In Disney's 50th animated feature film, the traditional, "someday my prince will come" princess flick gives way to a more modern fairytale with an "equal partner" twist.
Tangled, based loosely on the age old Brothers Grimm tale, mixes the best parts of The Little Mermaid, Snow White, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Mulan, making for an action-packed mashup that hearkens back to the studios' hand-drawn days while showcasing the amazing edge that modern techology allows.
The sweet chemisty and clever dialogue between intuitively smart, golden-maned Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore), and the rougishly handsome Flynn Rider, (voiced by Zachary Levi) is wittily sharp, hilarious without being cloying, and ultimately believable, making the hard-earned love that grows between them as a result a bonus for the Disney purists, but not a distraction for the hardcore adventure seekers (ahem, boys and their dads) that will ultimately focus more on the swashbuckling moves, daring escapes, and backstabbing intrigue reminiscent of Indiana Jones.
The surprisingly scary, 300-year-old Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy), makes her overprotective, witchy tyranny seem almost parentally rational as she brings down the house with throaty musical numbers composed by Alan Menken (with lyrics by Glenn Slater) that would be well suited to a stage adaptation... perhaps a live show at the Disney Parks or gasp, Broadway.
At least a stage production would give viewers a break from the unnecesary and under-utilized 3D effects that didn't really add anything to the overall feel of the film save the stunning lantern scenes, which if you've seen it, are spectacular.
And, though Tangled might not fit the classic Disney Princess mold, Mandy Moore would like to think it does, while giving young girls a role model they can emulate while sharing the driver's seat with the usual foxy male leads.
Moore and I chatted at length about her chance to join the Disney family as what promises to be another iconic princess character (SPOILER: Mother Gothel ultimately meets her gory end, and Rapunzel gets her happy ending, her man and a royal title to boot), and how it compares to the dreamy, women-as-wallflowers films we both grew up with.
So you're playing this legendary character, and from what I was told, she's not a princess so much as a heroine. What was it like to play a character that steps outside the traditional Disney princess box?
I'm still going to include myself in the princess category!
At of the end of the day, she is a princess, and though she doesn't know that until the end of the story, I grew up with The Little Mermaid and Lion King and Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, so now to be part of that same lineage... that family tree, it's really cool.
It's great to think that this movie could mean to kids what those movies meant to me. They were such a seminal part of my childhood that it's just kind of the coolest thing to be a part of.
You and I are about the same age so I know exactly how you feel.
Yep. Grew up watching Cinderella over and over and over again, along with all of the movies you mentioned, and frankly, I would be crazy excited to play someone that little girls are excited about. Even little boys. They can like a tough, smart girl, too.
Yes, they can definitely like her, too. It's nice to see a changing of roles, letting boys know that girls can keep up.
Personally, my son thinks Rapunzel is a fox. She's blonde and can deliver a pretty good hit with that frying pan, which is pretty much it for him.
Aww! That is so cute, and come to think of it, Rapunzel is really cute and in control.
Do you feel you can identify with her? You're often described as being very cute and sweet.
I do. I mean, I guess on the surface level of the idea of living an isolated life.
I think I had a bit more freedom than what Rapunzel has, but yeah, being a young person who's curious about the outside world, but I acutally think that Rapunzel is a lot more fearless than I am or I would be in that situation, because all she's ever been told about the outside world is that it's bad and it's dangerous and scary and full of people who want to cut her hair off. I don't think I could be as brave in the face of the unknown, so I really applaud her, and I'm genuinely proud to play a character that has those kinds of admirable qualities. She's got a lot of moxy. She's very strong willed.
I was going to use the word moxy, too. Just watching the way she takes on Flynn when he first comes into the tower... if it were me, I think I'd be hiding.
Yeah! Me, too!
She obviously doesn't have much rapport with people, and she's not used to having that kind of social interaction with anyone but her mother, and I think she does a really good job at handling the situation.
And, she's open, too. She gets out into the real world and is on this adventure, meeting the Pub Thugs and venturing into town for the first time. It must be so overwhelming for somone who's never experienced that before, but I think she handles it with a lot of grace.
She's very discerning, but she's very excited and open to people and new things. She's not judgemental and she's just all of these things that make me think, 'Wow. I hope some of those rub off on me.'
Except for the 70 feet of hair, right?
Yeah. I really don't need that much hair. I can't do my hair as it is, so that would be very bad.
You and me both. I'm very, very sad when it comes to self-styling the hair. It's not good.
Ha! We're the same there, then.
So tell me. How do you think this fairytale is going to be different from the others that Disney has created so far?
All I've ever known of the classic fairytale is the damsel in distress who needs the prince to rescue her, and I think we've really flipped that on it's head.
Clearly, she needs Flynn to escort her on this adventure, since she doesn't know where she's going or how to get there, but along the way, I think she ends up saving him way more than he needed to save or help her. I like that she really takes on that role as the heroine in this story, and she's not really along for the ride. She's definitely in the driver's seat, so I can definitely see those empowering girl moments in this film, which I really like, too.
Agreed. And though I loved my princesses when I was little, I always used to wonder why they waited around for a prince to show up, when they could just go out and get him.
She can go get him on her own!
She has a life to live!
But I suppose that also speaks to our modern way of thinking.
Everyone can switch roles. It no longer just has to be the man who's in charge. I dig that.
Yes! Girls can do it!
My daughter has the Rapunzel wand, and I have to admit, I'm the littlest bit pleased that she thinks you're supposed to hit people with it. Afterwards, she immediately tells them that they're "very pretty," but it shows attitude.
Oh! It does. And that's very nice of her, too. She follows it up with a compliment.
She's a little bit of a riddle, which makes me wonder... do you think that Tangled has a hidden, not-so-obvious moral to the story?
Hmm... I will say this. I like that in the beginning we see Rapunzel as someone who's been told that the world is this bad, scary place, and that everyone will want to steal her magical hair, but in the end, she discovers that it's what inside of her that matters. Not the hair. It's just been her all along. So I love that, and obvious or not, I think it's such an important, beautiful, quality message to give out. Especially to young women with all of the pressures of having to look a certain way or worrying about what constitues as beauty, and at the end of the movie, when all her hair has been cut off, and she's left with this cute, short brunette haircut, Flynn loves her just as much or more. It went beyond that idea of having this long, flowing blonde hair. Love comes in every shape and size and package.
This isn't your first voice over role, and Rapunzel's so atheltic. Did you feel that you were able to play into any of the action of the movie?
I do, yeah. She's definitely an active girl, and since there's so much action in the film - being chased by a horse, and 'Oh my gosh! The water's coming after us,' and hitting people with a frying pan. All of that is a little funny to have to do by yourself, but it really made me feel like a kid, like I could go back into the depths of my imagination, and then go for it without feeling like I was embarrassing myself.
Did you have anyone to play off of in the studio?
No! I was all by myself. We all did our dialogue work by ourselves.
Do you at least see yourself on screen as the animated character going through the sequence?
No. Once the dialogue work is recorded, they kind of cobble it together the parts they like the most, and the animators use that to match to the film. They record you a lot during the dialogue sessions, because the animators will use your facial expressions and your gestures and your physicality as a guidlines for how to animate. So of course when I saw the movie, there were things that jumped out at me, I was like 'Woah! That's me!' I could totally see myself in certain things she did, and ways she moved, like her faces sometimes, which was really, really bizarre.
Did Disney create the character based on you?
No. Rapunzel was around for a long, long time before I even came along.
I think it's cool though. It would be weird to see all these toys around that look like me.
The Mandy Moore action figure!
Exactly! It's me but not me.
But I could definitely recognize your voice in the movie, so there was a piece of you in there.
Yup. A little piece of me.
You are playing somebody totally different, and it's so much easier for people to invest themselves in the movie because they're not looking at you. I think it's an easier sell than being in a live action movie where you play somebody totally different than how people percive you.
You're so versatile though.
I auditioned for the role.
Yes. I auditioned several times, actually.
Honestly, I thought they would have come to you!
Oh no. I wish. But it's good though, because at the end you know you really won it.
At first I wasn't even going to audition, because I was like, 'There's no way I'm even going to get this, and I don't want to be disappointed,' but at the same time, I loved, loved, loved those Disney movies growing up, and I thought, 'How cool would it be to be a part of that pop culture.'
I knew it was a project that I would be really proud of and excited about, which honestly, is not always the case. So I really liked that kind of guarantee as well.
This is the 50th animated Disney film, and to me, being able to have that forever, keep it in my back pocket... have kids one day and be able to tell them, 'Guess what? Mom's a Disney princess!'
That doesn't get to happen too often.
Maria Pilar Clark is a mom times two and Windy City-based writer.
See more of Pilar's stories here.