Tangled: Before Ever After — Like Rapunzel’s Hair, There’s Room For Growth
By: F. Alexander Bonilla-Chacon
Want to win a movie trivia night? Disney’s 2010 animated film Tangled, as of March 2017, is still the most expensive animated film ever produced, at an estimated production budget of $260 million. While it actually doubled its astronomical budget at the box office, the general critical consensus was that it was just fine, although some like myself considered it an underrated film, and a good harbinger of Disney’s return to princess films (following the 11-year hiatus between Mulan and 2009’s The Princess and the Frog). Tangled just disappeared from pop culture for a while, at least until a little film by the name of Frozen would go on to smash records in 2013, and Tangled would come up occasionally as a comparison point. Since then, Tangled was just floating in the ether of Disney circles, until we finally got word in 2015 that work was beginning on making Tangled a television series. We finally saw the first fruits of that work with an hour-long pilot/short film, Tangled: Before Ever After, that aired on The Disney Channel on March 10 of this year. Does the series keep the charm of its namesake film?
What the Hair?!
(Note: you may think that was a witty subheading, when in reality that’s actually the title of the next episode.) The show begins with a brief summary of the original movie’s plot, narrated by Eugene Fitzherbert (Zachary Levi), before drifting in to the new life of Princess Rapunzel, via a song performed by her voice actress Mandy Moore, who delivers with a fine performance of “Happily Ever After After All” and overall helps the show to be taken more seriously given her excellent performance in the 2010 film. One could argue that the opening of the episode is rather cliché by Disney standards now: Rapunzel once again feels trapped and desires freedom, only this time from the overbearing construct of royalty instead of a creepy old lady in a tower.
As the episode advances, it appears that Eugene has lost most of the edge he had in the movie, now content and eager to live a restrained castle life, although Tangled-heads will recall that we were introduced to Flynn Rider expressing those exact desires to the Stabbingtons (the big Scottish-looking dudes) early in the film. Even so, I would be lying if I didn’t say that it feels heavy-handed and more of a device to further pressure Rapunzel. Eugene’s role as the daring adventurer who pushes the princess out of her comfort zone has been replaced by Cassandra (Eden Espinosa, Broadway actress who’s done jack-of-all-trades voice acting for Robot Chicken and Mad), and the chemistry that develops between the two ladies becomes more palpable as the show progresses. Veteran fans of “shippable” shows like Steven Universe and Star vs. The Forces of Evil will probably find ways to get the crack ship afloat.
I won’t spoil the rest of the plot for you if you want to seek this out and haven’t seen any trailers (the episode is available on Disney’s online service), but I will say that the twist (which is telegraphed in most of the show’s promotional images) in the second half of the episode does make an interesting thread to follow for the rest of the series. Other highlights of the second half include a well-done fight scene, making use of all three of our main characters about equally, and the best song of the episode, “The Wind In My Hair”, embedded below. The lowlight would be the parents; the decision to keep them silent in the movie was great, since the focus was on Rapunzel’s joy. Now that they have voices, they are your run-of-the-mill Disney parents. Clancy Brown’s voice automatically gives his characters a demand for respect, but the king as an overbearing protector is a trope that’s just played too straight for it to land. Similarly, the queen plays the role of the more understanding parent who was just like Rapunzel when she was younger, and she is probably the blandest of the new characters.
Trusting in Disney
I mentioned Star earlier, and it seems important to note that Disney’s television department has been doing better with choosing their cartoon offerings since Gravity Falls wrapped up its first season in 2013. However, most of Disney’s acclaimed cartoons, including Star, Gravity Falls, Star Wars Rebels, Milo Murphy’s Law and DuckTales, are aired by Disney XD, which is aimed at a slightly older audience (read: preteens). On the other hand, Tangled: The Series is slated to air on the main Disney Channel, along with their only other current animated series, Mickey Mouse and Elena of Avalor, which are aimed squarely at younger audiences. At first glance, that would warn us that this show may just end up being forgettable fare.
However, there are names attached to this project that give some hope that this premise can develop into something smarter than your average Disney Channel show. The show is being directed by Tom Caulfield and Stephen Sandoval. Caulfield’s main credit was the character designer on the unique-looking The Book of Life from 2014, and you can see pieces of that stylized feel in the animation style of the show. The more important name to monitor is Sandoval; he’s an experienced storyboarder who has directed several episodes of Futurama and Gravity Falls. He was in charge of several episodes in the latter show that received critical acclaim for elevating it to more than just an average Disney show, including “Not What He Seems” and the series finale, “Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back the Falls”. So if anyone can work with this material and make it smarter, it’s Sandoval.
It’s yet to be seen how the show works with a 22-minute format, although even the hour-long pilot didn’t contain much padding. No one should expect this series to be Disney’s next Star, but there is potential to work with here, and it’ll probably be a show I end up monitoring to see if any improvements are made to keep me interested in the main plot thread. As Rapunzel ponders in the show, “Is this happily ever after after all?”
Tangled: The Series debuts on Disney Channel on Friday, March 24.