Tangled Nathan Greno, Byron Howard

Tangled Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
There are plenty of visual delights in Tangled, the Walt Disney Animation Studios' 50th film, but I particularly liked Rapunzel's hair. Twenty-, 30-, maybe 40-feet long — for fear that cutting it may remove its magical healing properties — it snakes around her tower precariously, but Rapunzel always knows exactly how to use it.

When notorious bandit Flynn Ryder stumbles upon the tower for a hiding spot, she uses her hair to tie him to a chair; when her sinister Mother Gothel comes home every night, she rigs her hair into an elaborate pulley system to bring her up; and when Rapunzel and Flynn need to cross a gorge during a chase scene, she uses her hair as a swinging rope. Here's a girl who has spent her entire life stuck in a tower, so you can bet she's had plenty of time to practice.

Pixar, Miyazaki and other non-canonical work aside, Tangled is the best animated Disney film in many years. It has everything you could reasonably want from a Disney cartoon: a likeable, earnest heroine who doesn't realize she's a princess; a caddish leading man who learns about love; a diva-ish villainess who is well-written enough to not come across as more insecure and self-loathing than evil; strong voice acting (particularly a full-throttle turn by Donna Murphy as the villainess); a cute, little, comedy relief frog who provides sardonic reaction shots; bouncy songs, a few scary moments and numerous gargoyle-faced thugs and bandits for lots of slapstick comedy.

Tangled is said to be Disney's last fairy tale adaptation for the foreseeable future; its status as Disney's 50th animated film no doubt is intended to bookend Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The studio has sometimes seemed incapable of adapting to this hyper-ironic, post-Shrek animated landscape, but Tangled finally captures a balance between modern animation and the studio's traditions. Yes, this is a computer animated film with plenty of action, but the big-eyed characters are throwbacks to the Disney heroes of the '40s, and the pastel-coloured forests and villages are as gorgeous as the ones in Snow White.

And, yes, this is a knowing, comic take on a fairy tale, but there are no cheap pop culture references "for the parents" and the characters all take their situations seriously enough that we become engrossed in their story. How many animated films today would have the patience for a scene as lovely and sincere as the Lantern Festival? (Walt Disney)