Overrated, thy name is Tangled. I'll admit straight-up and first thing that I loved seeing Disney go back to wonderfully nostalgic traditional animation in 2009's The Princess and the Frog and was disappointed to see them retreat to standard-issue 3D the next movie out, so I probably walked into Tangled with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. If you think that makes my opinion and review biased bullshit, then that's totally cool. Be on your way; I take no offense.
But as it turns out, I was wrong — not about it being a rather lukewarm cinematic experience, but about the visuals, which were probably the best part of the film. I still would have preferred to see it traditionally animated, but outside of the human characters being a bit plasticky Tangled is enormously successful at establishing gorgeous fantasy settings. The stark, lonely look of Rapunzel's tower echoes Beauty and the Beast, the majestic royal kingdom across the lake evokes "once upon a time" with perfection, and there's one scene involving countless floating lanterns that probably trumps anything in Toy Story 3 or How to Train Your Dragon for sheer visual beauty. There's no denying this is one pretty film.
It's the meat and potatoes that wind up being a little moldy with Tangled, not the visual plate they're served on. For starters, whatever the trailers may suggest, Tangled is very much a Disney musical, packed with plenty of songs. Which is great! Except that each song, with the possible exception of the love song "I See the Light" which has the luck of being paired with the visuals of the aforementioned lantern scene, goes in one ear and immediately out the other, including Rapunzel's opening ditty that's really just Mandy Moore singing like Mandy Moore and a villain song that's a third-tier "Poor Unfortunate Souls."
In all fairness, I made the exact same gripe about fairly forgettable music when I reviewed The Princess and the Frog last year, but what that movie did have was a very flashy and entertaining villain in voodoo master Dr. Facilier, pretty much a black version of Jafar. Tangled on the other hand gives us Mother Gothel, who steals Rapunzel as a baby and locks her in a tower so she can live forever using Rapunzel's enchanted, life-giving hair (the magic hair being the main embellishment to the original fairy tale). Gothel has no henchmen, political status, grand schemes, or magical power outside of the hair, just selfish intentions, emotional manipulation, and a thirst for longevity. She's about as intimidating as Aladdin's Iago.
On the heels of Scar and Ursula and Maleficent this simply wasn't acceptable, and it made the conflict feel loose and minimally gripping the minute that Rapunzel and the dashing thief she was obviously going to fall in love with, Flynn Rider, escaped the tower together in the first act. Yeah, Gothel swings back around to make more trouble for 'em, but you never really feel like the pressure's on. And without giving away specifics, Tangled ends with one of the most absurd and unearned deus ex machina finales that I've seen on the big screen in years, a moment that spits in the face of the film's internal rulebook. Let's just say that it's reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast... but shittier and less explicable. I felt insulted, to be perfectly honest.
I didn't find Rapunzel and Flynn's love to be particularly believable as anything beyond lustful infatuation either, but that's really true of most Disney love stories outside of Beauty and the Beast and arguably Tarzan, the films that give you a sense of passage of time, so I won't hold it against the movie too much. I do love The Little Mermaid, but if you go back and rewatch it as an adult, which I did a year or two back, it's kind of hilarious how nonexistent and borderline-creepy Ariel and Eric's relationship actually is, and let's not even get started on "we meet, now we're immediately in love" in The Lion King.
So ultimately you have a film with lush fantasy visuals and a somewhat likable Disney princess trying to make up for instantly forgettable music, one of Disney's weakest villains ever, a lack of tension or stakes, a harmless but extremely generic love story, and a piss-poor climax. Long gone are the days of Aladdin and Jafar's apocalyptic final showdown. You should certainly watch it if you're a Disney princess junkie, for completion's sake if nothing else, but if you're looking for a fun animated fantasy adventure you'd be much, much better off watching DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon, a film that one-ups Tangled several times over in almost every one of the categories I've just mentioned.
2 Stars out of 5