Disney movies have kinda' sucked for the past... sixteen years.
Are we in the same boat, on this? Have we both been waiting for Disney to turn out a seriously good animated movie since The Lion King happened, and was awesome?
There were some pretty-good ones, to be sure. I liked Mulan, and The Emperor's New Groove was pretty funny - Bolt wasn't bad - and I hoped Disney had managed to recapture its earlier quality when they went back to two-D animation with The Princess and the Frog, but that didn't exactly work out either.
No... when the core of Disney's creative animation crew went over to Pixar, all the quality went with them - and we've been loving Pixar movies instead, ever since.
Whelp, now there's Tangled. I wasn't expecting much from Tangled.
Tangled kinda' rocks.
I criticized The Princess and the Frog for being too much of an "after-school special," attempting to teach its young audience a valuable lesson instead of focusing on telling a good story.
Likewise, Tangled is almost offensively wholesome - it's little wonder Mandy Moore was tapped to play the lead. I don't believe there's even a whiff of scandal about that lady - she's essentially a living, breathing Disney princess as it is - a smiley, well-coiffed, insufferably perfect role model who can really belt it out when the going gets musical.
Still, in the same way I can't really dislike Mandy Moore, I found it impossible not to be wholly charmed by Tangled. Sure, maybe it should have been called Rapunzel, but this is... Disney as it used to be. The Disney we've missed.
It's not preachy, it's not disturbingly self-important - it's a visually smart, intimate, well-told story with entertaining, endearing characters, decent music and a heaping scoop of excellent comedy.
Take the horse, for example.
This horse is hilarious - seriously, seriously hilarious - but he's also a standout among a cast of uniformly funny and endearing characters. Whoever directed this clearly knew what they were doing when it came to letting character inform comedy, and how to direct physical hijinks...
That's a good question - who directed this? Ah - Byron Howard, who was an animator on Mulan and directed Bolt. Well, there you go - he's worked on other better-than-decent Disney fare in the past, but he's clearly at the top of his game with Tangled. The action he commanded so well in Mulan is married with better physical and character-driven comedy than Bolt, and what we have is another funny, classic-y, completely sanitized Disney interpretation of a classic fairy tale, full of sight gags and fantastic animation.
I even appreciate that the story's villain - aside from being a creepy, immortal baby-snatching kidnapper - is first and foremost emotionally abusive. She's not really scary or violent - she hurts with words and looks and feelings. She reminds me of a rhyme I once heard a dragon recite:
"Sticks and stones can't break my bones
for I am far too scaly,
but nasty things said to me
hurt my feelings daily."
So yes, it's still a modern Disney movie with some of our modern sensibilities, and the studio is clearly throwing down the gauntlet to anyone who tries to animate computer-generated hair afterward - but perhaps what I like most about Tangled are all the things it's not trying to be. It's not trying to bash our young ones over the heads with a valuable life lesson, it's not opposed to being downright ridiculous at times and it's still more than happy to indulgently revel in the occasional view of a princess surrounded by singing birds.
And that's fine - 'cause some things, perhaps, are better the old-fashioned way. Simple pleasures like vanilla ice cream with chocolate cake, classic 2-D Mario games and Disney movies about brave princesses, charming scoundrels and the hilarious horses who love them.