The Grimm yarn of Rapunzel, the girl with the long, golden hair, has been tangled, twisted and extended to get her out of the tower and into the company of a dashing bad boy, musicalized in old-school Broadway fashion and shot through with broad comedy and action rendered in vivid 3D. The Disney name and the studio's all-powerful promo combined are sure to propel this profitably through the holiday season and beyond, though the question lingers as to the extent of resistance preteen boys will show to this girl-centric romp.
Walt Disney himself pondered an animated Rapunzel feature as far back as the 1940s, and there are two major elements in the film his studio finally has produced that strongly register as Disney trademarks: the flawlessly prettified rendering of nature and the leading characters as well as the incisive portrait of an evil, manipulative villainess. On the more current side of the ledger are the forthrightly adventurous heroine, egregiously present-day phraseology ("Best day ever!") and the previously unimagined uses to which Rapunzel puts her 70 feet of golden hair, including as a whip and lasso. So shimmering and lush are the girl's locks that shampoo commercials never will look the same.
Transformed from the original tale's daughter of poor parents into a princess kidnapped by the scheming Mother Gothel for the power the girl's golden locks have to keep the woman ageless, the story devised by screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Cars, Bolt) pivots on the tension between Gothel's need to keep Rapunzel away from the outside world and the yearning of the captive, who's about to turn 18, to discover it. "When Will My Life Begin?" -- the initial musical number from star Disney composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater -- not only enunciates her desires but shows that, during her youthful isolation, she has been extensively exposed to the arts through reading, painting, music and so on.
Still, given the modern take here, it might have been amusing to acknowledge that growing up in solitary confinement might give a girl some complexes, neuroses and misconceptions about life on the outside. Once she absconds with a dashing thief (not a prince) with the unlikely moniker of Flynn Rider, a bumpy learning curve as to the real world could have provided a bountiful extra layer of humor and behavioral interest.
As it is, the film contents itself with charting the inevitable conversion of Flynn from the charming scoundrel who with two hulking highwaymen types steal the royal crown to a domesticated escort suitable for the daughter of the idyllic realm's king and queen. Along the way, there is a rollicking encounter in a roadside tavern with a band of ruffians who turn out to be as congenial and musically prone as the seven dwarfs as well as the shenanigans of a comically vigilant white horse, all of which reflects the antic showbizzy approach one associates with John Lasseter, the driving force behind Pixar who now also runs Disney Animation.
Although she is sidelined for significant periods, there still is the determined Mother Gothel to reckon with. One can't quite put her in the pantheon of evil alongside Snow White's queen or the Wicked Witch of the West, but she's a formidable first cousin as she stops at nothing to maintain her hold on her prize. No small part of her power stems from the dynamite performance of Broadway star Donna Murphy, who socks over her dialogue and musical vocalizations with insinuating flair.
In markedly blander roles, Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi do agreeably expressive work with utilitarian dialogue that feels too contemporaneously American and sturdy songs in a throwback style. It's hard to think of a modern film with a more pristine appearance; every frame looks like it's just been cleaned and polished by Cinderella herself.
The 3D work is excellent, though the discrepancy in screen brightness between what is seen with and without glasses never has been more pronounced, at least at the screening caught; normally, one can expect the image to dim by 25-30% upon donning 3D shades, but here the light of the film onscreen was cut roughly in half.
Opens: Wednesday, Nov. 24 (Disney)
Production: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Cast (voices): Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor, Brad Garrett, Paul F. Tompkins, Richard Kiel
Directors: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard