Five years ago today, Walt Disney Animation graced us with its 50th animated motion picture "Tangled," a retelling of the classic "Rapunzel" story. In addition to being the first computer-animated Disney Princess movie ever, it reinvigorated the franchise by embracing all the best parts of what came before, while also improving upon the old format. It's the perfect blend of classic themes and modern storytelling.
Actually, in this writer's opinion, "Tangled" is not just a great movie -- it's the greatest Disney Princess movie of all time. So today, in honor of the film's fifth anniversary, we're taking a closer look at what made it so very special.
Note, movie spoilers follow...
"Tangled" revitalized the Disney Princess model.Walt Disney Animation
I think we can all agree that Disney Princess movies are life blood, but, let's face it, parts of them are a little dated. Now, I'm not saying "Tangled" reinvented the wheel. Actually, part of why it works so well is that it stays true to the spirit of films like "Snow White," "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty." It's a fairytale in every sense of the word, unabashedly so.
But unlike its predecessors, "Tangled" is a movie for a more contemporary audience. Obviously part of that stems from the CGI, but it goes deeper than that. The storylines, characters and relationships are all fresh, funny and, most importantly, sincere. Because at its core "Tangled" is an action-comedy set in a fairytale world. It's about two unlikely heroes going on a journey together and leaving their past behind. For the wide-eyed Rapunzel, it's a coming-of-age story as she discovers what the outside world has to offer. For dashing rogue Flynn, it's about starting life anew and learning how to trust someone -- even if that means telling her your real name is "Eugene Fitzherbert."
Ultimately, these characters are some of the most relatable Disney has to offer. (Rapunzel is royalty, yes, but she doesn't know that for most of the movie.) She and Flynn are just two people with a dream -- which just so happens to be each other. More to the point, "Tangled" laid the groundwork for Brave and Frozen to go even further with Disney's new modern slant, which makes it the herald of a new Disney Princess era.
Rapunzel defies the "Damsel in Distress" trope.Walt Disney Animation
Rapunzel may have spent the first 18 years of her life trapped in a tower, but that just means she had plenty of time to pick up tons of skills and trades. They're all there in the opening sequence: she cooks, cleans, paints, sews, plays guitar -- and she's not too bad with a frying pan either. ("Who knew, right?") She's a total Renaissance woman, both figuratively and literally. And unlike her storybook counterpart, Rapunzel doesn't need some generic prince to rescue her; she's more than capable of holding her own in a scrap. In fact, when Flynn comes to her rescue at the end of the movie, it's ultimately Rapunzel who winds up saving him. Plus, she does it all barefoot!
Flynn is the best partner in crime.Walt Disney Animation
Another thing that makes "Tangled" stand out from other Disney Princess movies is that it's not just about the princess; it's about Flynn Rider too. Actually, that's one of the reasons why the film is called "Tangled." Originally, it was "Rapunzel Unbraided," but once it was clear that the film was as much Flynn's story as it was Rapunzel's -- and in attempt to market it to both girls and boys -- the title was changed.
Flynn is also really, really, ridiculously good-looking. That's because "Tangled" directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard famously held a "Hot Guy Meeting" during the design phase, where all the girls at the studio came in to vote on what makes a smokin' male lead. The result, I think, speaks for itself. (Oh, the smolder!) Of course, it didn't hurt that Flynn was voiced by the oh-so charming Zachary Levi either.
However, Flynn's best feature isn't his good looks; it's that he's his own man with his own story arc. And despite the character's insistence that he doesn't "do backstories," we learn just as much about him as we do Rapunzel. Together, their partnership outshines any other in Disney Princess canon. (Well, besides Pascal and Maximus. But that's obvious.)
Mandy Moore crushes it.Walt Disney Animation
Coming from a background in music, we knew Mandy Moore had the pipes and acting chops to voice Rapunzel. But who knew the actress would be so darn lovable as a Disney Princess? In addition to capturing the character's naiveté and wonder, Moore gave Rapunzel a distinct playfulness we had never seen (nor heard) before in a Disney Princess. In keeping with the film's modern trend, Moore's take felt like a breath of fresh air as far as making Rapunzel seem like a real, fun-loving person. In other words, Mandy Moore crushed it.
It's all about the hair.Walt Disney Animation
You wouldn't know it, but Rapunzel's fabulous golden locks were a nightmare to tame for Disney animators. The heroine's 'do was made up of over 100,000 70-footlong strands, which executive producer Glen Keane said was "like herding a thousand cats" to animate. Luckily, the studio had their lead hair simulator Kelly Ward, who literally has a PhD in computer-generated hair. She also wrote the unique software for Rapunzel's mane, which took a whopping six years to perfect. Suffice to say, all her hard work paid off -- Rapunzel's hair is a character unto itself.
Mother Gothel is the most messed up Disney villain ever.Walt Disney Animation
On the surface, Mother Gothel isn't all that different from other Disney villains. Above all, she craves immortality. But it's her duality and how she goes about getting what she wants that makes her one of the most twisted baddies ever (made all the more convincing by Donna Murphy's voice performance. She absolutely nails the part).
Essentially, Mother Gothel and Rapunzel are a classic case of Stockholm syndrome, which is a subject Disney has never really tackled before or since. Rather than try to destroy Rapunzel, Mother Gothel protects and nurtures the would-be princess -- or, rather, the would-be princess's hair, which is the only thing that's keeping Mother Gothel alive.
But the really messed-up part is that Mother Gothel doesn't see Rapunzel as a person; she sees her as a possession. And yet she maintains this kind of motherly air, as she manipulates Rapunzel into staying inside the tower -- which, when you think about it, is super dark for a Disney film. In the end, only Flynn is able to see Rapunzel as the strong, independent woman she truly is (which, again, makes that relationship so amazing).
The music is phenomenal.
Prior to "Tangled," composer Alan Menken was still pretty much a god in the music world, having worked on "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin" and "Pocahontas" (all of which he won Oscars for). But his work on the Rapunzel movie might just be his greatest triumph. Naturally, the original songs are both catchy and beautiful. From the wonderfully simplistic "Healing Incantation" to the emotionally draining "I See the Light," almost every single track is a gem.
But Menken's masterstroke is the underscore, which is almost as memorable as the songs. "Kingdom Dance," for example, is one of the most spirited orchestral pieces Disney has ever had, at least in recent memory. Then there's "The Tear Heals," which ends with a reprise of "Healing Incantation" soberingly sung by Moore. Even moments like Rapunzel leaving her tower for the first time are underlined by Menken's captivating score. "Goosebumps" is probably the best word for it.
"Tangled" isn't just a movie; it's a work of art.Walt Disney Animation
Rapunzel's hair isn't the only visual that got the star treatment in "Tangled." As Disney's first computer-generated fairytale, the film had to look and feel just right. To do that, the digital artists took full advantage of everything CGI had to offer: dynamic lighting, flexible cinematography and -- obviously -- depth. But "Tangled" couldn't just look like any old CGI movie, which is why the animators used non-photorealistic rendering to give it that hazy, almost oil painting-like quality that makes the film really "pop" onscreen.
At the same time, "Tangled" never feels too cutting-edge. There's still that cozy, "happiest place on earth" vibe which Disney excels at. And, in the end, that's what sets "Tangled" apart from other Disney Princess films: It's a melding of the old and the new -- which is why we can't help but adore it.