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Yeah, but why though?
Hey, got nothing against the film. Y’all know that. #9 on my rankings. But of all the canon movies to try and spin a series of ongoing adventures out of why would you…
Well…speaking of characters with hidden layers going off on adventures no one expected or even asked for, what even is this nonsense?
Firstly, what are the two things everyone knows about Rapunzel? She’s got long golden hair, and she’s trapped in a tower. By the end of Tangled, neither of those are true anymore. This is like doing a Robin Hood show where he no longer robs from the rich and has instead become a quantity surveyor. Plus, the movie’s only real villain is dead. And it’s not like this was a particularly rich world that desperately needed exploring.
Nothing against Corona. Lovely scenery, good schools, suspiciously low crime rate. But it’s a pretty generic fantasy kingdom, and fairy light on the fantasy at that. There’s no real magic apart from one flower. No mythical beasts that we see other than a horse who may be some kind of equine god.
And on top of that, we already know how the story ends! Tangled Ever After shows Rapunzel and Eugene getting married with all the main characters from the first movie still alive and the status quo from the end of the first film in rude good health. So what you’ve got is a series where either nothing can happen, or anything that does happen will be reversed and will be ultimately meaningless. Which is why I feel confident in predicting, sight unseen, that this series is garbage and a waste of everyone’s valuable time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to go and validate my obviously correct first impression.
Oh for the love of Edam.
So, as most of you probably already know, Tangled the Series is actually pretty durn good. Not life-changing or anything, not a Gravity Falls or Gargoyles, but pretty spiffy. If nothing else, it’s a good example of how even the most unpromising premise for a show can be made to work by the simple trick of flinging vast sums of money and very talented people at it. This is no cheap, cynical cash in. This is a downright opulent cynical cash in. You want the original cast back? You got the original cast, plus Clancy Mawfacking Brown as Rapunzel’s father which means the series’ voice-cast is exactly one Clancy Brown better than the movie’s.
Then there’s the animation. Now, in terms of the actual motion, it’s…fine. Little Flash-esque for my taste but perfectly serviceable. But the artwork? Holy momma…
Guys…I love this. The translation of the 3D designs into 2D is done so beautifully, the characters all have this beautiful painted storybook look, the backgrounds look like the Disney necromancy department managed to resurrect Mary Blair…
It’s smurges. And then there’s the songs. Alan Menken, back in shape like an old prize-fighter looking for one more shot at glory. The songs are good to great and on balance at least the equal of those in the film. Aestaetically, it’s just a beautiful show. As a story? Well, let’s take a look at a few selected episodes.
Tangled Before Ever After
Wha happen’?: This is the hour long pilot launching the show and it opens with Eugene and Rapunzel going riding the day before she’s officially crowned Princess of Corona. But Rapunzel is getting increasingly antsy about spending her whole life cooped up in a castle considering her upbringing. Making matters worse, Eugene proposes to her in the middle of her pre-coronation dinner which causes her to freak out because a teenage girl who spent her whole life trapped in a small enclosed area is going to be leery of commitment, yes, good, smart girl. The pilot also introduces Rapunzel’s lady in waiting, Cassandra, who is the daughter of the captain of the guard from the first movie. Remember him? Lost his job to a horse? That guy. So as well being adept with with knives and swords and various implements of disembowelment, Cassandra also has a job which requires her to see Rapunzel naked on a regular basis which you get the distinct impression suits her just grand. I mean, Disney didn’t actually include a scene in the final cut where Cassandra tells Rapunzel that she wants to use her as a sock puppet, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere on the cutting room floor. So Cassandra offers to help Rapunzel escape the castle and see what’s outside the kingdom and takes her to the place where the sun flower first fell but which is now over grown by mysterious black rocks. Rapunzel touches one of these which causes all 70 feet of her hair to grow back. So now she has to get through her coronation without letting her parents know about her hair because that will get Cassandra in trouble and on top of THAT a pirate queen named Lady Caine crashes her coronation because while she was missing, Rapunzel’s father went a little Judge Dredd on the local criminal element and Caine’s father, a harmless petty thief, died in jail. Rapunzel, Cassandra and Eugene manage to fight off the Caine and her pirates but Rapunzel’s parents now know that her hair is back and Frederic grounds her.
Any good?: What it is, is a LOT. There is a lot of plot packed into this pilot. Unfortunately, a lot of it is manouevering Rapunzel back into her most recognisable and marketable idiom. And it bothers me more than it should that they have this absolutely pivotal story element that will play such a huge role in the story going forward and the best name they could come with was the “black rocks”.
The good? Well, it’s absolutely gorgeous as I said. Maybe the most beautiful animated Disney TV show period. Cassandra makes for a great addition to the cast as Rapunzel’s wannabe girfriend who’s constantly trying to get her clueless boyfriend exiled or killed (what a time to be alive). And I was both surprised and impressed that the creators are leaning in to the fact that Frederic is actually kind of a dick. I mean, I made plenty of jokes in the original Tangled review that anyone who would hang someone without trial for stealing a tiara is, shall we say, a little morally compromised. But I never actually expected that the series would build on that to say that, yeah, despite his good intentions Frederic is paranoid, secretive and has an authoritarian streak a mile wide.
“What the Hair” Season 1, Episode 1
Wha happen’?: So Eugene is feeling butt-hurt because Rapunzel still won’t tell him why her hair came back and Rapunzel won’t do THAT because because Cassandra is making her keep it a secret because she doesn’t trust him and also because she’s trying to drive a wedge between him and Rapunzel (not the only wedge she’s trying to drive if you catch my drift).
Cassandra brings Rapunzel to meet Varian, a teenage alchemy prodigy who studies her hair to see what it is and what it can do. Short version, this hair can’t heal but is indestructible and has volume that is just to die for. In trying to prove that he can keep a secret, Eugene ends up keeping a secret that almost destroys Varian’s village, namely that Varian’s got a machine under the village that’s causing earthquakes. Oh, and we learn that the Black Rocks are spreading into Corona and are threatening Varian’s village.
Any good?: Varian becomes a very important character further down the line and the series does a good job of establishing the seeds of what he’ll become while also wrong-footing the audience as to the role he’ll eventually play.
Great Expotations Season 1 Episode 8
Wha happen’?: Corona holds a science fair, Varian enters, Cass gets her first assignment as a guard and Rapunzel invents a hair dryer.
Any good?: I got a chuckle out of Rapunzel trying to invent things that she doesn’t realise have already been invented because she was held prisoner by a monstrous sociopath for the first eighteen years of her life…when I put it like that it’s less funny. Also establishes that Varian has a thing for Cass. And who doesn’t love unexpected romantic pairings?
Big Brothers of Corona Season 1 Episode 12
Wha happen’?: Eugene and Strongbow (his now reformed former partner in crime) take two adowable child pickpockets under their wing to try and reform them.
Any good?: Meh. S’fine. It gives Eugene a chance to be more than the dumb comic relief which is welcome. Nothing special.
Queen for a Day Parts 1 and 2
Wha happen’?: Sidebar: while researching this two-parter I became aware of the existence of Queen for a Day, a long running Radio and TV series from the 1940s. Quoth Wikipedia: “Each contestant was asked to talk about the recent financial and emotional hard times she had been through. The interview would climax with Bailey asking the contestant what she needed most and why she wanted to win the title of Queen for a Day. Often the request was for medical care or therapeutic equipment to help a chronically ill child, or might be for a hearing aid, a new washing machine, or a refrigerator. Many women broke down sobbing as they described their plights.
The winning contestant was selected by the audience using an applause meter; the harsher the contestant’s situation, the likelier the studio audience was to ring the applause meter’s highest level. The winner, to the musical accompaniment of “Pomp and Circumstance“, would be draped in a sable-trimmed red velvet robe, given a glittering jeweled crown to wear, placed on a velvet-upholstered throne, and handed a dozen long-stemmed roses to hold while her list of prizes was announced.
The prizes began with the help the woman had requested, and included a variety of extras, many of which were donated by sponsoring companies, such as a vacation trip, a night on the town with her husband, silver-plated flatware, an array of kitchen appliances, or a selection of fashion clothing. The losing contestants were each given smaller prizes.
Bailey’s trademark sign-off was: “This is Jack Bailey, wishing we could make every woman a queen, for every single day!“
Yeah. So next time some Boomer tries to tell you how awful pop culture is now, remind them that this atrocity ran for 19 years. And then had a revival in the seventies. And then a one off special. In 2004. Presented by MO’NIQUE. I MAY HAVE STRAYED OFF THE BEATEN TRACK.
Okay, so the episode. Frederic and Arianna are going on some kind of royal couple’s retreat and they leave Rapunzel in charge of Corona as a Temp Queen. No sooner have they left than a mysterious blizzard descends on the kingdom which can only mean one thing.
No. actually, the epic Cornonan-Arrendale War will not be recounted here. The story has three main parts: Flynn and the Snugly Duckling Gang have to rescue Frederick and Arianna from the Blizzard, Rapunzel tries to find an ancient machine hidden beneath the castle that will reverse the blizzard and Varian journey to the castle to beg Rapunzel for help saving his father who’s become encased in the Black Rocks because of an experiment Varian was conducting. Three of these characters succeed in what they set out to do.
Any Good?: This two-parter is the demarcation point between “visually gorgeous but utterly inconsequential slice-of-life princess shenanigans” to “shit just got real”. Or at least, as real as shit can get in a story about a princess with magical hair and her little iguana pal. All the way through this thing I found myself cursing the very existence of Tangled Ever After because it lessens the stakes of what is otherwise a surprisingly tense and dark story. They almost kill Pascal. Pascal people. And you see him all bruised and bloodied, shit’s hardcore. But of course, we all know he’s going to be fine because of rassin’ Tangled frassin’ Ever After and it’s goddamned six minutes of gorgeously executed equine and reptilian slapstick. Anyway, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Varian’s failure to save his father and subsequent descent into villainy and Rapunzel’s guilt over not being able to help him is well done and actually makes both characters’ actions seem understandable and believable. And we also get some much needed world building with a mention of a mysterious demon who cursed Corona with a magical blizzard long ago. Basically, this is where Rapunzel’s world and story is fleshed out into something genuinely epic.
Painter’s Block Season 1 Episode 13
Wha happen’?: Still wrestling with the difficult decisions she had to make during her brief reign, Rapunzel is struck with artist’s block after her father awards her a commission to paint a massive mural during the Corona art festival because the kingdom is a festering cesspit of corruption and brazen nepotism. To overcome her artist’s block she starts taking art lessons from a creepy old lady who is actually some kind of demon that Rapunzel unwittingly released when she turned on the mysterious machine in the last episode. And said demon is trying to free its master from another dimension by getting a load of brainwashed painters to paint a mysterious evil tree. Eugene and Cassandra rescue Rapunzel and the other painters and they finish the mural together.
Any good?: This one was written in a game of mad libs, I swear to God. What the hell is even going on? Also, the mural they paint at the end? This triumphant overcoming of Rapunzel’s artistic limitations?
The Quest for Varian/The Alchemist Returns Episodes 20 & 21
Wha happen’?: Rapunzel gets a note from Varian asking her to go to his lab and recover a graphtyc which he says will unlock the secret of the Black Rocks. When the gang get there they discover that Varian’s village is now abandoned and completely overrun by the Black Rocks. This shocks Rapunzel because her father told her that the Black Rocks had been taken care of. In the lab they find the graphtyc but are attacked by mysterious masked figures who chase them through the countryside and force them to hide in Rapunzel’s old tower. The masked men follow them and the tower is destroyed. Rapunzel unmasks their pursuer who turn out to be…the palace guards acting on Frederic’s orders!
Furious, Rapunzel confronts her father who tells her that the lying and the menacing her with faceless assailants was all for her own protection this fucking guy right here. Rapunzel is so pissed that she agrees to help Varian when he appears in the castle looking for the secret vault where Frederic’s been keeping the sun flower all these years despite telling everyone that’s its gone and honestly, I’m starting to think Blondie was better off with Gothel. While Rapunzel leads Varian to the secret vault, all the guards in the palace start acting strangely. Once they get the flower Varian reveals that he has no real intention to save Corona from the Black Rocks and only wants to save his father and Rapunzel realises that he’s the one who drugged all the guards. Rapunzel tries to convince Varian not to take the flower and promises that she’ll work with him to save his father but Varian responds that he’s learned not to trust her promises. He returns home and tries to free his father using the now dessicated flower, only to realise that the magic is in Rapunzel’s hair now…
Any good?: Are you kidding?! They destroy the tower! Varian breaks bad! Rapunzel commits treason! FREDERIC HAS BEEN LYING ABOUT EVERYTHING! This two parter is just one long string of “holy shit!” moments. This is where the show really pulls out all the stops and brings several simmering plot points to a head. It’s damn good television.
And that’s that. Or at least, that’s all the episodes that were requested of me that are on Disney Life, I’ll have to circle back next year. But, hands in the hair. I was taken completely by surprise, this series is better than it has any right to be, and does a great job fleshing out characters that originally felt perhaps a little…
How butt ugly is the animation? Is it as ugly as a butt?: 14/20
Jaw droppingly gorgeous.
Are the main characters jerks? I bet they’re jerks: 18/20
I…may actually prefer this version of Rapunzel.
Bet the villain’s a real shitpile, character wise: 13/20
Yes. I know Varian’s not the real long term villain. Yes, I know who it actually is. Please don’t spoil it in the comments.
Oh what’s this? Supporting characters? Fuck you supporting characters!: 16/20
Once of the things that made Maximus and Pascal so fantastic was the absolutely superlative animation of the original. That’s obviously not an option on a TV budget so they suffer somewhat. That said, the series does introduce some great new characters and fleshes out a world that was always a little thing before.
Man, fuck the music. I hope it dies: 13/20
Yeah, the aggressive, hostile Disney Sequel categories really aren’t working this time around. Songs are pretty great.
FINAL SCORE: 74%
NEXT UPDATE: 28 November 2019
NEXT TIME: Another animé review featuring schoolgirls. And so, my customary prayer…