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Disney’s trumpeting Tangled as its 50th animated feature seems a bit defensive at first.They pioneered the medium of animation in terms of technique, story adaptation, and marketing, paving the way for those young upstarts like Pixar and Dreamworks to take the ball and run with it later.

Still, 72 years later, people still think of animation as a genre of itself, not a storytelling medium, a kid’s parlor trick rather than a means of telling a story. Tangled, as an adaptation of the centuries-old tale of Rapunzel, can do little to defend against these stodgy critics. However, Tangled is about growing up, and it’s a testament to its 49 predecessors in demonstrating how much Disney itself has also grown up.

Mandy Moore is the follicularly-blessed heroine of this tale, but Chuck’s Zachary Levi, as Flynn Rider, steals the spotlight from her just as surely as (spoiler alert) he sneaks her from that fabled tower. My readers may not know my deep and abiding love for Levi, but even without that overt bias, I can say that he is the perfect actor to cast as Flynn. Levi can project the necessary suave Errol Flynn bravado, yet completely sell vulnerability and sincerity. He has crack comedic timing and does all his own singing, as does Moore. They are a force to be reckoned with, and they populate their fairy tale characters with real humanity.

Oh yes, I did mention singing. Rest assured that while songs do occur, it’s not wall to wall show stoppers like Aladdin. Tangled hews more closely to the formula employed by The Princess and the Frog, enhancing with a song but never dominating. Veteran songster Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater create some lovely and memorable moments for our heroes. Considering that Flynn and Rapunzel’s partners in crime are an attentive chameleon and an indignant horse, a couple of songs really cannot dent the reality of their chemistry or the gorgeous design.

While the Grimm brothers never ascribe a motive to the witch who imprisons Rapunzel, here screenwriter Dan Fogelman imbues the miles of tresses with a magical power keeping the witch, Mother Gothel (stage sire Donna Murphy) young and beautiful; it’s totally in keeping with other Grimm tales and adds much to the depth of the story here. Murphy is evil and glorious and written very well.Fogelman took many liberties (as Disney does) with the story, but in doing so added so much real magic to it, I was moved to tears in one scene. He also dropped in a few tiny winks to the grown-up nerds in the audience.

Fogelman honors the timeless fairy tale feel while keeping the modern messages of letting go and growing up and pursuing your dream softly in the background behind a rollicking adventure. Long story short: I walked out of Tangled all aglow and full of googly-eyed wonder, which is what Disney animated features have always really excelled at, and why they endure over the decades.

Epilogue: After the Oscar nominations were announced, I was sorry to see Tangled off the list. While The Illusionist is visually stunning, I had no connection to the story like I did with Tangled. Don’t let the lack of nomination keep you away from this one.

MPAA Rating PG

Release date 11/24/10

Time in minutes 100

Director Nathan Greno/Byron Howard

Studio Walt Disney Pictures