Virginia: Hello, and welcome back to a Decade of Disney, where we’re chronicling the past 10 years of Disney animation leading up to next week’s release of Frozen II. Today, we’ll be discussing 2010’s Tangled, one of my all-time favorite films. Personally, although I know Disney is a big, scary corporation, this movie always felt intensely personal to me. The way Rapunzel feels like the lanterns were meant for her; that’s precisely how this film makes me feel. One of the greatest things about Tangled is the main characters, Rapunzel and Eugene Fitzherbert, aka Flynn Rider. They’re both nuanced and develop in interesting ways, and they make a fantastic couple with great chemistry. I also love the film’s visual style, inspired by The Swing, a famous painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Glen Keane, Rapunzel’s designer and the film’s initial director, wanted a look that was reminiscent of paintings and traditional animation. What do you think of Tangled, Munir?
Munir: I would like to offer some context. Tangled represented a turning point for Walt Disney Animation Studios. After a challenging decade, WDAS started to regain some of its reputation as a great studio when they released Meet the Robinsons in 2007. Though not quite a box office smash, Robinsons was warmly received and started a wave of change at the studio. 2008’s Bolt continued that trend, and 2009’s The Princess and the Frog saw the return of traditional animation and musical fairy tales, which were absent since the ’90s. Unfortunately, Princess and the Frog under-performed, and all eyes were focused on the next film. Like Princess and the Frog, Tangled was a musical fairy tale, but done in CGI. Initial trailers were met with skepticism and disdain, as they resembled the 2000s DreamWorks films. It appeared as if Disney didn’t want you to know Tangled was a musical, and it looked like a mediocre comedy with cheap gags and annoying characters. Fortunately, once the film was released, it was met with critical acclaim. More importantly (for the studio at least), it was a moderate box office success. I say moderate because Tangled remains the most expensive film in the Disney canon, costing a whopping $260 million! Regardless of that, Disney felt confident that audiences were eager to embrace the traditional musical fairy tales again. This has been reflected in the releases of Frozen (and its sequel) and Moana. Tangled also ushered in a decade where most of the films released were met with acclaim and significant earnings, making the studio a powerhouse again and putting it at the same level as its sister, Pixar. Now, going into the movie, I agree with you that this is a delightful film with well-developed characters and gorgeous animation (based on that budget, you couldn’t expect less). Just take a look at Rapunzel’s hair; you can see the level of detail and artistry the animators created for this film. Another welcome addition is the music of Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater. They imbued the movie with many strong songs and a classically folksy score that goes perfectly with the visuals. Nine years later, Tangled remains a bright spot in the Disney canon, and its story still holds up nicely.
V: Tangled has some really great tracks, both instrumental and lyrical. I can understand why this isn’t considered one of the great musicals like Beauty and the Beast, but the songs present do move the characters and story forward. My favorite score track is “Kingdom Dance,” and my favorite songs are “I’ve Got a Dream” and the dark reprise of “Mother Knows Best.” I also want to say that the character animation in this film is absolutely spectacular and displays something that was sorely lacking in Frozen, for example. The characters’ expressions, down to the detail of their eyebrows, are so sophisticated and communicate a lot to the audience. This film also has no qualms about being a classic Disney fairy tale, again in sharp contrast to its 2013 successor.
M: I like most of the songs, but I agree they’re not “instant classics” like many that precede it. My favorites are “When Will My Life Begin,” “Mother Knows Best,” and “I See the Light.” I also like “I’ve Got a Dream,” but it’s not one that I revisit as much as the others. I also think “Kingdom Dance” is a fantastic piece of instrumental score. It’s too bad that, up to this point, Tangled has been the last Disney animated film that Alan Menken has scored. Now, he’s stuck recycling his old (and wonderful) scores for the live-action remakes. Hopefully, there’s an opportunity for him to rejoin the studio with entirely new music soon. I also like how fluid the animation is. Despite being in CG, I think Glen Keane really achieved some sort of mix between a CG look and a traditional animation movement. In a way, this film reminds me of Sleeping Beauty because it has lush backgrounds that you could really hang on your wall. It’s also worth noting that this is the last film with a traditional, over the top Disney villain. Mother Gothel represents the archetype we have come to love from Disney villains: big, brash, exaggerated, dramatic, and with a great song. Unfortunately, the rest of the films from this decade have mostly resorted to using the “twist secret villain” thing, and it only really worked in one of them. But Gothel is not the only strong character in the film, as both Rapunzel and Eugene are compelling leads that truly elevate this story.
V: I love Alan Menken, and I miss his work. I’ve definitely enjoyed the scores by Lin-Manuel Maranda, Randy Newman, and even the Lopezes to a lesser degree. However, Alan Menken was one of the architects of the Disney Renaissance, and I do want him to do one more big Disney musical. The animation in this film is totally breathtaking. I do consider Tangled one of Disney’s most beautiful films, and I concur with your comparison to Sleeping Beauty. Mother Gothel is a beautifully designed character, and I love her dramatic flair. Donna Murphy does stellar work voicing her, making her at times loving and at others intimidating. I love the complexity of her abusive relationship with Rapunzel. She showers the girl with kisses and gifts while insulting her appearance and personality to keep her stuck in the tower. She constantly gaslights and belittles her, creating trauma and fear of the outside world. She manipulates everyone around her, in fact; look at the way she talks to the Stabbington brothers.
M: I agree that the relationship between Rapunzel and Gothel is one of the highlights of the film. It has a definite Hunchback of Notre Dame vibe, but whereas in that film Frollo never shows Quasimodo any signs of affection, Gothel’s abuse comes masked as love and care. Both are complex and dark relationships, and I think both are handled really well. Also, Rapunzel has other similarities to Quasimodo. They both want to leave their tower (or, in the case of Quasi, the cathedral). They also both think the world is a dark and dangerous place because they have been taught to fear it by their respective guardians. I do believe that the world in Hunchback is more nuanced, since the world can be dark and scary, as shown in the Festival of Fools scene. In contrast, Tangled shows everyone that Rapunzel meets as good, including the “scoundrels” at the bar. This makes the film lighter in comparison, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing since I think they’re aiming for different things. I want to talk a little about the marketing campaign that preceded the film. As I stated above, the trailers for Tangled were atrocious, showing a completely different thing than what we end up having (which was a good thing.) I want to know what did you think when you first saw the trailers? I also didn’t like the title change from Rapunzel to Tangled, since it’s a very generic title. I know that Eugene is a significant character in the film, but I think that in the end, this is Rapunzel’s story (I also don’t like Frozen as a title). That’s a very minor issue in an otherwise great product, though.
V: I didn’t like the trailers, particularly the one with the P!nk song “Trouble.” However, I like the name Tangled. It’s a double-entendre, and I find it witty and, ultimately, poignant.
M: What are some of your favorite scenes? More than big scenes, I like the little moments in this film. For example, when Rapunzel first leaves the tower and slowly puts her feet in the grass to feel it for the first time. I find that little segment beautiful. I also like when Rapunzel heals Eugene’s hand, and he shares his story with her. Another great scene is when Eugene cuts Rapunzel’s hair, preferring to die rather than let her live as Gothel’s prisoner. And if we are looking for the big scenes, “I See the Light” is my favorite. It’s just a beautiful, heartfelt sequence accompanied by a dazzling song. But I have to say that I like the scene from the very start, meaning from when the King and Queen are going to release the first lantern, and the Queen sees the King crying and full of despair. It’s impressive how much emotion they can convey with no dialogue.
V: The scene you mentioned where Eugene tells his backstory is amazing. The body language and facial expressions on the two leads tell you so much, and the little cracks in Zachary Levi’s voice let some humanity in at this tender moment. Eugene’s sacrifice is a tremendous character moment because it shows you exactly why he’s different from Gothel, and why he’s a positive influence in Rapunzel’s life. He loves her for her, more than he even loves himself. He’ll do anything for her well-being. Gothel, meanwhile, merely sees the girl as an object to keep herself young and beautiful. “I See the Light” is incredible, and the animation on Rapunzel’s parents makes me cry. And I mean every time I see this film; you can literally feel their pain and loss. “Kingdom Dance” is a great scene too, and shows some great bonding between our leads.
M: Yeah, “Kingdom Dance” is also a great scene. One thing that I would like to know your thoughts about is the matter concerning Gothel’s death. When Eugene cuts Rapunzel’s hair, and Gothel becomes old again, she panics and starts walking towards the tower’s door. But then, we cut to Pascal pulling Rapunzel’s hair and making Gothel trip and fall to her death. We can see that she dies before she reaches the ground, but what do you think of a Disney sidekick committing intentional murder? Now, I love Pascal, and I think he’s a great sidekick, but that part creeps me out a little bit. I don’t know if any other sidekick or lead character in the canon commits intentional murder (maybe Kenai in Brother Bear, but that was intrinsically linked to his arc). I just feel that putting Pascal there was unnecessary, as they could have easily made her fall by her own means instead of making the chameleon do it. What do you think?
V: It doesn’t bother me for a couple of reasons, actually. She deserved it, so I don’t care whose fault it was, and I actually think the poetic justice deaths are overplayed. Disney is afraid of showing a good person kill, but sometimes violence is justified.
M: I agree that she deserved it, but I feel like, of all the characters, Pascal doing it was a very random choice. I would’ve understood if Rapunzel or Eugene did it. Still, it just seemed unnecessary to me since it seemed obvious she was going to fall regardless of Pascal’s actions. Anyway, beautiful animation, compelling and engaging characters, excellent voice work, dazzling music, complex relationships; these and more are what make Tangled a classic. Its story may feel formulaic (but, then again, what Disney fairy tale doesn’t?), but the execution is near-perfect, and that’s why it has rightly become a beloved film in the Disney canon. This decade was off to a promising start thanks to this great film
V: Films following tropes or formulas don’t bother me as long as there are elements that make them stand out. You’ve listed some excellent examples of what makes Tangled great. In fairness, while I adore this movie, I do want to say that the pacing is a little messed up, especially in the early middle. After Rapunzel and Eugene join forces, it feels like events happen too quickly leading up to the “Kingdom Dance” sequence. However, screw it, this is one of my favorites. Some of my favorite Disney characters, visuals, and music are in this film, and just talking about it makes me want to watch it again.
M: What do you think of Tangled? Let us know in the comments and stay tuned for our review of Winnie the Pooh!