A week or so back, I was complaining that the romantic comedy “Morning Glory” had plenty of romance but was woefully short of comedy. Why, I wondered, can’t anyone seem to find the sweet spot that blends the two?
It turns out that someone can: Walt Disney animators. Disney’s new film “Tangled” – the studio’s fiftieth animated feature – manages to be romantic, musical, moving – and outstandingly funny. Don’t skip it simply because it’s made in computer-animated 3D. (As always, the 3D is wholly unnecessary, This film works perfectly well in 2D, if you can find a theater showing it. Save yourself the price of a premium ticket.)
This is the fairy tale of Rapunzel, but you won’t find that in the title. Disney apparently was scared off of calling fairy tales what they are by last year’s delightful “The Princess and the Frog.” Apparently, marketing geniuses decided that the word princess – or a girl’s name at all – in the title of an animated film made it an uncool ticket buy for boys in the 8-13 range.
But make no mistake – it’s the tale of the girl in the tower with the long, loooong hair. In this version, her hair has magical healing powers, gained from a flower that was brewed in a potion and given to her mother during childbirth to save her life. The powers transferred to the child – but then a wicked old woman (who had discovered and nurtured the flower until the king’s men found it) stole the baby. Now the woman, Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy), uses the hair’s magical powers to rejuvenate herself on a regular basis. And she’s kept the girl hidden away in a tower for 18 years, telling her that she keeps her there because the world is full of wicked people who want to steal her hair’s magic.
The hero in this story is a raffish thief named Flynn (voiced by Zachary Levi of “Chuck”) who, with a pair of ruffians called the Stabbington brothers (voiced by Ron Perelman), have broken into the castle (where Rapunzel’s real parents, the king and queen, live) and stolen a crown. Chased by the king’s men (and one particularly determined horse called Maximus), Flynn escapes into the hidden valley where Rapunzel’s tower is. Mother Gothel isn’t home – but when Flynn climbs up to the tower, Rapunzel clocks him with a frying pan and trusses him up.
Eventually it comes out that Rapunzel wants nothing more than to go to town to see the release of lighted flying lanterns that happens annually on her birthday. (Unbeknownst to both her and Flynn, she’s the missing princess the ceremony is meant to commemorate.) So Flynn reluctantly agrees to take her to see it.
The jeopardy that they encounter includes both plenty of laughs and lots of excitement. Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard keep the action moving at a brisk pace, always innovative and surprising. The animation is outstanding – so photorealistic that you assume you are watching actual physical objects – stop-action puppets, say – set against real backgrounds.
Yet you don’t have time to focus on the technical wizardry because the story itself and the characters within it are so beautifully fleshed out. Yes, there are still those who think animated films are just for kids. But this movie rises to the standard of “Beauty and the Beast,” as an animated film that has the depth of feeling and character that a live-action film does.
The music is also almost on a par with the best scores Alan Menken, the film’s composer, has created for Disney in the past. There are at least a couple of songs that will be in the Oscar mix.
Mandy Moore gives Rapunzel spunk and heart, while Levi voices Flynn with just the right mix of smart aleck and con man. Murphy, as Mother Gothel, gets some of the film’s most cruelly funny lines as the passive-aggressive guardian. And Brad Garrett and Jeffrey Tambor pop up as voices in a tavern full of ruffians who find themselves charmed by Rapunzel’s naiveté.
“Tangled” is the movie that will give “Toy Story 3” a run for its money in the race for best animated feature. It’s certainly the most charming, funniest romantic comedy of the season, perhaps of the year. Don’t miss it.