Nov. 24 2010 12:00 AM

Disney puts a sweet spin on Rapunzel in engaging 'Tangled'


The character of Rapunzel is much better known than her story is, which gives Team Disney a certain amount of license to sweeten up her saga in "Tangled," a buoyant, often uproarious musical comedy that already has a hallowed place in the studio's history: It is, as the opening title informs us, Disney's 50th animated feature.

Fittingly, a golden anniversary is marked by a heroine with golden hair -- and Rapunzel has hair to spare. Dan Fogelman's screenplay casts her as an artistically inclined teen beauty who makes the best of being stuck in a sky-high tower located in a remote corner of a vast forest. Rapunzel (her voice is provided by Mandy Moore, once again demonstrating she's a gifted actress as well as a fine singer) has no idea she's actually a princess abducted from her royal cradle as an infant by Mother Gothel (Broadway star Donna Murphy), an ancient sorceress -- and an almost dead ringer for "Dynasty"-era Joan Collins -- who covets the healing powers of Rapunzel: Whenever Mother Gothel begins to show her true age, she strokes Rapunzel's radiant tresses and, like She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed bathing in the flame of eternal life, she is instantly rejuvenated.

Unfortunately, the arrangement may be up for renegotiation soon, since Rapunzel is growing increasingly curious about the world far below her feet. "Skip the drama -- stay with mama," the aggressively passive-aggressive Mother Gothel advises, but when Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), a bandit on the lam, takes refuge in Rapunzel's high-rise hideout while her protector is away, Rapunzel uses her wits to coerce Flynn into taking her to an annual festival she's long dreamed of attending. Mother Gothel, unsurprisingly, does not adjust easily to empty-nest syndrome.

The original "Rapunzel" is pretty grim even by the Brothers Grimm's standards (Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" does a pretty good job of conveying the basics). "Tangled," on the other hand, is generally jolly, with delightful comic support from a charmer of a chameleon named Pascal and a pompous, true-blue thoroughbred known as Maximus. The songs by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater are pleasant and sometimes witty, particularly Mother Gothel's anthemic "Mother Knows Best," which Murphy delivers with devilish diva-osity.

As was the case with "Up" and "Toy Story 3," the 3D effects are little more than window dressing in "Tangled," aside from a gorgeous romantic interlude in which Flynn and Rapunzel are surrounded by hundreds of balloon lanterns during a quiet boat ride. Otherwise, "Tangled" won't lose much if you choose to see it in the "flat" format.

Disney devotees may remember there was a joke about Rapunzel included in Amy Adams' "That's How You Know" number in "Enchanted"; "Tangled" returns the favor, with a quick homage to "Enchanted," one of the movie's many smile-worthy moments.

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