Rapunzel is stuck at home. And she’s bored as hell.
She’s baking. She’s doing jigsaw puzzles. She’s sweeping the floor and doing laundry and knitting an endless scarf she’ll probably never wear. (She’s also combing through 70 feet of hair, and playing hide and seek with a spunky animated chameleon. Otherwise, it’s all fairly banal.)
The whole scene, from the opening number of Disney’s “Tangled,” may feel a tad too familiar right now to qualify as escapism. Rapunzel, though, is trapped in her tower by an evil maternal figure, not a pandemic; she hasn’t gone outdoors in 18 years — far longer, hopefully, than any period of self-isolation we will have to endure this year.
But despite the parallels, I find myself returning to this film again and again, even during — especially during — a global crisis. It’s part classic, heartwarming princess tale, part princess fighting her way through the kingdom with nothing but a frying pan, some magic hair and a partner in crime who stumbled on her abode by mistake.
“Tangled,” one of Disney’s early forays into computer animation, came at a pivotal time for the studio. Its early 2000s lineup (remember “Chicken Little”?) was a far cry from the princess blockbusters of the ’90s (like “The Little Mermaid” or “Beauty and the Beast”). Disney needed another hit, and it was this 2010 action-filled take on Rapunzel’s story that finally delivered.
Nearly a decade later, “Tangled” still holds up. There’s witty dialogue, Zachary Levi, characters who blur the line between heroes and villains, Zachary Levi, delightfully emotive animal sidekicks and a swashbuckling rogue — Zachary Levi — with a smorgasbord of Hot Guy Features handpicked by the women of Walt Disney Animation Studios. (Ladies, we are forever in your debt.)
But at its core, “Tangled” (directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard) is a love story, a charming adventure — and, yes, a happily ever after. What else could we ask for right now? Here are three reasons it’s still a reliable comfort:
The Damsel (Who Isn’t in Distress)
Flynn Rider — the aforementioned swashbuckler-turned-love-interest, voiced by Levi — makes for a great co-pilot, and it doesn’t hurt that our princely figure gets a back story for once: He was a normal guy with humble origins and a dream.
But he isn’t the hero of this story. It’s Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) who squashes one obstacle after another.
She takes out an intruder in her home with one well-aimed thwack of that frying pan. She stops a massive bar fight with a swish of her hair and an impassioned monologue. She outruns palace cops and calculates an escape from a flooding cavern, both in the span of three minutes.
We finally get a Rapunzel who takes matters into her own hands instead of waiting around in her tower — a princess we can root for.
Alan Menken, once again, is doing the Lord’s work.
The composer is responsible for many of the classics in the Disney songbook: Aladdin and Jasmine’s magic carpet ride in “A Whole New World,” the maritime orchestrations of “Under the Sea,” the silverware showstopper “Be Our Guest.”
“Tangled” has a similarly memorable soundtrack (with lyrics by Glenn Slater), and one that, perhaps most important, you can listen to afterward with no skips. We’ve got a wonderfully ominous ballad from the villain, a romantic lantern-lit duet, more than one clever reprise. (I’ll say it: Menkenian reprises are the best kind.)
Even with the advanced animation, some of the frames look like lavish oil paintings swiped straight off a museum wall.
There’s something ethereal about the wide shots of Rapunzel’s tower tucked away in the forest, her hair dangling out the window and floating in the breeze. And when the kingdom sends hundreds of lanterns into the sky — a scene Rapunzel has dreamed of watching her whole life — each one flickers with a warm glow, casting an enchanting light over the whole screen.
Not to mention: Someone had to animate all that hair. Kudos.