In 1937, Walt Disney’s production company introduced its version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the studio’s first full-length animated film. The characters included a beautiful girl, an evil antagonist, a handsome prince and some cute little animal friends. The formula worked then and through the years that followed. Now in Tangled, Disney’s 50th animated movie, filmmakers are sticking with the tried and true premise as they tell the story of the golden-haired Rapunzel.
In keeping with modern times, Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) is spunkier than the demure Snow White. Wielding her long locks as skillfully as Indiana Jones brandishes his bullwhip, the young girl, who has been confined to a tower ever since she can remember, entertains herself during the long lonely hours that her mother is away.
Unbeknownst to her, Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy) is not her mom but an evil enchantress. The wicked captor kidnapped the royal infant when she discovered the child’s fair hair had magical powers that enabled her to retain her youth. Refusing to tell the girl about her real parents, Mother Gothel verbally abuses Rapunzel. She also scares her into staying inside by rehearsing all the dangers and ills that exist outside the isolated brick tower.
However, as her eighteenth birthday nears, the inquisitive teen grows increasingly curious about the world, especially the beautiful lights that appear in the sky every year on her birth date. Finally a chance to escape her confinement comes when a common thief (voiced by Zachary Levi) scales the tower and climbs through the open window. Flynn Ryder (i.e. the handsome prince for the sake of this story) is a misguided orphan trying to make a name for himself by stealing the royal jewels with the help of the Stabbington Brothers (voiced by Ron Perlman). But after bamboozling his cohorts, Flynn makes off with the stolen crown and heads for a hiding spot away from the two muscular thugs and the King’s soldiers.
Unfortunately, once inside the tower, Flynn is met in the face with the flat side of a frying pan. (This culinary object becomes the weapon of choice for several characters in this story.) Although it is played as slapstick, the nervous young girl repeatedly whams the intruder over the head and shoves him into a closet to hide him from her mother. Only later does she realize he may be her ticket to the outside world. Summoning her courage, Rapunzel convinces Flynn to take her to see the lights in exchange for the crown she has hidden. But Mother Gothel isn’t happy once she discovers her little charge has bolted. With the help of the jilted jewel thieves, she sets out to find Rapunzel and her reluctant guide.
Added to the formulaic story is an engaging group of hoodlums who hang out at the local bar, a friendly chameleon and a dedicated cavalry horse that tracks Flynn with dog-like skills. Though many of these characters experience moments of peril, more serious depictions of danger include one character that receives a bloody, life threatening injury and another who falls from a window, resulting in death.
Yet while Tangled rehashes the same storyline we’ve seen before, this proverbial plot demonstrates why it has staying power. It is like a familiar and comforting bedtime story asked for over and over again. And as the charming Rapunzel faces up to her fears of the unknown and follows her dreams, this plucky princess with the flaxen hair proves herself to be an enchanting addition to the long list of Disney royalty.