Gothel is a really interesting villain, lacking in power and magical ability but more than making up for it in guile and intelligence. She’s an expert manipulator, which makes sense when you remember that she’s been alive for centuries and has had plenty of time to figure out what makes people tick. In the Princess and the Frog review I complained that there was no real relationship between Tiana and Facilier. Tangled d0esn’t repeat that mistake, and in fact I’d argue that relationship between Rapunzel and Gothel is one of the most fascinating and difficult to unravel hero/villain dynamics in the whole canon. My wife, who frequents crazier neighbourhoods of the internet than I, has had blazing online rows with people who genuinely claim that Gothel is a good mother who’s just trying to protect her daughter. Now, obviously that’s bullshit, but I will admit that I think that Gothel, in her own twisted way, does love Rapunzel. Or at least, as much as a narcissistic sociopath can love anything or anyone other than themselves. But that’s just it. Gothel loves herself, ergo she loves the flower which keeps her young and beautiful, ergo she loves Rapunzel who keeps her young and beautiful. Her love of Rapunzel is borne out of her own narcissism, but it is real. Later in the movie when Gothel comes back to the tower and finds that Rapunzel is gone her reaction is not the snarling rage you’d expect from a Disney villain in this situation (think Jafar losing the lamp) but sheer, blind panic. In short, exactly the reaction of any parent who’s lost their child. But ultimately, I choose to believe that Gothel loves Rapunzel because it just gives the story so much more thematic weight and real-world resonance. Very few of us are kidnapped from an early age to be raised by a stranger for their own nefarious ends, but all too many of us have a parent who genuinely loves us but is nontheless, you know, emotionally devouring us whole. The exchanges between Rapunzel and Gothel, the passive aggressive controlling, the “joking” belittling comments are all things that many, many children have to deal with (not me, let me just state for the record, Momma Mouse is a diamond). But nonetheless, there is a real tenderness to some of their dialogue (“I love you more.. I love you most.”) that makes me think that Gothel has genuinely deluded herself into thinking that everything she does is for her adopted daughter’s good. And if that good is also Gothel’s good, win-win, right? Alright, so Rapunzel asks if she can leave the tower and Gothel knocks this on the head with Momma Knows Best, a comedic villain song in the vein of Poor Unfortunate Souls. Menken does his best work in the movie with fun little ditties like this and I Have a Dream later on. It’s when he tries reaching for the big emotional beats that he comes a cropper. After scaring Rapunzel shitless with tales of red-toothed bandits, ravenous beasts and various members of the Cheney family, Gothel departs. Meanwhile, Flynn has double crossed the Stabbington Brothers…and there’s a surname to not piss off…and made off with the tiara on his own. He’s pursued by the palace guards, the captain of whom is riding Maximus.
Maximus, like Pascal, gets no lines but his various whinnies and grunts are voiced (again, like Pascal) by Frank Welker who has…um…crap…hang on…
Alright, here’s one: “Frank Welker has voiced more characters than there are freckles on Rupert Grint.” Huh. Well that seems both improbable and needlessly mean to Rupert Grint.
Anyway, Maximus is my favourite character in this and probably one of my favorite supporting characters in the canon. It’s interesting that Disney already tried the “horse who wants to be a lawman” gag in Home on the Range to miserable effect. It works here though because unlike Buck, Maximus is fucking fantastic at it. This horse is like Judge Dredd with hooves. He gets no lines, but you just know that in his head he refers to Flynn as “Evildoer”. Couple this with some just GODDAMN SUBLIME facial animation and you have one of the all time greats. There’s so many lovely little touches. There’s one bit where Flynn swings on a vine and knocks the captain off Maximus and tries to ride off with him. Maximus stops dead, turns around, and his pupil actually shrinks in rage when he sees that this criminal degenerate has dared to sit on his back.
Maximus tries to get the satchel back which ends with Flynn and Maximus falling off a cliff…
…and landing deep in the forest. Flynn hides from Maximus and finds himself outside Rapunzel’s tower. He climbs up and immediately gets laid out cold by Rapunzel wielding a frying pan because it’s a breakfast time and she’s serving up some pain. Sunny side up. I’m a writer. Of course in this situation the tricky part is what to do with the body. I’m told. So Rapunzel stashes the unconscious Rider in her closet and finds the tiara in her satchel. Gothel comes back and Rapunzel is about to show her Flynn as proof that she can take care of herself but Gothel goes completely psycho when Rapunzel even broaches the subject of leaving the tower so instead Rapunzel comes up with a plan. She asks Gothel for some new paints from a town that’s three days journey away and Gothel, probably anxious to sweep the whole matter under the rug, agrees. With Gothel gone, Rapunzel takes Flynn out of the closet and ties him to a chair. When he comes to she offers him a deal; if he takes her to Corona (the kingdom, it’s not named in the movie but the Disney wiki’s never steered me wrong yet) and brings her back, she’ll return his satchel with the tiara. Flynn really doesn’t want to return to the scene of the crime and tries desperately to get out of this, even bringing to bear the awesome power of The Smolder.
This is probably the best song in the movie, with Menken again being at his best with the lighter, funnier numbers. The guards arrive but the ruffians have a change of heart and help Flynn and Rapunzel escape through a secret passage. The guards have also brought along the Stabbington brothers, who they arrested earlier. They’re about to leave when Maximus arrives and starts searching for Flynn. In a bit I absolutely love, one of the guards asks what he’s doing and the Captain instantly silences him. It’s like; “Just let the horse work, dammit!” Maximus finds the secret passage and the guards and leave the Stabbington brothers behind with the smallest, least intimidating guard to watch them because these clowns don’t know shit about shit. Rapunzel and Flynn are now getting chased by the guards, Maximus and the twins and get trapped by a dam. There is then a fight scene between Flynn wielding a frying pan and Maximus wielding a sword and it is every bit as batshit insane awesome as it sounds. Rapunzel uses her hair to swing them across a ravine and then Maximus kicks out one of the support struts holding up the dam to get across to them. Let me repeat, he bursts the dam, flooding the entire valley just to get his man.
Rapunzel and Flynn end up trapped in a cave with the water rising and no light to see a way out. Rapunzel tearfully apologises to Flynn for dragging him into this and he confesses that his name is actually Eugene Fitz-Herbert (hah!). Rapunzel then confesses that she has magic hair that glows when she sings and heeeeeey now…
So Rapunzel sings, the hair glows and by its light they’re able to find a way out of the cave. Meanwhile, Gothel’s discovered that Rpaunzel’s missing and found where she hid the tiara. She tracks them to the Snuggly Duckling and ends up roping the Stabbington Brothers into being her lackeys.
Meanwhile, Rapunzel uses the power of her hair to heal Eugene’s injured hand and he does his best not to freak out about that. Eugene reveals to Rapunzel that he’s actually an orphan and the name Flynn Rider came from a book he used to read to the other kids. Flynn goes off to get firewood and Gothel emerges from the shadows, telling Rapunzel that it’s time to come home. Rapunzel asks her how she found her and Gothel says “I just listened for the sound of complete and utter betrayal and followed that.” Damn, I hope human hair isn’t as flammable as I’ve always heard ‘cos Rapunzel just got burned.
Rapunzel says that she’s not going back and that she’s even met this guy who’s super dreamy but Gothel says that men are only after one thing: Tiaras! She gives Rapunzel the crown, telling her to give it to Rider and see how quickly he abandons her. Part of the reason why I think Gothel at least partially believes her own bullshit about protecting Rapunzel is just how cynical and jaded she is about the rest of humanity. She’s gambling a whole lot on Rider just abandoning Rapunzel as soon as he has what he wants, and she’s not the kind of woman who takes unnecessary risks. When Gothel tells Rapunzel that world is full of evil, selfish people, she sounds like someone who knows what she’s talking about. We never find out what Gothel’s life was like before she found the flower, but I’m guessing it was not a fun time. Anyway, Gothel leaves and Eugene comes back. Rapunzel decides not to show him the tiara and the two go to sleep.
Rider wakes up to find himself face to face with his own personal equine Javert.
Maximus tries to drag Flynn off to the clink but Rapunzel intervenes and convinces Maximus to let Flynn go free for the day because she needs him and it’s her birthday. Maximus, realising that only the worst kind of louse refuses to do something for someone on their birthday agrees. On an unrelated topic, Unshaved Mouse started two years ago and I really would appreciate if you could vote for me for Best Blog Post, cheers. Rapunzel thinks Maxmimus is a sweetheart which upsets Flynn who blurts out “Oh c’mon, he’s a bad horse!”
No, THIS is a bad horse:
Alright so the four finally arrive in Corona. Apparently the animators modeled Rapunzel’s reactions to arriving in the kingdom to that of little girls arriving in Disneyland for the first time. It’s a really sweet scene with Rapunzel finally getting to let her hair down (metaphorically, she actually has to tie her hair up to stop all the geese walking on it). That night, the whole kingdom gets ready to light the lanterns and release them into the night sky and Rapunzel and Flynn row out into the lake to get a good view.
We now get a scene that many of you rightfully took me to task over for leaving off my list of the Most Tear-Jerking Disney Moments.
Just such a beautiful little wordless scene. Every expression, every motion, just perfectly serving the scene. This, I think, was something that Disney learned from Pixar, this trick of using silences and stillness to bring out an emotion instead of dialogue and music. There is music in the scene, but it’s very much in the background unlike, say, the Baby Mine sequence in Dumbo where the song is almost the source of the emotion.
Anyway, the lanterns are sent out and Rapunzel and Flynn watch while the song I See the Light plays. This is a song where Rapunzel and Flynn realise that they love each other. It’s not terrible but…dammit it’s no Am I Feeling Love!
Rapunzel finally trusts Flynn enough to give him back the crown. He sees the Stabbington Brothers on the shoreline and tells Rapunzel that he just needs to take the crown and go do something really quick, kay? She’s clearly a little nervous that he’s going to abandon her but trusts him enough not to say anything. Flynn approaches the twins and gives them the crown to smooth over any hard feelings but they tell him that they’ve heard that he’s got something far more valuable. Rapunzel looks up to see the twins looming over her and they tell her that Flynn took the crown and vamoosed. She refuses to believe them and they show her Flynn, on a boat in the distance, seemingly halfway on his way to Mexico. Rapunzel runs and is rescued from the goons by Mother Gothel. Rapunzel tells Gothel that she was right about everything and Gothel takes her back to the tower.
But, in a shocking twist, Flynn was actually knocked unconscious and tied to the ship. The palace guards find him, with the crown still on him and throw him in the dungeon. Maximus sees this and goes to get help. The next morning, the guards arrive to take Flynn to be hanged for his crime and whoa, whoah, whoah, whoah…
You mean to tell me that the penalty for stealing a crown which you later returned is death?! And he doesn’t even get a trial?! Jesus, nice despotic tyranny Rapunzel’s Dad is running here!
Back at the tower, Rapunzel is heartbroken and Gothel reminds her that life sucks, has always, will always. But then Rapunzel looks up at a mural she painted on the ceiling and realises that she’s subconciously painted the royal emblem of Corona into all her paintings.
This triggers a flood of repressed memories in Rapunzel’s mind and she remembers everything.
Gothel calls up to Rapunzel’s room to make sure she’s not having any dramatic story-altering revelations and Rapunzel angrily proclaims “I am the lost Princess, aren’t I?!” and Gothel’s all “Whaaaaaaaa…”
Rapunzel tells Gothel that she’s cutting off all magic hair privileges and Gothel darkly says “You want me to be the bad guy? Fine, now I’m the bad guy.” and aw crap, then who was the bad guy before now? That’s going to mess up the scoring.
The ruffians from the Snuggly Duckling stage a jail break and get Flynn’s head out of the noose and he rides Maximus as fast as he can back to the tower. He gives the famous “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair line” and climbs up only to get knifed by Gothel while a bound and gagged Rapunzel looks on in horror. Gothel leaves Flynn to bleed out on the floor and drags Rapunzel in chains like a fucking mule through the trapdoor. But Rapunzel tells Gothel that if she’s allowed to heal Flynn, she’ll go quietly. Otherwise, she’ll fight and perpetually spite and abuse Gothel for the rest of her life.
Gothel wisely takes the deal.
Flynn begs Rapunzel not to throw away her freedom for him but she tells him that she can’t let him die and, in case I haven’t made this clear already, Levi and Moore both sell the hell out of the bond between these two. It is genuinely affecting. Rapunzel starts to sing but Flynn uses a shard of broken mirror to cut her hair, turning it brown and short.
With the power of the hair gone, Gothel instantly starts ageing and (with a little help from Pascal) trips and plummets to her death. And if you’re about to point out in the comments that it’s not actually the fall that kills her because she’s already turned to dust before she hits the ground? Congratulations. I was testing you. You passed.
Flynn dies in Rapunzel’s arms and as she cries her tears fall on his face and magically bring him back to life.
Alright, see here’s the thing. As has been pointed out to me, Rapunzel’s tears having healing properties is actually present in the original fairy tale, and really, it’s no bigger a Deus ex Machina than the Prince bringing Snow White back to life with a kiss. Rapunzel’s different from Snow White though. Everyone knows the story of Snow White but people don’t really know the story of Rapunzel. I mean, they know that there’s a tower and a girl with long blonde hair but most people don’t know the actual story beats. People expect the Prince to kiss Snow White at the end of the movie, it’s so engrained in popular culture that people don’t even think of it as a Deus Ex Machina (even though it totally is). But honestly, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find this very unsatisfying and not just because the whole “Oh he’s dead oh wait he’s not yay!” ritual is one of my pet hates.
Alright, well anyway, Rapunzel comes home and is reunited with her birth parents and Flynn narrates the wrap up. Maximus becomes the captain of the palace guards and we are told that “crime disappeared almost overnight”. This is supposed to make us feel good, but personally I’ve always thought “crime disappeared overnight” to be one of the most ominous phrases in the English language. Rapunzel and Flynn get married and everyone lives happily ever after.
Tangled was originally going to be a traditionally animated feature, part of a proposed glorious return for the form at the Disney studio. Instead, it ended up being the movie that killed the newborn drive for cel-animation in its crib. The movie was a massive success, one of the biggest grossing movies of 2010 and ended up being the fifth most profitable canon movie of all time. Tangled continues the Redemption Era tradition of building on and improving the studio’s legacy (as opposed to the Lost Era’s attempts to break from it entirely). In a traditional retelling of this story, Rapunzel would probably be one of the most passive of all the Disney princesses. Instead, she’s one of the most active, swinging, running, fighting, planning, always moving forward, always dynamic, and she’s a great addition to the ranks of the Disney princesses. No, it’s not as good as Frozen, but viewed on its own terms it’s still a definite must watch.
Perhaps comes closer to capturing the beauty, lushness and grace of traditional Disney cel-animation than any other CGI movie. Glen Keane said that the goal of this film was to get the computer to “bend its knee to the artist” and I think they succeeded.
A really strong Disney couple, sweet and funny. The kind of couple you’d want to invite to your coronation.
Maybe lacking in the style and panache to put her in the ranks of the truly great Disney villains, but Mother Gothel is a fascinating character.
Supporting Characters: 19/20
Maximus could be the greatest supporting character in the whole canon. Pascal is close behind.
Songs range from bland to blandly good.
FINAL SCORE: 87%
NEXT REVIEW: 28 August 2014
NEXT TIME: We stick with the canon to review what may prove to be the last traditionally animated Disney canon classic. Bring your hankies. Winnie the Pooh is next.
Neil Sharpson aka The Unshaved Mouse is a playwright, blogger and comic book writer living in Dublin. The blog updates with a new animated movie review every second Thursday. He’s also serialising his novel The Hangman’s Daughter with a new chapter every Saturda. Like Unshaved Mouse? Let the good people at the Blog Awards Ireland know what’s what by voting for me HERE.