The most impressive thing about Walt Disney's Tangled is that it manages to incorporate nearly every standard element of the classic Disney fairytale/90s cartoon without being about any of those things. It is, at heart, a rollicking buddy picture. It works as a comedy because it never tries too hard for laughs. It works as an occasional action picture because it doesn't go out of its way to be "action-packed." And it works as a romance because it makes no effort to tell "the greatest love story every told." It is a clever and charming adventure that just happens to be the 50th animated feature from Walt Disney Studios. And, quite frankly, they make it look easy this time around, fashioned a genuine chick-flick fairy tale that effortlessly fixes many of the creepy gender undertones found in both the old films (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) and the more recent animated fables (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast). It's a shame that this is allegedly to be Disney's final fairy tale adaptation, because they've finally perfected the formula.
A token amount of plot: Young Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is a kidnapped princess, having been snatched from the castle as an infant due to the healing and de-aging powers contained in her hair. The woman she calls mother is in fact her abductor and Gothel (Donna Murphy) keeps Rapunzel hidden from sight in her tower and uses Rapunzel's ever-flowing magic locks to keep her forever young. As Rapunzel's 18th birthday approaches and her desire to see the outside world increases evermore, fortune smiles as roguish thief Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) takes refuge in the hidden tower. Rapunzel quickly gains the upper hand over the desperate criminal, and a deal is struck: Flynn will be Rapunzel's tour guide for her first journey to the outside world, and he will get back the precious crown that he had stolen. But what first appears to be a simple excursion turns into a life-changing journey for both of them, as secrets are revealed and destinies are forever altered.
Of course, the rest of the classic Disney elements generally hold up as well. The computer animation is genuinely gorgeous, with stunningly bright colors and exquisite detail. Most intriguingly, the film is animated in a manner to suggest the style of classic hand-drawn animation. I cannot vouch for the film's 3D effects, because I chose 2D. The film indeed pops off the screen with three-dimensional splendor with or without the glasses and $4 surcharge. Like pretty much every respective Disney musical since, oh, The Little Mermaid, the songs are pretty weak and represent the low point of the film (let's be honest, most Disney musicals have a couple truly great songs amidst the filler). With the exception of one witty number involving a group of seemingly bloodthirsty ruffians confessing their hidden ambitions (itself a knowing riff on the first High School Musical's "I've Got a Secret"), the songs are needless character exposition and pretty bland and redundant to boot (an early number where Donna Murphy explains the dangers of the world is so similar to "Out There" that I expected the late Tony Jay to join the second verse). While the poor songs are not by themselves an issue, they succeeded in padding the film and turning a lean 85-minute adventure into a somewhat padded 100 minute picture.