It did not augur well for Disney’s latest princess cartoon when the studio changed the title from Rapunzel to Tangled, in hopes of enticing more little princes. Let down your hair, but hedge your bets. The movie puts less emphasis on its protagonist’s backstory (magic hair, kidnapped, no barbers) than it does on establishing a knowing superiority to its storybook origins—a tone borrowed from the Shrek movies, though thankfully not quite so pungent. Few marketing opportunities are missed: The opening ballad sounds like Hannah Montana tween twang; a tiny chameleon sidekick is Happy Meal-ready. Worse, Tangled is Disney’s latest effort to transition its formula into computer animation, and the movie can’t shake a gleam of plastic. The Toy Story pictures function as a celebration of childhood playthings; Tangled just comes across as an inducement to buy more toys. The heroine, voiced by Mandy Moore, looks like a Mandy Moore baby doll—I’m actually a little surprised no one thought to stuff a stocking with her until now.
But once you accept that the film appears built from a box of Playmobil toys, Tangled is moderately enchanting. Voicing Rapunzel’s calculating surrogate mom, Broadway vet Donna Murphy channels a blend of Barbra Streisand and Bette Davis in All About Eve. Alan Menken has been brought back to pen the songs, and while none of his compositions is as catchy as his collaborations with Alan Sherman on The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, he has apparently instructed the directors, Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, what hits to beat. There’s the giddy supporting-character comedy number (“I’ve Got a Dream,” a genuinely delightful vaudeville bit starring ugly brigands with innocent ambitions), not one but two climactic sacrifices for love, and a romantic serenade on a gondola. This last entry provides Tangled’s singular moment of visual awe: A bouquet of airborne candles turns the screen into a delicate magic lantern show. The scene is not only beautiful, but sincere about its beauty. Possibly Disney should take a lesson from every children’s movie it ever made, and remember to believe in itself. PG.