Is Tangled the perfect animated Disney film?
This past week, I had the opportunity to see Disney’s Tangled on the big screen. I missed the original theatrical run in 2010, only catching it at home several years later. Since 2010, Tangled has become something of a forgotten gem. While it did help kick off the start of the Disney revival period that we’re currently experiencing, it didn’t get remotely the same attention or box office as Frozen or even Moana. And it wasn’t even nominated for Best Animated Feature. How come, Chief Willoughby?
Tangled doesn’t have the nostalgia that other Disney classics do, but it’s still a fantastic film. And seeing it on the big screen, nine years after its initial release had me asking the question, “Is Tangled the perfect animated Disney film?”
When I say “perfect”, I don’t necessarily mean my personal favorite, or even the objective best film of the Disney animated collection (both of those go to The Lion King, of course). What I mean to suggest is that Tangled has perfected the Disney formula. As I was sitting in the theatre, marveling at the storytelling, the beautiful animation, the catchy tunes, and the fun-loving animal sidekicks, I had a realization: Tangled is cliché. It’s straight out of the fairy-tale book that Shrek uses as toilet paper at the start of his film from 2001. Tangled starts with a dopey voice-over telling us about a magical flower that grants eternal youth. It follows the story of a young girl learning to seize control of her life, fall in love, and reclaim her rightful place as princess of some ambiguously European kingdom. We’ve seen this all before in countless other Disney films.
And yet...everything in Tangled works. And it works really well. We’ve seen animal sidekicks before. But Pascal and Maximus are iconic, both having comedic personality to spare. We’ve seen the dashingly handsome bad boy with a secret heart of gold. But Zachary Levi’s Flynn Rider charms the pants off of us the moment he steps on screen. And we’ve had plenty of films starring white doe-eyed princesses with a thirst for rebellion. But Mandy Moore’s Rapunzel is so cute and loving that you can’t help but be invested in her quest to see the lanterns in the night sky.
While recent Disney fare such as Moana and Frozen has intentionally subverted the tropes of past fairy-tale films, and more specifically, Disney princess films, Tangled embraces it. But unlike most films that borrow from older films, Tangled doesn’t feel like a hollow imitation. Instead, it takes what makes films like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid so good and perfects it, taking advantage of advances in technology to make some truly breathtaking animation while also remembering to imbue its characters with personality.
There are small moments that make Tangled unique. The scene on the water as the lanterns light up the sky is gorgeous, especially on the big screen. Mother Gothel is a slight twist on the villain formula. And the climax of the film is surprisingly ballsy for a children’s movie that has to sell merchandise. At a fast-paced hour and forty minutes, Tangled fires on all cylinders without feeling artificial or engineered.
But ultimately, Tangled is a perfect reminder that same doesn’t mean bad. Films can embrace tropes of their genre and still give us an experience that is just as magical as what came before, if not more so. In a year that has seen stale remake/sequel after stale remake/sequel struggle to connect with the movie-going audience, Tangled was a refreshing experience that shows how classic beats can be used effectively to make something that is at the same time completely new and comfortingly familiar.
In one line: Tangled takes everything that is great about the Disney formula and perfects it into a charming, hilarious, and beautiful fairy tale that is among the best films that Disney has to offer.