Tangled has always been the overlooked middle child.
While The Princess and the Frog was the one to revive the Disney fairy tale and Frozen was the baby who got all the attention, Tangled was left somewhat overshadowed. You want a sequel? Mmm, here’s a short film instead. Oh, you’d like a theme park attraction? Ummm, ok, here’s a really well-themed bathroom. But that’s all about to change.
Now, over six years after its theatrical release, Tangled is getting substantial expansion with the debut of Tangled: The Series on Disney Channel. While spin-off productions of Disney animated favorites were once a common trend, it hasn’t been done in quite some time. Tangled: The Series is the first non-preschool program developed from a Disney feature since the 2006 series The Emperor’s New School. It kicked off with the hour-long movie Tangled: Before Ever After in March, which recently arrived on DVD.
The Film ✮✮
Tangled: Before Ever After is a surprisingly difficult film to judge because its playing field is so different. It would certainly be unfair to critique it on the same level as Tangled or as the equivalent to a Tangled sequel. The original classic was a theatrical outing from the prestigious Walt Disney Animation Studios. This new entry is a made-for-Disney Channel movie produced by Disney Television Animation. Additionally, there is the question as to whether it would even qualify as a “film.” At 57 minutes, it’s not quite feature-length, though its opening credits do label it as a Disney Channel Original Movie. Not to mention that as the introduction to Tangled: The Series, Tangled: Before Ever After is more or less an extended pilot episode, much in the same vein as Stitch! The Movie set up Lilo & Stitch: The Series in 2003. With all of that being said, it is best to approach Tangled: Before Ever After as the framework for a hopefully promising family television program rather than as the next great entry in the Disney legacy.
Even when viewed through that lens, though, Tangled: Before Ever After leaves something to be desired. As its title implies, the story takes place before Tangled Ever After, the 2012 short in which Rapunzel and Eugene got married. This means that their relationship is still figuring itself out as they each discover what exactly they want. Newly reunited with her parents, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is still getting used to life as a princess. While Eugene (Zachary Levi), who is surprisingly not called “Flynn” the entire movie, absolutely loves royal living, Rapunzel yearns for something more, though she can’t pinpoint quite what that is. With the aid of her friend and new character Cassandra (Eden Espinosa) and animal pals Pascal and Maximus, Rapunzel prepares for her duties as leader of the kingdom of Corona (yeah, I don’t know). Aaaaaand oh yeah, her long hair’s back (don’t worry, it’s explained).
The premise itself is fine and even presents a thought-provoking question: What happens when the thing we thought we wanted wasn’t what we thought it would be? The approach to answering that question, though, completely dismisses any development Rapunzel had in Tangled and frames her as selfish and oblivious. Her personality seems akin to Woody in the Black Friday draft treatment of Toy Story: self-centered to the point of the audience not being able to relate to any motivation. Granted, this is just the set-up for what could be an internal conflict that takes the entire series to resolve, but it seems to devalue some of what made Rapunzel endearing as a character. She has her dream come true, but isn’t happy with it. Um… so? Why should we care? I love Tangled and Rapunzel is among my favorite princesses. This depiction of her just seems to have missed the mark. Kudos to Eugene for remaining true to himself, and to her.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything to enjoy here. For one, we get new music from Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, who will continue to be involved throughout the series. They kick things off with two new songs, “Life After Happily Ever After” and “Wind in My Hair,” the latter of which is the theme for the show. They’re as catchy as anything the duo has written. On the visual side of things, the entire movie and series is produced in traditional 2D animation rather than the 3D CGI Tangled employed (again an establishing nudge to review this with a different scorecard). The animation seems a bit lofty and weightless at points, but the art style itself is fresh, fluid, and bright. There’s lots of great visual eye candy, especially in the textures of the lines.
If there’s one thing Tangled did best, it was inspire. In Rapunzel’s passion to discover her dream and Flynn’s pursuit to discover himself, we were spurred to do the same in our own lives, equipped with a plethora of inspirational quotes to supply an endless trove of Instagram captions. Tangled: Before Ever After attempts to do the same, particularly in one crucial scene that gets the job done rather nicely.
The whole thing is a bit all over the place, with its shortcomings forgivable under the conditions of the different standard to which it is held and the possibility that they are intentional, with a plan for resolution and correction later in the series. However, this still makes for a clunky, inconsistent adventure to open the series. Tangled: Before Ever After shines brightest when it taps into the mythology of its own storytelling world; it just needs to do that more.
Bonus Features ✮✮
The disc comes with two extras, one in its programming and the other in its packaging. The only bonus feature on the disc itself is a series of a four “Short Cuts,” as they’re called. These quick shorts run two and a half minutes each, totaling 10 minutes of additional footage. Two star Rapunzel, one features Pascal and Maximus, and another spotlights the Snuggly Duggling ruffians. They’re surprisingly inventive and quirky in their fast pace and even in experimental editing techniques. Rapunzel is much more likable and true to her original personality in these shorts, hopefully a positive sign for how she is depicted in the series.
Enclosed within the DVD’s case is another surprisingly thought-out amenity: a replica of Rapunzel’s journal given to her by her mother. Intricately composed and beautifully designed, it honestly seems like something that should be sold separately. The first few pages are filled with artwork and scribings created by Rapunzel, fully in character. The last half of the book is left blank for you to fill in yourself. It’s a wonderful little tie-in with one of the primary take-away messages from the movie.
While those extras are enjoyable, they’re unfortunately all we get. It would have been incredible (but perhaps wishful thinking) to include a look at the backstage development of adapting the legacy of Tangled to television. At the very least, though, it would have been nice to include a few episodes of the show, especially since the disc’s main feature is under an hour. (For what it’s worth, the entire first “real” episode of the show is available for free on YouTube.)
Final Thoughts ✮✮
If you’re keeping track, we have Shrek Forever After (a 2010 film), Tangled Ever After (a 2012 short), Frozen Ever After (a 2016 Epcot attraction), and now Tangled: Before Ever After.
This is truly just the beginning of a new era for Disney Television Animation. As stated earlier, Tangled: The Series is the first full-blown program adapted from a Disney franchise in quite some time, and is the first in a string of similarly approached endeavors that use existing characters as a springboard. This summer DuckTales will be rebooted in a completely new series and this fall Big Hero 6: The Series will make its debut.
Despite the flaws of Tangled: Before Ever After, namely Rapunzel’s mishandled personality, it’s not quite fair to judge an entire series solely from its introduction. What is fair, though, is to perform the primary function of this review: recommend or dissuade this DVD purchase. What’s bizarre is the platform… who wants to own anything on just DVD anymore? It seems archaic that this is the only option for home video release, with the DVD package not including a Blu-ray or the more desirable digital copy of the film. Under that basis and paired with the minimal bonus material, there is little reason to suggest this as a purchase unless the rather nice replica of Rapunzel’s journal is a must-have or this particular triple-episode is one you personally would want to rewatch again and again. Even then, though, the film alone with no extras is available on iTunes for $4.99. By comparison, the DVD with the shorts and journal sells for as high as $17. Something to consider.
However, there is plenty reason to suggest at least a trial viewing of the show itself on Disney Channel or online. Here’s hoping that in the same way we remember joining Aladdin and Jasmine on Arabian adventures or tracking down alien experiments with Lilo and Stitch, today’s generation will grow to have the same television connection with Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, inspiring heroes worthy of such a legacy.