For part 1, click here.
Yesterday I talked about this movie’s very complex backstory, its critical reception and my personal history with it. So instead of recapping that, let’s talk about the original Rapunzel fairytale. I’m going to try to sum up the full Grimm classic in one paragraph.
A husband steals a Rapunzel plant from a witch for his very pregnant and hungry wife. When he’s caught, the witch offers to forgive him, but only if they give her their child after he or she is born. The witch raises the baby girl, named Rapunzel, as her own. When the girl is 12 she’s locked in a tower, and the only way up is climbing her long hair. One day, a prince comes across the tower. They fall in love, they bone, and Rapunzel is impregnated. She’s confused about her weight gain and asks the witch about it. The witch is furious, cuts Rapunzel’s hair and kicks her out of the tower. The prince returns, but is scared into jumping out of the tower by the witch. He lands on a bush and blinds himself. Depending on the story, either the witch tries to climb down but forgets to secure the hair first and dies upon her landing, or her fate isn’t explained. Either way, both Rapunzel and the prince wander the wilderness for several years. Rapunzel gives birth in the desert. When they finally reunite, Rapunzel’s tears of joy heal the prince’s sight and they live happily ever after.
Whatever you think of the original fairy tale, there are some weird aspects of the story. One, there’s no real reason for Rapunzel to be locked in the tower. Either way, the witch openly raises the girl as her own daughter and the parents must abide by the deal no matter how the feel about it. Two, there’s no real reason for Rapunzel to have long hair. Even if she’s locked in a tower, there are other ways to climb up without someone’s hair. Also wouldn’t that eventually tear Rapunzel’s hair out? And three, the story makes no effort whatsoever to explain exactly how Rapunzel’s tear heals the prince’s sight. Nevertheless, Rapunzel is up there with the most widely recognized fairy tales in existence. It’s often referenced in comedies, like Airplane when a childish control worker excitedly shouts “we’re off to the tower of Rapunzel. RAPUNZEL!”
However at the same time, it’s notoriously hard to adapt into a feature length film. The title character spends most of the story locked away in a tower, which would make for boring scenery in a kid’s film. Maybe a more mature version could work if Rapunzel slowly goes crazy while she’s locked in a single room with nothing to do and no real company, but most kids need something more to keep their attention.
Glen Keane, who started off as Tangled’s director, came up with a brilliant solution. Magic hair.
The backstory in Tangled is a bit of a role reversal. In Disney’s adaptation, Rapunzel is royalty, while her “prince charming” is a thief. Her mother fell deathly ill during pregnancy. The king orders his soldiers to search the land for a magical flower that can heal anyone. This flower has been hidden away by an old lady, who’s been using it for centuries to stay young. When the soldiers find it, they take it to the castle, grind it into a soup and feed it to the mother.
The magical flower soup heals the queen, and she gives birth to a girl with already long, blonde hair (both of her parents are brunettes). Like the magic flower, if you sing to the hair it’ll heal and de-age you. When the old lady, Gothel, tried to cut some of the hair for herself, it turned brown and lost its power. Refusing to let anything stand in her way of staying young forever, Gothel steals the baby and raises her as a daughter.
Right away, everything about the movie’s backstory is genius. It gives Rapunzel a reason to have long hair. It explains the magical healing tear that directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno included in the movie’s finale. It explains why Gothel raises Rapunzel in her secluded tower. Since Rapunzel is a princess, there’s an entire army she is hidden from. With a story about a lost princess and her distressed parents, there’s an inherent emotional core to the movie as well.
Tangled equally stars Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder. Rapunzel is about to turn 18, and she spends her days trying to stay optimistic, learning to be very good at her vast number of hobbies and dreaming about seeing the “floating lights” that only appear in the sky on her birthday. Flynn describes himself as “a dashing rogue”, and spends his time stealing expensive things from secure locations and then screwing over his “partners”. After he steals the crown of the lost princess, he’s chased through the woods by the guards, until he stumbles upon the hidden castle.
The rest of the movie is about Flynn and Rapunzel traveling toward the floating lights, something that Rapunzel’s always dreamed of doing, in exchange for Rapunzel giving back the crown she hid after knocking Flynn out. At first they really don’t trust each other, but they try to act friendly anyway. This leads to a lot of great humour and some deep tension between them. As the movie goes on, they start to grow closer. Flynn learns to open up about who he really is, and he learns to actually care about someone. Rapunzel realizes that she’s much stronger than she thought, and she learns a lot about the world and the people inhabiting it. By the end of the movie, not only do they fall in love, but it’s to the point where they’re both willing to sacrifice everything for each other.
To this point, Rapunzel and Flynn’s romantic relationship is by far the most developed of the Disney Princess movies. It’s a longer movie than Beauty and the Beast, giving them more time to grow together. It’s also a simpler story with a smaller cast than The Princess and the Frog, giving the movie a more focused feel. And when they’re both willing to sacrifice their lives for each other at the climax (one metaphorically and one literally), you believe it.
They’re both great characters in their own right as well. Rapunzel is almost boundlessly optimistic, and her joyful attitude tends to infect others. She’s creative and naturally gets along with people, something she realizes more and more as the movie goes on. At the same time, she’s incredibly naïve, to the point where it sometimes puts her in danger. She’s not all that confident at first, and we’ll get into why later. But most importantly, she cares a lot about others and is a natural leader, even if she’s too naïve to do it properly within the movie’s timeframe. She’s also quite dangerous with a frying pan, thinks quickly on her feet and knows how to use her magical long hair in a lot of creative ways.
Flynn starts the movie as a selfish jerk who only cares about his infamous reputation and money. He very reluctantly agrees to be Rapunzel’s guide at first, looking down on this peculiar, clearly lonely young woman. When he starts to realize she’s more competent than she first appeared. He starts to open up, and at a moment where they think they’ll both die, he even tells her his real name, Eugene. Rapunzel’s optimism and caring attitude helps Eugene learn to be a more honest person. He ends up buying Rapunzel a few souvenirs at a kingdom festival held annually for the lost princess. He even goes as far as taking her on a boat onto the lake to get the best possible view of the lanterns the kingdom raises on Rapunzel’s birthday.
Fun fact – the studio actually gathered a bunch of their female animators and creators for a meeting on how to make Flynn as attractive as possible.
Mother Gothel, the movie’s version of the witch, is a fascinating villain in her own right. Unlike most previous Disney Princess villains, she doesn’t demonstrate any magical power of any kind. The movie doesn’t make it clear whether she’s a witch or not. In fact there’s a lot of mystery surrounding Gothel. She’s a master manipulator who’s convinced Rapunzel over the years that she loves her dearly, but that Rapunzel is too weak to survive outside. She outthinks pretty much everyone in the movie after Rapunzel leaves the tower. She even orchestrates the classic misunderstanding between the young couple in a way that works for this movie (the third act breakup is usually my most hated aspect of movie romances).
There’s a lot of subtlety behind Gothel’s behavior. For example, she and Rapunzel have this routine where Gothel says “I love you”. Rapunzel replied “I love you more,” and then Gothel concludes “I love you most.” Every time Gothel speaks the last line, she’s holding Rapunzel’s hair as if she’s speaking to that. It opens up an unanswered mystery – does Gothel truly love Rapunzel? That’s left very open for debate, making it one of the many fascinating aspects of the character.
The voice actors behind each of these characters are great. Mandy Moore perfectly captures Rapunzel’s optimistic attitude, and she’s got a really good singing voice as well. Zachary Levi encompasses Flynn’s smooth talking persona very well, and he’s got fantastic comedic timing. His singing in this movie is surprisingly good for someone who never sung for a movie beforehand. He could probably even release a successful album if he wanted to. Donna Murphy sells Gothel’s manipulative nature very well. When she’s speaking to Rapunzel, there’s an almost artificial caring nature to her tone, but when she goes full-blown villain, she’s really intense.
Other characters include the obligatory sidekicks, the roughians, a handful of guards and the king and queen. Pascal is Rapunzel’s pet chameleon and her best friend. He’s got a lot of great deadpan humour and often acts as an external representation of Rapunzel’s thoughts. He’s cute too. Maximus the horse on the other hand is just plain awesome. He’s by far the most competent member of the imperial guard, even outfighting Flynn with a sword in his mouth. This happens just after Flynn knocks out the captain of the guard and two other guards all at once.
At the same time, Maximus has his own character arc, where he learns to ease up on his very militaristic behavior. Near the end of the movie, he breaks Flynn out of prison, deciding that rescuing Rapunzel from Gothel is more important than following regulations to the letter. The roughians are these pub thugs Rapunzel and Flynn meet along the way, and they’re all given surprisingly deep characterization for their limited screen time thanks to the “I’ve Got a Dream” song. They’re fun and charming too.
The most emotionally effective minor characters are the king and queen. Neither of them speak a single line in the movie. Instead, their entire story is told through their facial expressions and body language, with the assistance of the soundtrack. The moment before they raise the first lantern is brilliantly done.
Speaking of the soundtrack by Alan Menken, I would argue that the movie’s core soundtrack is the best Disney Animation Studios soundtrack since The Lion King. The opening sounds mysterious and wondrous, with a mix of happier tunes and darker moments. The action scenes have exciting tunes behind them. The emotional moments are enhanced by softer music behind it. By no means am I saying Tangled’s soundtrack is as good as the likes of Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast as a whole – there are a couple weird moments, but I would argue that Tangled has the single best soundtrack moment in Disney history. Hear it for yourself, with the movie’s visuals but all the background sound removed.
I will never get sick of that scene.
When I first watched this movie back in 2013, the fact that Tangled is a musical kind of threw me off. It was of course the first Disney movie I had watched in years. I also thought the songs were just ok, with the exception of “I See The Light.” When I finally re-watched it earlier this year, and then watched it several more times, they started growing on me. Rapunzel’s opening number, “When Will My Life Begin” is a modern style pop number. It features Rapunzel singing about her daily attempts at entertaining herself. It sounds optimistic at first, but the more you listen to it, the more tragic it feels. She’s clearly longing for something more and the visuals and subtlety in the lyrics tell that brilliantly.
Gothel’s “Mother Knows Best” is a pure Broadway number that perfectly highlights her manipulative nature. It’s catchy, it’s grown on me and it’s not hard to find people referencing it on the internet. “I’ve Got a Dream” is a comedic lounge number that adds a surprising amount of depth to a bunch of supporting characters in a short amount of time. It’s also a lot of fun, and it even makes fun of the fact that this movie is a musical through Flynn’s body language and dialogue. Apart from 2007’s Enchanted, I don’t think any other Disney movie has ever done that. These songs won’t be for everyone, but I’ve enjoyed them all with each subsequent listen.
But the real highlight is “I See The Light”. Although it didn’t quite win the Oscar for best original song (that went to Toy Story 3’s “We Belong Together”), it received the nomination and won the award in a couple other award shows. With all due respect to Toy Story 3, which did deserve its Best Animated Feature award, “I See The Light” is easily the better song. It’s a soft romantic number in the style of “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, but with lyrics that tie into the character development and the movie’s themes at the same time. Tied together with the movie’s most brilliant visual moment and you’ve got a scene that’s hard not to tear up over. Just watch.
Fun fact – the lead-up to that scene scene, combined with The Kingdom Dance, also holds the world record for the largest crowd in an animated movie (beating out the previous record holder, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). There are over 3,000 people in the crowd, each of them independently animated.
If for some reason you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend it. It’s an adventure movie first and foremost, with heavy comedic and romantic elements. The characters are fantastic, the visuals still hold up very well today, the soundtrack is brilliant and while not everyone will enjoy every song, there’s nothing wrong with them. It’s Disney Animation Studio’s 50th feature, their first CGI Disney Princess movie, and also their first PG rated princess movie. And yes, it earns that PG rating with its darker themes and the occasional blood shown on screen.
Up to this point in my blog series, Tangled is my favourite Disney movie since The Lion King.
Next up is Winnie the Pooh, what is currently the last traditionally animated movie the studio ever released. After that, it’s Wreck It Ralph, followed by Frozen. I’m probably not going to do a Princess and the Frog vs. Tangled post, but I will do a Tangled vs Frozen post for sure. I’ll be sure to mention Princess and the Frog in that post when I do.
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