Tangled tackles a familiar Disney theme and brings back Rapunzel’s hair.
Rapunzel’s back and so is her long, flowing, magical hair. Debuting this Friday, Tangled: Before Ever After, a Disney Channel Original Movie that serves as a prelude to Tangled: The Series (premiering later in March), marks the return of the princess and Eugene Fitzherbert, a.k.a. Flynn Rider. It’s set after the Tangled movie but before the short film Tangled Ever After (hence the name). Whew. Do you have your timeline straight? Good.
Because it’s been featured in promotional material, it’s not a spoiler to say Rapunzel’s hair is back — which is fortunate, since I already mentioned it. This movie explores how Rapunzel once again ends up with over 50 feet of barely manageable hair (seriously, how does she not have excruciating headaches all the time? Do the magical aspects of the hair save her from the pain? I need answers). Her hair antics play an important role in the story, and they do come with a mostly believable explanation for its return, by the way, but the overall theme is bigger than strong follicles. Rapunzel is struggling with a lack of freedom.
Think about it. She’s spent most of her life locked away by herself in a tower. She’s only recently experienced freedom. Sure, a little time has passed since she was reunited with her parents, the king and queen of Corona, but she hasn’t had much of an opportunity to explore. The girl needs to breathe and experience life. But alas, she’s thrown into learning the ins and outs of being a princess under the watchful gaze of an overprotective father who’s never quite forgiven himself for letting Rapunzel get kidnapped way back when.
Yeah, it’s a recipe for unhappiness even with Eugene, Pascal, and Maximus at her side.
Rapunzel feels stifled. Her unfamiliarity with normal customs, like wearing shoes, is handled in a humorous manner. The character’s as charming and endearing as ever, so you can’t help but feel for her as she stumbles around her new duties. It did come off as similar to what Merida goes through in Brave, but Rapunzel’s circumstances make it somewhat different (not different enough for me to stop thinking about Merida though).
As mentioned, many of Rapunzel’s traits we got to know in the animated film are on full display here. Her relationship with Eugene is fun and lighthearted. They’re rocks for each other. However, he’s settling into castle life more readily than Rapunzel. It adds up since he’s had a life of wandering about wherever he likes. She’s only just beginning to understand the vastness of the world around her. Having the original voice cast for the duo (Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi) return helps carry the spirit of the original film into this venture.
Because it’s Disney, new songs come into play. Composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater, the two tunes introduced in Before Ever After are well done and enhance the plot. One examines whether the happily ever after life Rapunzel ended up with is actually her version of happily ever after and another is sort of a nod to the “When Will My Life Begin (Reprise).” Rapunzel finds a way to evade her guards and have an adventure because, duh, she’s Rapunzel, and this upbeat song accompanies her. Will the songs be classics? Time will tell. At the very least, they complement the story and they’re deftly written and catchy.
Let’s talk about another new element in Disney Channel’s Tangled: the animation style. Rather than being CGI like the film, both Before Ever After and Tangled: The Series are done in 2D animation. To this I say, thank freaking goodness. I like CGI. Disney in particular does lovely things with the medium. However, it’s a delight to be reminded of what 2D animation can bring to the table. The look is a touch stylized, and it fits the fairy tale setting like a perfectly sized glass slipper. The backgrounds are tempting distractions from the characters, but the 2D approach gives the casts’ expressions and gestures life. Pascal’s sass has not changed one bit, and every line of disapproval on his tiny face comes across in the animation.