We all know that Rapunzel was a long-haired girl who dwelled in a tower, separated from her birthparents until rescued by a prince. Disney's charming, funny and deliciously entertaining Tangled makes more than a few tweaks to the Brothers Grimm version.
Here, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is a princess who acquired in utero, from a magical plant, the power to stave off death. She will lose that power if her golden hair is cut. The woman who benefited from that plant for centuries, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), kidnaps Rapunzel and raises her in that tower as her own - until the eve of Rapunzel's 18th birthday, when a thief named Flynn (Chuck's Zachary Levi) is convinced to help her venture out for the first time.
Screenwriter Dan Fogelman - who worked with co-directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard on Disney's Bolt - effectively creates a metaphor for teen rebellion and overprotective parenting, with Moore getting a terrific sequence swinging back and forth between elated freedom and deeply ingrained guilt. There's nothing particularly groundbreaking about the character - or about Levi's ne'er-do-well with a heart of gold - but the filmmakers are savvy enough to provide an emotional hook upon which to hang a familiar Disney format.
And truly, there's nothing new under the sunny locks of Tangled. The original songs, by Disney stalwart Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast) and lyricist Glen Slater, hit the four required elements of every Disney musical: the hero/heroine's "I want" song ("When Will My Life Begin?"); the villain song ("Mother Knows Best"); the show-stopping production number ("I've Got a Dream"); and the love song ("I See the Light").
The comic relief comes in large part from a pair of anthropomorphized animals - a determined, Inspector Javert-like horse named Maximus and Rapunzel's pet chameleon, Pascal. Even individual sequences feel familiar - the introduction of Flynn to Rapunzel echoing the animated prologue of the recent Enchanted, the romance-in-a-rowboat moment recalling The Little Mermaid, and the climax more than faintly duplicating that of Beauty and the Beast.
So why is something that sticks so rigidly to familiar components still so praiseworthy? Because it nails those components. The songs are as Broadway-catchy as anything Disney has crafted in the last decade, with the "I've Got a Dream" sequence in particular rendered with hilarious energy. All three central voice performances are terrific, particularly Levi, having great fun with the scoundrel role. The comedy proves genuinely amusing, while the action is terrifically choreographed for excitement and laughs.
Disney has again demonstrated that it understands how to integrate smart storytelling and family-friendly characters with fun and feeling.