16. Tangled

Speaking of flashy visuals that find a way to be more than that…

It’s a generally accepted fact that the magic has gone out of Disney. After a brief, impossibly strong run from ’89-’94 (The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King), it’s been hit and miss for the studio ever since. I’ve enjoyed some of the films (Mulan and Bolt were both solid, and I have a special place in my heart for The Emperor’s New Groove), but I’ve skipped most without a second thought and haven’t regretted it – though I’m assuming that the people who actually might’ve (Anyone see Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Chicken Little, or Home on the Range? You have my sympathies).

But along comes Tangled with a remarkably simple pitch: do a classic Disney princess story, with all the magic and wonderment and songs sung by princesses staring out windows that comes with such things, but do it as a computer animated film instead. Bet the guy who thought up Meet The Robinsons is kicking himself he didn’t think of that.

Times being what they are, of course you have to have famous names to voice the characters (when did this practice start? The earliest I can remember is Robin Williams in Aladdin, other than Burl Ives as a claymation snowman). Fortunately, instead of being distracting or schticky, both of the stars cast here are excellent choices. Mandy Moore gives her sighing princess just the right amount of spunk, while Zachary Levi lends an intrinsic niceness to a roguish hero who could’ve turned unpleasant in the wrong hands.

The real hero here is the animation, though. It’s only very recently that animators have been able to animate human faces in ways that aren’t disconcerting, and Tangled is a nice blend of cartoony and realistic, with a surprisingly endearing bit of 3-D animation thrown in. The finished product works perfectly. There’s a beautiful bit towards the end where the characters release thousands of floating candles to the sky, and the camera weaves in and around them, till the viewer ends up dizzy from trying to take it all in at once.

Maybe the magic isn’t all the way back in Walt’s old stomping grounds (I can’t be the only one worried about the full-length Winnie-The-Pooh film next year), but it was awfully nice to go into a Disney movie and be so pleasantly surprised.