Granted, getting the young boys to this one might be a bit of a challenge. Disney has made it a point to try and disguise the fact that this is, in fact, a princess movie, by effectively removing the musical elements from the trailers, and emphasizing heavily the roguish male lead. The studio is perhaps concerned that boys, still fearful of the deadly plague that is "cooties," might not be interested in such an adventure were it about princesses and true love and dreams come true and things featuring the color pink. That's all well and good, but let me make one thing clear: This is a movie about a princess, true love, dreams come true and features the color pink quite frequently.
Bolt co-director Byron Howard and Meet the Robinsons writer Nathan Greno), is the miracle daughter of a beloved king and queen in an impossibly picturesque kingdom. A magical flower used to save the queen's life during childbirth bestowed the princess Rapunzel with fantastically luxurious blonde hair that also happens to possess song-based healing powers. A wretched old woman (we know she's wretched because she sneers, has dark hair, and wears a cloak), desperate for the power her hair possesses, kidnaps the baby Rapunzel and whisks her away to a hidden tower deep in the kingdom's forest, where she stays until she grows up and turns into Mandy Moore with locks the length of a football field.
Like the best of Disney animation, there is a dark undercurrent to the situation here. Gothel, the old woman (voiced with a slithery brilliance by Donna Murphy), takes on the role as Rapunzel's "mother," and in order to keep her locked in that tower, systematically brainwashes her into believing the outside world is a terrible place, filled with monsters, bandits, and pure, unadulterated evil that only the tower, and her mother, can protect her from. It's a tragically co-dependent relationship that, in anything but a Disney fairy tale, would be prime material for a dark and twisted familial drama. But this is a Disney fairy tale, so instead of coming off like a tortured abuse victim, Rapunzel is an effervescent girl, bursting with life and song, that simply has a dream to get out and see the real world--a dream Gothel goes to great lengths to crush via passive/aggressive shaming.
Chuck's Zachary Levi), a egotistical-yet-handsome brigand who, while fleeing the palace guard after a daring robbery of a jeweled crown, stumbles upon Rapunzel's tower. Following repeated assaults to the skull via a frying pan, Rapunzel subdues the dashing young fellow and concocts an intriguing plan. If he agrees to act as her guide into the greater world and take her to the city, she will return his stolen goods. Without getting too much deeper into the plot, such as it is, it's essentially another "impossibly good-looking guy and girl start out rough, hit speedbumps along the way, fall in love, hit more speedbumps, happily ever after" kind of thing. That said, the quality of the journey vastly outweighs the predictability of the premise.
Moore and Levi, though not the most distinctive of voice actors, provide a lot of charm and life to these central characters. Their back-and-forth feels genuine, and it was actually a welcome change to see Flynn react to Rapunzel's magical follicles as a normal person would--by kind of losing his mind. The pair are, of course, assisted by friends from the animal kingdom, including Rapunzel's pet chameleon and closest adviser, Pascal, and a palace guard horse, who, like a cross between a bloodhound and a renegade cop out for revenge, aims to track down Flynn at all costs. Neither of these characters utter a word throughout the movie (this world is magical, but not that magical), but like the best Disney animal sidekicks, they exude endless personality and humor through simple actions and reactions. These four are a fun quartet to watch on screen as they traverse the landscape and get into all manner of trouble with cop and crook alike.
Tangled also benefits a great deal from its quality of animation. This is a sharp-looking 3D film, one that doesn't go too far out of its way to toss superfluous junk at the screen to remind you that THIS IS 3D. The look of the human characters evokes the classic look of people of Disney's 2D animated universes, albeit with a slightly more plasticy look. You can't call Rapunzel or Flynn particularly unique looking characters--Rapunzel is mostly hair and giant eyes, and Flynn's just your typical handsomest boy in school--but they're expressively animated, and the world they inhabit is bright, crisp, and full of great set-pieces that are sure to make the kids go wide-eyed.
Alan Menken do what Disney songs are supposed to do, in that they explain scenes and situations via highly literal lyrics and sweeping instrumentations, but few really stick out. A particularly humorous number with a group of impossibly burly thugs did manage to retain some space in my memory, but by and large there isn't much here worth singing along to.
You could also take some umbrage with the fact that Tangled is in no way a true step forward for animation, 3D or otherwise. It feels more like a leveling out between the hyperactive, pop-culture-laden computer animation of Bolt and the classic Disney animation of old, a compromise that actually works well for both elements involved. This is a movie that manages to do nearly all the right things to make it palatable to kids and adults alike, without resorting to cheap pop culture gags or dumbing down the humor to toddler-friendly levels. In short, it's a movie that families can happily see together this Thanksgiving holiday without reservations or caveats.