Disney has taken a 200-year-old story from the Brothers Grimm and made it just modern enough, sassy without being snarky, fresh and contemporary without any po-mo air quotes. It’s the classic fairy tale of the girl with the long, long hair who is locked in the tower by an evil witch.
A potion made from a special flower that could heal all injuries and bestow eternal youth given to the queen while she was in childbirth somehow transmuted it special powers to the baby’s hair. Mother Gothel (deliciously dastardly diva Donna Murphy) kidnaps Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) from the castle so that she can be young forever. She raises the baby as her own daughter, telling her that she must never leave the tower because the world is a very dangerous place for a vulnerable young woman with an extraordinary gift.
Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi of television’s “Chuck”) is a dashing adventurer and a thief. There are wanted posters with (somewhat inaccurate) drawings of his face. On the run from the palace guards, he comes across the tower and thinks it looks like a great place to hide out. Rapunzel has been kept away from the world, but the world finally comes to her.
She persuades her “mother” to go on a trip and forces Flynn to agree to take her out for one day. Every year, on her birthday, she sees mysterious floating lights. She wants, just once, to leave the tower to find out what they are.
They stop in a pub filled with scary villains and in a musical number reminiscent of “High School Musical’s” “Stick to the Status Quo,” the thugs launch into an hilarious song about their dreams that is one of the movie’s best moments. But Flynn’s hulking former cronies, the palace guards and their super-tracker horse, and Mother Gothel are all after them, so Rapunzel’s hair will need to be part slingshot, part bungee cord, part Tarzan’s swinging vine, and part flashlight to keep them on the way to the lanterns. Even though they are often in danger, Rapunzel learns that the world is not as terrifying as she was told. And Flynn learns that the world is not as bleak as his experience had taught him.
There are adventures and exchanges of confidences, and more encounters with the thieves, the guards, the horse (one of the movie’s wittiest additions to the story), and the witch on the way to an exquisitely beautiful release of the lanterns, one of the loveliest moments on screen all year and well worth the 3D glasses. Tuneful numbers from Alan Menken (“Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast”) with witty lyrics from Glenn Slater sound more like show tunes than boomer-friendly pop, especially when delivered by Broadway star Murphy. The classic gloss they give the story nicely frames more modern touches like the computer-enhanced animation and spunky heroine. Disney has given us another princess worthy of its canon.