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What’s the Story?
Freed from the tower and the clutches of her kidnapper/abusive parental figure, Mother Gothel, it looks like Rapunzel finally has her happily ever after. She’s reunited with her real parents, has the man that she loves, Eugene, in her life and the whole kingdom of Corona to welcome her home, what more could she possibly want? Whatever it is that’s missing it’s enough to convince her to take a late-night trip out beyond the walls with her new handmaiden, Cassandra, to where the Sundrop Flower once grew. Now there are indestructible black rocks growing out of the ground where the Sundrop fell, and when Rapunzel touches one they suddenly begin to grow. That’s not the only effect though as the magic inside Rapunzel is reawakened, giving her back her incredibly long golden hair and brand new magical abilities. Adventure is calling for Rapunzel, it will take her to the Dark Kingdom and back, test her closest friendships and even see her facing a near-immortal evil from Corona’s past. Nobody said being a princess was easy…
I love Disney, always have always will. Doesn’t mean I won’t make fun of them or call out the machinations of our corporate overlords, but when the business suits get put away and the creators and talent working behind the scenes can just do their thing, Disney produces some of the best in the business. That brings me to Tangled the Series (also known as Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure from the second season onwards). I’ve talked about this show a couple of times before on this blog, which you can check out HERE and HERE, and I am very much in love. Is it the greatest cartoon that Disney has ever produced? No, that’s a three-way death match between Gargoyles, Gravity Falls and the latest DuckTales cartoon (potentially the Owl House, but we’ll talk more about that next week). That being said, Tangled the Series genuinely inspires me as anyone who’s ever visited the Disney folder on my Deviantart account will probably be able to tell. (In fact, to save you the trip I’ve put some of my favourite pieces throughout this post!)
This show is proof that it doesn’t matter what your idea is, what matters is how you do it. I have no idea how this series got the initial green light. You want to make a series following on from Tangled? A film that pretty succinctly wrapped up its plot, has no dangling plot threads left over and even has a short to give us all the wedding scene we wanted. Also you want to set the series in-between the film and said short so we know for certain nothing is going to happen to any of the characters that appear in the short, because they have to be there. What are you supposed to do with that? If it was me I’d have thrown my hands up in defeat at the first script writing session, but luckily I wasn’t on staff for this series because they did have a plan. Not only that, they pulled out literally all the stops, bringing back Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi to voice their characters again and putting Alan frickin’ Menken on music. Tangled the Series is what happens when you take an idea and pour as much talent and passion into it as possible.
Let’s talk about the animation, which is another highlight of this series for me. I’ll admit it took me a few minutes to get used to it, but now I’m fully onboard. Disney’s been trying out this style in some of their shorts for several years now, it’s this weird mix of 2D and 3D where I’m not sure if it’s 3D models textured in such a way that they look 2D, or if it’s 2D characters somehow ported into a 3D space, or a mix of the two. Whatever it is it really works, even on a meagre TV budget. There are certainly some shots where you can tell that something is off, but then there are other times when the animation is free to dive into these big sweeping shots that just take your breath away. Add on the utterly gorgeous backgrounds and the storybook look to everything and it’s like you’ve stepped into a Mary Blair sketchbook. (FYI, Mary Blair was an artist/animator who worked for Disney back in the early days, think Sleeping Beauty and you’ll get the look I’m talking about. Also, check out her concept art because it’s all gorgeous). When I’m in love with a series’ art style I often say I want to take each frame of animation and hang them up on my wall, well, for this series I want to cover every wall of my house with frames from this show. I love it and, honestly, I’m praying that Disney will try this style with a big budget film some day.
What about the story though? It’s all well and good bringing in all these talented people and making everything look really, really pretty, but it’ll all fall flat without some substance behind it. Thankfully I love the story of this series as much as I do the artwork. What took me by surprise the most was the attention to character detail. Admittedly I was just expecting this series to be silly princess hijinks in the capital, which is how the series starts, but there’re little bits that show just how much the creators get these characters. Rapunzel’s reaction to returning to the tower for the first time, her dad waking up in the middle of the night, terrified that he’ll lose his daughter again and the things that fear makes him do… all of it is spot on. Rapunzel is by far the most interesting Disney princess to me, she’s spent her whole life trapped in a tower, she knows nothing of the outside world and is probably the most child-like princess in the Disney canon. She’s never had to make difficult choices, she’s never had responsibility, but now she does and we follow her as she struggles along that journey. Honestly it’s been a joy to watch her grow up as she’s tackled everything from friends betraying her to ancient evils and shocking revelations about those around her.
That’s something else I have to give this series credit for. It effortlessly adds and expands on the mythos of the film, turning it from a fairy tale story about a flower with healing properties into a grand adventurous epic. I mean I never expected ancient wizards, goat-headed demons and alchemists’ robots to turn up in a Disney princess story, but somehow it all works. The only real complaint I have about the story is the amount of filler episodes it has. Tangled the Series works very much on the tent pole format, where there are several episodes in each season that progress the series’ arc and need to be seen, but all the ones in-between just tend to maintain the status quo and keep things chugging along. The tent pole episodes themselves are all fantastic, and I love them, but the filler are a bit more hit and miss. Don’t get me wrong, some of the filler episodes are my favourites in the series, but others are very much just padding. Fun padding, but also obviously padding. It’ll probably be less of a problem on a binge watch, but watching it week to week it can wear you out waiting for the story to get properly going again. It’s not a major problem though and I do enjoy if not outright adore 99.9% of this series.
On a final note, I can’t leave this review without mentioning the music of the series. As I mentioned earlier they got Alan Menken back and I am so glad that they did. The songs of this series, in my opinion, are actually better than the movie’s. Nothing against Tangled’s songs, I do have a great deal of fun with them, but nine times out of ten, the ones in this series pack so much more of a punch. From the sheer joy of songs like ‘Wind in My Hair’ and ‘The View from Up Here’, to the heartbreak of ‘Waiting in the Wings’, the Broadway power of ‘Nothing Left to Lose’ and the epicness of ‘Ready As I’ll Ever Be’. These songs are scattered throughout the series, mostly in tent pole episodes and the majority of them knock it out of the park, especially the villain songs (though personally I think of them as ‘antagonist songs’, but I can’t talk about that without spoilers so I won’t). Just go listen to them, you won’t be disappointed, though some songs may come with spoilers so be warned.
All in all, Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure is a fantastic series and a true testament of what you can do when you put talent and passion into your idea. Combing a clear understanding of the characters with a dramatic storyline, expanding mythology, breath-taking art style and some toe-tapping songs, it’s been a joy to watch. I’m still sad that this series has ended now after three brilliant seasons, but I’m also incredibly grateful that I’ve gotten to go on this journey with these characters in the first place. It’s not perfect, but this is the series that cemented Rapunzel as my favourite Disney princess, potentially my favourite Disney character period. Check it out, maybe you’ll have had as much fun as I did.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.
There’s one last stop for the Disney train this year as we take a look at one of Disney’s latest productions, Next Week…
Take a trip to the Boiling Isles!