Everybody talks about the evolution of Walt Disney cartoon fairy tale heroines—from the helpless ’30s Snow White with her baby doll voice, waiting for her prince to come, to the obedient ’50s drudge, Cinderella, and on to plucky, self-reliant Belle, Mulan and Tiana of the modern era. But how about the evolution of the Disney cartoon fairy tale hero? Seriously, who even remembers the bland, boring, cookie-cutter princes who partnered those earlier Disney heroines? The first one to distinguish himself from the pack was the magnificent Beast in 1990 and even he morphed back into a boring prince at the end. But this new breed of Disney heroines deserves better, more rambunctious males, like last year’s Frog Prince, Naveen.
Which brings us to Tangled, a lively reboot of the Rapunzel tale and the first “Disney princess” film ever in which the hero is not even a prince. Indeed, thief and rogue Flynn Rider (voice by Zachary Levi) is such a distinctive character, it’s up to him to provide the cheeky narration that tells the story. He may be borderline obnoxious at times, but his good-hearted high spirits make him more entertaining than the bloodless princes of yore. Rapunzel herself (nicely voiced and sung by Mandy Moore) is a spunky modern girl who doesn’t know she’s a princess; stolen in infancy, she’s raised in a tower by the witch, Gothel, who uses Rapunzel’s magical mane as a youth potion to keep herself eternally beautiful. Stage veteran Donna Murphy gives Gothel a sexy singing voice and creates a passive-aggressive manipulative “Mother” way more complex than the “wicked stepmothers” of old. When Flynn breaks Rapunzel out of her tower, the girl’s alternating currents of elation and remorse make for a hilarious distillation of adolescent angst. A stop at an inn full of thugs and brigands becomes a hysterical production number worthy of Monty Python. A giant bloodhound of a palace guard horse who becomes an unlikely ally steals every frame he’s in, while the folk art paintings with which the lonely girl decorates her tower walls and a scene of thousands of glowing paper lanterns rising above the kingdom, provide the requisite beauty. A surprisingly scary, heartfelt and cleverly twisty finale seals the deal in this fun and exuberant 50th Disney cartoon feature. (PG) 100 minutes. (★★★)