“That is one determined horse.”
I’m four years old! Well, the blog is and to celebrate I’m getting indulgent again and looking at a franchise I love, and this year I’ve picked Tangled! A little while ago I reviewed the TV movie Tangled Before Ever After (you can read it HERE) and to sum up, I loved it! Tangled is the film that got me back into Disney and it will always have a special place in my heart, and whatever my initial worries about the TV series were, I’ve gone from pleasantly surprised with it to blown away. It takes a little while for it to properly find its footing, but when it does it’s really good. It’s smart, it’s funny and its wormed its way into my heart in much the way the original movie did. (Seriously, Disney, release the whole series on DVD, I will buy it in a heartbeat). That brings me to today’s movie, though movie isn’t entirely accurate. Really this is an extended episode of the series (episode sixteen if I remember correctly, though don’t fear, this works perfectly fine in isolation and is suitably epic enough to be released by itself), but enough waffling I’d better get on with the review!
Now while you don’t need to have seen any of the series to watch this film, you will need to have seen Tangled Before Ever After, but in case not, here’s the main stuff you’ll need to know. Rapunzel is out of the tower and struggling to acclimatise to life as a Royal and all the rules and pressure that brings with it. Needing a bit of breathing space Rapunzel and her best friend Cassandra went beyond Corona’s walls and came across some strange, indestructible black rocks. Upon touching one of these rocks Rapunzel’s hair started to glow and returned to how it was in the original movie, i.e. blonde and seventy foot long. The black rocks started to chase after Rapunzel, but she got away.
This story picks up in Old Corona, where the village there is being torn apart by the spreading black rocks. We’re introduced to Varian, a young alchemist who wants to study the rocks and his father, Quirin, the head of the village who wants everyone to stay as far away from the rocks as possible. Varian is, in a word, adorable. He’s the perfect mix of goofy and sweet, he’s like a puppy that you just want to hug, seriously the joy in his voice as he says he’s going to make sandwiches is infectious. Rapunzel meanwhile is shadowing the King and Queen and learning all the royal duties she’s one day going to have to take on, like listening to the worries and complaints of her subjects. In fact Rapunzel is going to get a trail period for her future role as the King and Queen plan to go on a two-day vacation for their anniversary, meaning that Rapunzel is going to be Queen for the day! (Title drop). Unfortunately Rapunzel is soon to learn that being in charge isn’t as easy as she thinks.
That’s what I love most about the Tangled the series (or Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure as the series has been renamed in season 2), it’s not afraid to progress the characters. Rapunzel is probably the most child-like Disney princess there is, which is understandable. She was locked up in a tower for eighteen years, never given a chance to grow up or get any experience with other people or the outside world. Back in the original film she makes the assertion that she never, ever, breaks a promise, and however much I love Rapunzel, that is something a child would say. Unfortunately for her this story is here to teach Rapunzel that sometimes promises get broken.
Now, back to the story, where a vicious snowstorm is blowing into Corona. At first Rapunzel is super excited seeing as how she’s never been outside in the snow before, but things start to get dangerous as the winds pick up and the temperature drops (Anyone else getting the urge to sing Colder By The Minute from the Frozen musical? No? Just me, okay). Though the rest of the cast aren’t having a much better day, the King and Queen get into an accident, their carriage going over a cliff. Meanwhile Varian is experimenting with the black rocks and ends up slowly encasing his father in amber. That’s one of the things this episode does well, it may have a fair amount of plot to jungle, but you can’t deny it does a good job of ramping up the danger again and again until things are as dire as they’ve ever been in Tangled.
Anyway, Eugene and the pub thugs convince Rapunzel to let them go out into the storm to find the King and Queen, Eugene showing that he may make a good king one day after all (character growth, love it!). Then comes the moment. This is the moment that this episode and the series as a whole went from pleasantly surprising (with the odd amazing episode, seriously go watch the Pascal one, it’s heartbreaking.) all the way up to mind blowing. You see Varian comes running in, begging for Rapunzel to come with him and help his father. She has some kind of connection to the black rocks and is the only hope Varian can think of, plus she did promise to help him. On the other hand though, the whole kingdom is in danger. This blizzard is threatening everybody on the island and if Rapunzel doesn’t stay and figure something out, that’s a lot of people that’ll be in trouble. Rapunzel has to make a choice and no matter what she picks, someone is going to get hurt. In the end Rapunzel picks her kingdom, meaning the girl that swore she would never, ever, break a promise, finally does, Varian having to be dragged away by the guards.
Character growth aside, that’s not going to stop a blizzard, but maybe an old legend can. Another thing I love about this series is that it’s unafraid to expand and add to the mythos of the original film. This time we get a legend about an evil warlock and the engineer who defeated him with a combination of magic and science, all of which leads Rapunzel to a machine hidden deep under the Corona Mountains. Of course we can’t just get the machine turned on and sort this out, no we have to risk the life of Pascal, who sacrifices himself in an overly dramatic, yet at the same time heartfelt way. The machine starts and its no surprise to anyone that Pascal survives. The series is maturely written, but that doesn’t mean a Disney cartoon is going to kill off a character (not unless their a parent anyway, actually it’s a wonder that Rapunzel’s parents have lasted as long as they have).
After all that the storm disappears and the King and Queen return home in one piece, all’s well that ends well, right? Well, Rapunzel is a little traumatised, over the course of the episode she’s sent her boyfriend out into a deadly blizzard, turned away a desperate friend, risked the whole kingdom on a legend and almost got her oldest friend killed, so, yeah, she’s not feeling super. In fact Rapunzel wonders if she can ever be a queen, though in a really sweet scene Eugene is there is comfort and encourage her (I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned, but Eugene and Rapunzel are probably one of my favourite couples, period, they have terrific chemistry and are always there to support one another, as a good relationship should be). Even that isn’t the end though because the episode decides it wants to step things up even further as we return to Varain. Feeling betrayed by Rapunzel and with his father completely encased by the black rocks, he swears that he’ll find the answers to free his father, no matter who gets in his way. Wait, did a side character, my cute puppy dog Varian, just turn into a villain? He did! In a Disney cartoon no less! Okay, I’ll admit, I know Varian’s story isn’t over yet, but Varian has the potential to be one of the greatest Disney villains ever. I can’t even think of a time that Disney has done the whole friend-turning-into-a-villain thing, they normally either stick to cackling, pure evil like Maleficent, or surprise villains like Hans in Frozen. There’s a lot of dramatic weight and story potential with Varian, and while I’ve seen some of what they’ve done with him, I can’t wait to see where else his story has to go. Again, it shows how this series isn’t afraid to evolve and grow things in a natural way, which is a heck of a lot more than I was ever expecting from this series.
Just to pull back on the praise of the series for a second, I do have a couple of gripes with the episode, most of them are pretty minor, but it just stops the story reaching perfection. For starters, while the episode makes the most of its run time, giving the main characters quiet, emotional scenes for them to grown in, this does come at the expense of some characters. Cassandra hardly gets anything to do in this story, outside of a couple of lines and a bit of a song. Considering she’s on the cover of the DVD I feel that’s a little unfair to her (I’ll admit I didn’t like her character that much at first, but she’s grown on me). Also because there’s so much going, a few scenes and plots feel a bit squeezed, I mean we’ve got to deal with the blizzard, Varian’s story arc, Rapunzel dealing with being a queen and Eugene going to rescue the King and Queen. It’s not a major problem, but I feel like a couple of scenes could have used a few more seconds to let them breath to get a bigger impact out of them.
My last quibble isn’t really the stories fault and more one of how this episode has been released (i.e. as a standalone with no sign of the full series being released any time soon). Now the story works perfectly fine by itself, you can jump straight into it after Before Ever After, but I do feel it’s so much better if you watch it as part of the series, as intended. As a part of the series you get introduced to Varian before this story and get to spend a few episodes getting to know him and even the Pascal fake out is better because the series genuinely made me care about the little guy prior to this point. Also the episode does leave a few things hanging, like the secrets that Varian’s father has been keeping and what Varian is going to do next, so you’ll have to watch the series to find out what all that means (though not everything has been revealed yet). Minor quibbles though as I said.
On the whole, I love this episode as I love the series. The characters, voiced again by some superb talent, and the story is allowed to grow and evolve in natural ways (something I appreciate so much). The animation is bright and energetic, it’s well written and it has a couple of really catchy songs. Rapunzel’s ‘I’ve Got This’ is toe-tappingly infectious and Varian’s ‘Let Me Make You Proud’ is stunningly sung by Jeremy Jordan. Worth it for any Tangled fan. Now, Disney, about that full series DVD release…
As I mentioned at the beginning this is my four-year anniversary of running this blog and I just want to thank everyone that has commented on, liked or even just read one of my posts. I still get an immense amount of pleasure out of just rambling on about shows and films that I love and shows that frustrate me and I thank you for putting up with me while I do it. It means a lot to me, so here’s to the next year, I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.