"Rapunzel" has long been one of the Grimm fairytales with the most scope for mature interpretations. The original tale features the potential birth of children out-of-wedlock, a terrible fate for the prince, and a villain who is not so much a one-note antagonist as much as a terribly overprotective parent which makes it a sort of ideal tale for Disney, which has long been concerned with the dynamic of parent and child (The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, The Princess & the Frog). When Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine adapted the piece for their potpourri of fairytales Into the Woods the story was given even more depth as Rapunzel grew from the world she became a sort of emotionally stunted woman kept in the tower under the pleas of the Witch – “stay with me”. In actuality, though, there is little about Tangled that is emotionally resonant, and this in itself is not incidental. From the onset of the ad-campaign for Tangled it was evident that the producers were more interested in a jaunty swashbuckling cinematic fare than in any sort of familial drama. And the problem is not that I have anything against the swashbuckling fare, but in its attempting at severely watering down a story that depends on emotional resonance Tangled fails to be anything more than merely satisfactory, and not even that at times.
True, I was already feeling dubious about the film since their title changed seemed intent on ensuring that the film would be just as “interesting” to boys as girls. It’s not just the title change, though, because Tangled is not about Rapunzel and this itself is not an issue – what destroys the film from being tonally consistent is that the divergent themes of Flynn and Rapunzel seem irreconcilable, and when screen-writer Dan Fogelman makes that half-hearted attempt to find some overreaching back-story to link the two it fails dreadfully. It’s the sort of typical adage that when you try to do too much, you end up with disastrous proportions. The best attempt the studio has made in a dual leads was Beauty & the Beast, but the reason that attempt worked was because of the relative exclusivity of their living arrangements the two stories complemented each other. Having Flynn be a robber intent on stealing the crown of the King & Queen who just happened to be Rapunzel’s true parents seems just a bit ridiculous.
It’s unfortunate that a talented voice like Donna Murphy is saddled with the character of Mother Gothel. What disappoints me most about the film is that a potentially multifaceted character is given no depth to explain her machinations. It seems a bit like regression on the part of Disney who have made a film that’s so safe it lacks charisma, and charm. Even Alan Menken’s score, composer of the very original Little Shop of Horrors, composes a score that’s beautiful and uninspired. True, the centre-piece number “I See the Light” is lovely (incidentally, the “Mother’s Knows Best” is a more interesting piece musically) but in the face of so many more superior films – even last year’s Princess & the Frog which was not exactly top-tier Disney felt much more inspired even though it was an about face from the original fairytale. In that vein, I could forgive Tangled for not being executed like I’d hoped – but I can’t forgive it for docility.