Movie Reviews Spiritual themes to be found in Disney’s ‘Tangled’

With the release of “Tangled,” its 50th animated feature, Walt Disney Pictures offers a beautifully dazzling, charming and heartfelt re-telling of a beloved fairy tale. The film is the story of Rapunzel, a young girl kidnapped as a baby by a greedy woman named Mother Gothel. Gothel, who desires the magically healing powers of the girl’s golden hair, hides Rapunzel away in an isolated tower in the forest. For 18 years, there Rapunzel remains, believing her “mother,” who tells her that the outside world is unsafe and full of cruel people. Yet Rapunzel’s feisty and inquisitive nature is inherent, and she yearns to see the world, especially to discover the wonder behind the hundreds of floating lights that adorn the night sky every year on her birthday.

Her opportunity to break free comes when a dashing and self-absorbed thief, Flynn Rider, stumbles upon her tower and she convinces him to be her guide to the kingdom. The two embark on a journey that is equally hilarious and poignant, with not one ounce of cynicism to be had. “Tangled” is sweet without being cloying, and never once tries to be irreverent with its humor.

The development of “Tangled” began in 1996 with legendary Disney animator Glen Keane, who has animated such beloved characters as Ariel, the Beast, and Aladdin. The original director of “Tangled,” he stepped back for health reasons. In a Nov. 23 phone interview with The Southern Cross, Keane said that when the film’s co-directors Nathan Howard and Byron Greno stepped in, it allowed him to “focus on particularly the animation and bring in everything I love about hand-drawn into computer animation.” An early conception was a contemporary Shrek-like telling of the tale but was eventually abandoned because “there was something lacking in the sincerity of the story.” And sincerity, Keane said, is the one secret of Disney animation passed down to him by, what Walt Disney called, his Nine-Old Men, including Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Eric Larsen. “Tangled” is indeed sincere. It is another Disney gem that can proudly sit alongside such films and “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Aladdin.”

Being a part of Disney’s 50th animated feature is not lost on “Tangled’s” two lead voice actors- Mandy Moore (“A Walk to Remember”) and Zachary Levi (TV’s “Chuck”). Levi and Moore shared their thoughts on the film during a press junket Nov. 6 at the Se-San Diego Hotel. Levi, a self-proclaimed “Disnerd,” said being a part of a Disney animated musical is a dream come true. Enthusiastically speaking about his love for “Aladdin,” even singing a few bars from the film’s song “One Jump Ahead”, his adoration for Disney films is undeniable, as is Moore’s who said as a child she wanted to be Ariel and remembers “singing every single word from ‘Beauty and the Beast.’” Being a part of Disney’s legacy is indeed a dream realized for both actors. “It’s mind melding,” Levi said. “Growing up [I watched] all of the films, and not just the ones considered our generation’s starting with ‘The Little Mermaid.’ When I grew up The Disney Channel was just starting to be what it was. I would sit there after school and watch all the old cartoons like Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed, and Lambert the Sheepish Lion.” Moore adds that it means so much to be a part of “Tangled” because Disney movies “were such a huge part of our childhoods. They’re so ingrained in my memory. And now, this movie could potentially mean to kids nowadays what those movies meant to us- it doesn’t get much cooler than that.”

“Tangled” is certainly one of the most lovely and beautifully lush CG animated films ever made. Keane, who hoped the film would be computer generated with a hand drawn look, admits, “The animation of the film is better than I ever could have imagined it to be,” while Levi said, “the entire artistic direction of the film is just spectacular.” But beyond this, “Tangled” possesses a beautifully moving spiritual undertone. “For me, the story started from a spiritual base,” Keane said. “At the very beginning [of the film] you see a drop falling from Heaven [which is the source of Rapunzel’s magical hair]. For me, this truth that’s in James Chapter 1, Verse 17 that says, ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down through the Father of Heavenly lights.’ And that truth is that ultimately there is this amazing source of life, beauty and transformation, that’s a divine source. That’s something I personally believe in my own life and with the characters that I’ve animated, I’ve always [tried to animate in a way] that reflects my own spiritual life. The Beast’s transformation in “Beauty and the Beast” was very much a reflection of Christ’s transforming power in us. [“Tangled”] is about this idea that Rapunzel has this amazing source inside of her, and even when she feels like she’s lost that power, love is the thing that unlocks it.”

The messages of “Tangled” are abundant from finding courage within oneself, to the nature of both selflessness and self-sacrifice. But Keane hopes that from a spiritual standpoint that the one message viewers take with them is that, “There’s more in you. The moment when Rapunzel thinks she has nothing more left, she finds that connection is springing up from an eternal one. There’s always more in us. It’s actually a gift from outside us, that’s flowing through us.” This message is also one that Moore finds a moving aspect of the film saying “I like the idea that all of her life Rapunzel’s been told that it’s her 70 ft of magical hair that makes her special, when clearly it was something that was within her all along.”

In a pivotal scene in the film, which Levi said is his favorite and one that he believes “people will walk out of the theater and find beautiful,” Rapunzel finally sees for herself the wondrous floating lanterns she’s yearned to see her entire life. In this resplendent moment, Rapunzel and Flynn sing “I See the Light” and we see the love that has blossomed between the two characters. But we could also see on a deeper level, that seeing this light is not just an emotional transformation, but a spiritual one as well. The lyrics reflect the idea that, as Keane said, there is more in us, that comes out when we love someone. In many ways this parallels the realization of the power that Christ’s love has in our lives. In this song, composed by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, Rapunzel and Flynn sing, “And at last I see the light. And it’s like the fog has lifted. And at last I see the light. And it’s like the sky is new. And it warm, and real, and bright, and the world has somehow shifted. All at once everything is different, now that I see you.” And in the end, when Flynn needs her the most, Rapunzel’s love saves him.

Keane believes fairy tales need to be a part of Disney’s future and would like to be a part of that, with characters, like Rapunzel, who have a burning desire in their hearts. With “Tangled,” Disney has created another classic. And one whose depth and beauty are as wondrous as a hundred floating lights. 

Printed with permission from The Southern Cross, newspaper form the Diocese of San Diego.

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