My housemate Christine is one of those people who only gets around to seeing the movies everyone’s talking about years after the fact.
“Movies cut into nap time.”
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?
Oh. Right. The songs that will define a generation.
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.
All in the game, yo.
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.
He does the dishes without asking and his dick is shaped like a Y.
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.
“Hey sarge? Do you think maybe one of us should actually be looking at the thing we’re supposed to be guarding?”
“Look, I don’t care what you learned in your fancy seminar, private. Round here we do things my way.”
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.
“Stallion to a murdered mare. Father to a murdered foal. And I will have my revenge. In this life, or the next.”
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…
Let me just consult “Ye Old Tome of Frank Welker Gags”.
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.
Man, I’m starting to scrape the barrel here.
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…
LAZY BASTARD KOOKABURRAS!!!
…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.