Blondes Have More (Ra)pun(zel): Tangled
If you ignore any witless hyperbolic rant this year, make it this one. And then watch Tangled.
I should probably feel bad about giving away the funniest moment of the movie in that picture just above there. But: oh well.
I really enjoyed Tangled. A flimsy fairytale frolic poking fun at and giving affectionate jabs in the ribs to old swashbucklers and Disney movies (which, given that it’s Disney’s 50th animated movie, is probably fair enough) was always going tickle my endorphins, but that it manages to be quite so funny while also being dramatic and emotional and whatnot is something of an achievement, especially given its cousin-from-another-studio Shrek’s approach to the same goofy appropriation of classic stories (to wit: run every last reference into the ground over the course of three or four movies, while also briefly resurrecting Eddie Murphy’s flagging career with a perfectly-cast role, before making everyone sick to the sight of that bucktoothed idiot. And whatever character he played.)
Thing is, Tangled manages to seem sincerely aware of its debt to those staples of the genre, while also laughing at them in a neighbourly fashion, and busily constructing screwball jokes all its own. It also benefits from having an unlikely amount of pieces fall into place all at once.
Take, for example, the scene where our hero, Flynn Rider (Errol Flynn, playing himself, as played by Zachary Levi, in a just-Chuck-enough performance), has a duel with his own (thankfully mute, but delightfully expressive) horse, Maximus – Flynn wielding a frying pan, the horse gnawing on a sword’s hilt. The animation is, as you’d expect, top-notch, packed with personality and fluidity, and it works just dandy as a purely visual cartoon gag. But in the heat of battle, amidst the ducking and weaving, where Basil Rathbone would have called his opponent a motherless cur or something, Levi chimes in, with the exact same inflection he uses in Chuck whenever he does something unintentionally brilliant: “You should know that this is the strangest thing I’ve ever done!” Maximus then disarms him, and both stare wide-eyed as the pan plummets down a canyon, before Flynn makes his dashing, swinging escape via Rapunzel’s conveniently rope-like follicles, boasting arrogantly at the guards he’s soaring past, only to hurtle stomach-first into a wooden outcropping. It’s the perfect mix between stirring and smirking, the writers knowing exactly which tropes to rope in, and exactly how – and when – to puncture them naughtily (knottily?).
(Another winning joke: Flynn has been knocked out by Rapunzel with a frying pan, having invaded her tower bearing a satchel holding a crown. He comes to, tied to a chair with Rapunzel’s lengthy locks.
Flynn: Oh… oh no… where is my satchel?
Rapunzel: [proudly] I’ve hidden it. Somewhere you’ll never find it.
Flynn: [Looks around the room for 2 seconds] It’s in that pot, isn’t it?
[Rapunzel hits him with her frying pan]
Bloody good show.)
The supporting cast is fantastic: forget the tavern full of crims all dreaming of being showmen and pianists and mimes and interior designers, and the devious mother, and whoever else, and pay attention to the charming performances the animators gave Maximus the horse and Pascal the chameleon. Pascal is especially fun to watch, all bulging, staring eyes (see top, obv) and pointing tails and creepy knowing smiles. They both have the kind of character Chuck Jones used to instill in his creations, which is no small feat. And Maximus conveys a surprising amount in nothing more than a slanted brow or a cautious glance. (Best bit: Max and Flynn watch Rapunzel walk away after brokering an uneasy truce between the two. Without breaking his stare, Max surreptitiously raises a leg and kicks an unsuspecting Flynn in the gut. It doesn’t sound like much written down, but it’s so gleeful to watch.)
And of course, the cast is terrific. Zachary Levi brings all of his Chuck charm, and a little more cocksure suaveness, to his role as Flynn, and brilliantly, all of his comic timing and mannerisms remain intact. Mandy Moore (the only teen pop sensation of the 2000s yet to go a bit demented) delivers the best performance I’ve ever seen/heard from her as Rapunzel, although for full disclosure, I should point out that I’ve only ever seen her in Scrubs (also just great in that) and unpopular romantic comedy License to Wed for some reason (mostly because it starred the effortlessly charming John Krasinski in his first leading role since I started watching The Office, but also even more mostly because it starred Robin Williams AS A PRIEST, and I can’t resist that amount of pure comic potential) so I don’t really have a good-sized sample to judge from.
Wait, sensation? That can’t be right.