I’ve been enjoying these write-ups so much, and other people seem to be enjoying them too! So, more in hope than in expectation, there’s now a new element to the process: if you want to, you can tip me £3 (the cost of an average coffee in central London) and I will watch and write a longer-than-usual piece about the Disney, Pixar, Marvel Cinematic Universe, or Star Wars film of your choice (assuming I haven’t already written about it). If you want a film from a different franchise, just send me a message along with your tip and we can work out access. (This has already happened, and I’ll be watching and reviewing that commission soon!) I will also continue to watch and review things at my own pace, and roundups of those slightly shorter reviews will be posted regularly.
For now, though, commission number one came from the ever-supportive, creative and talented Esther, whose three-and-a-half-year old (who happens to be my goddaughter) has just seen Tangled. To Esther’s horror, Bea loves it.
The most glaring failure of the film is its music, which is aggressively medium roast. Fifteen minutes after I finished it, I couldn’t remember a single tune. (After some thought, “Flower, gleam and glow” came back, but it’s weak sauce as Disney tunes go, and also only four lines long.) Even the prettier songs, like I See the Light, are unmemorable. A big part of that is the lyrics, I think, which can sometimes carry a melody that’s less strong but which in Tangled are generally just anodyne expressions of clichéd feelings. (In Frozen, “the wind is howling like the swirling storm inside” is lifted from potentially being a cliché because of the film’s use of pathetic fallacy, where external weather conditions do mirror a character’s interior feelings; in Tangled, “And at last I see the light/And at last the fog has lifted” doesn’t have the same charge of literal truth and therefore is simply hackneyed.)
The love plot is also a major issue. The story of Tangled, fundamentally, is about Rapunzel’s coming to terms with what amounts to lifelong abuse by someone who she not only trusted, but who was virtually the only other human being she’d ever seen. Her real identity—the long-lost princess in whose memory lanterns are released every year—makes her not only deeply loved and cared for in a way that Gothel specifically denies her, but also the locus of an entire nation’s annually-enacted grief. Her character trajectory ought to be both enormous and primarily centered on her processing of a trauma that the film is happy enough to gesture at, but that turns out to be almost too big, too serious, to actually engage with. I would argue that Rapunzel’s first eighteen years constitute a more profound trauma than Elsa’s and Anna’s, for instance; Gothel’s constant belittling, casual cruelty and thoughtlessness revealed in their dialogues, and her drive for absolute control of a person she sees essentially as a commodity, are classic indicators of an emotionally abusive, narcissistic parent (and that’s not to mention the actual imprisonment). That stuff lasts. It is no small feat to get out from under it. The closest the film gets to acknowledging this is in a sequence just after Rapunzel escapes from her tower; she alternates between merciless self-flagellation (“I’m a despicable human being” as she lies face-down on the forest floor) and hysterical rejoicing (“I’m freeeeee!” as she dashes across the screen, followed by floating yards of golden hair). It’s almost painful in its portrayal of an abused person’s cycle of punishing themselves for wanting the liberty and respect they deserve, but it’s played for laughs—wisely, in a sense, because this really is a movie for children, but also a clear demonstration of how unprepared the film is to explore the very conditions it sets up.
Rapunzel’s story of self-discovery is almost entirely shoved out of the way by the appearance of Flynn Rider, who—let us not forget—is literally the only other person she’s ever met, making it not that surprising that she would imprint her affection upon him, but a little shady of him to willingly accept it from someone so clearly naive. (The moment around their campfire when he finally clocks how badly she’s been treated, though, is tenderly done; Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi do convey a surprisingly strong emotional connection.) The film essentially presents us with two plots—Rapunzel’s growing self-confidence, and the growing attraction between her and Flynn—then throws all of its eggs in the basket of the less powerful story. I See the Light starts off as a song during which she realizes a lifelong dream, and (unwittingly) witnesses a ritual that is her heritage; in its second verse, it immediately turns to Flynn and becomes a song about him and his relationship to her. It’s disappointing.
Major plus points, however, for the scene in the Snuggly Duckling, which is so obviously a gay leather bar. (The guy with a hook who wants to be a concert pianist playing show tunes! The guys who knit and crochet and collect ceramic unicorns! THE MIME, FOR GOD’S SAKE, THE MIME. Not to mention the guy whose costume design includes something that can be passed off to kids as “metal helmet with horns”, but to the over-18 eye looks a hell of a lot like a fetish mask.)
Esther’s least favourite part of the film, when I asked her, turned out to be what she described as “the exaggerated movements of the horse”, which I think is kind of a Marmite thing. It’s Disney, and Disney does silly animals. Still, a truly baffling choice comes in the form of Rapunzel’s animal sidekick, which is a chameleon (a tropical animal) named Pascal (a French name), despite the topography of the kingdom, which, though it might charitably be called inconsistent (one moment our protagonists are frolicking in an alpine meadow; the next, they’re in what appears to be a deserted mine from the California Gold Rush), never appears to be set in anything more humid than a temperate climate.
Decidedly not in the top tier of Disney films, then, and probably not even in the second rank. Redeemed primarily by the rather beautiful, delicate emotional treatment given to the king and queen, whose silent reunion with their long-lost daughter is a masterclass in how to animate faces so that they convey as much emotion as real ones do, but other than that? A bit of a mess.
Got a Disney, Pixar, MCU or Star Wars film you want me to watch and Have Opinions about? You can commission me here.