So it’s 2010. Disney releases their latest princess movie, “Tangled,” a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale.
Rapunzel’s story has never been one of my favorites, and I’m very salty this movie is entirely CGI, because Disney just recently shut down their traditional hand-animation studio in the wake of “The Princess and the Frog” underperforming at the box office.
(Sidenote: “The Princess and the Frog” still is fantastic, and deserves more love than it gets, and yes I will die on this hill.)
All of this means I’m not one of the first in line when the film opens. I’ve preemptively written it off, and I’m fully prepared to scoff dismissively whenever it comes up in conversation.
But then a co-worker takes her niece to see it and returns raving about it. A Facebook friend sends me a barrage of texts about how fun and sweet the movie is. Two more pals can’t stop singing the songs. One of my Livejournal followers begins thirst-posting over the hero, Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert, and I keep stumbling across meta about Mother Gothel and the lasting trauma of parental abuse.
“Fine,” I say. “I’ll go see it.”
... Four visits to the theater later, I’m fully obsessed. I buy the soundtrack. I buy the Blu-ray the moment it’s released. I even write fanfiction, something I hadn’t done in a couple years at that point.
“Tangled” just managed to hit a bunch of my sweet spots when it comes to story-telling and likable characters. The songs are really good. Rapunzel herself is so charming and pure, a Sweet Summer Child you want nothing but good things for. And Flynn/Eugene is that optimal blend of “roguish scamp” and “poor orphan with a heart of gold”.
It’s a winning balance between classic fairy tale and modernized sensibilities, with its cartoony whimsy (horse guards and magic hair!) countered by commentary on co-dependent manipulation (Gothel’s villain number “Mother Knows Best” will feel all too familiar to folks who’ve experienced emotional abuse and narcissistic gaslighting).
When it comes to Disney’s more recent films, “Tangled” is definitely one of the best of the bunch – and far superior to “Frozen,” in my opinion, that film’s juggernaut-status notwithstanding.
Still, despite my great, great love for the film, and for the short “Tangled Ever After” about Rapunzel and Eugene’s wedding, I never watched the TV series that filled in the gap between the two. So often, when Disney tries to capitalize on a movie’s popularity with spinoffs or TV shows, the result is cruddy and disappointing compared to the original. They’re just cheap knockoffs made for a quick cash grab.
But a couple weeks ago, my very dear, very sweet friend Delia suggested we watch “Before Ever After,” the hour-long special that acted as a pilot for “Tangled: The Series” (also known as “Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventures” in later seasons).
And guess who’s now kicking themselves for not watching this show sooner? Just as I shouldn’t have been so cynical about the movie, “Tangled: The Series” is such a delightful surprise, and here’s the top five reasons why:
1. The original cast is back!
When you’re talking about animated films, a character’s voice is so important. A huge reason why spinoffs/prequels/sequels/series adaptations are bad is because the original actor doesn’t reprise the role, and while the character may look the same, they don’t feel the same without the right voice.
Not a problem here! Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi are both back as Rapunzel and Eugene, and others from the movie – Donna Murphy (Mother Gothel), Brad Garrett (Hook Hand), Jeffrey Tambor (Big Nose), Ron Perlman (the Stabbington Brothers) – return in guest appearances.
2. The new cast is phenomenal!
Beyond Moore and Levi is a supporting cast that’s jam packed with some of the greatest current talents in the voice acting biz. Clancy Brown (most know him as the voice of Mr. Krabs in “Spongebob Squarepants” or Lex Luthor in the DC Animated Universe, but I first met him as the Kurgan in “Highlander”) is the King, and Steve Blum, Diedrich Bader, Dee Bradley Baker, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Richard Kind, Julie Bowen, and M.C. Gainey contribute to multiple episodes.
Then there’s the cameos/special guest stars, like Bruce Campbell, Lance Henriksen, Timothy Dalton, Mark Hamill, Kelly Hu, Carol Kane, Flula Borg, Danny Trejo! It’s a who’s who of my favorite distinctive voices!
3. Great new songs!
Every season there are three or four new songs penned by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, and they’re all super solid. “Let Me Make You Proud” in season one is an especially moving “I want” song with some impressive belting from Jeremy Jordan as Varian, Rapunzel’s alchemist friend, and while I won’t mention details due to spoilers, there’s also a great villain song (with a twist) at the end of season 2.
4. Solid writing and fun stories!
You can tell there were Millennials in the writing room, because “Tangled: The Series” has some hysterical situational comedy and witty dialogue in it. This is one of those kids’ shows that’s intended as much for the parents/adults in the audience as for the kids.
Also there are a lot of puns.
SO many puns.
As a connoisseur of puns, I am delighted.
While there are overarcing plots for each season/the series as a whole, this is mostly an episodic, sitcom-esque show full of zany one-off stories. As the original movie says in its closing scene, several years pass between Rapunzel coming home to Corona and her and Eugene getting married – this fills in those gaps with all of the adventures they have in that interim.
The show also gets to tackle story ideas the screenwriters originally had for the movie but had to cut for time; go and watch the closing credits for “Tangled” again, the ones that are Rapunzel’s sketches. Notice the fortune-telling monkey? He shows up here in a BIG way.
Also, amidst all of the zaniness and fun, there are several episodes that hit surprisingly hard. When this show gets real, it gets real. Not ashamed to admit I cried and shrieked with anger more than once.
5. The show feels like fanfic in the best of ways!
Fanfic exists because fans want more. They want to see the characters they love in new situations both intense (what if Rapunzel has to be the Queen during a blizzard!) and silly (everyone dons beach attire and limbos with leaf people on a tropical island!).
They want to know if Thing A happened, what the emotional fallout would be. They want more romance for the couple they ship, and fleshed-out backstories for side characters.
If there’s only one movie, the fans have to produce that content. Have to answer those questions and satisfy those desires themselves.
So when I say “Tangled: The Series” is like great fanfiction, I mean that as a sincere compliment. We get to see more of Eugene’s past and origins! We get to see how Rapunzel adjusts to being a princess, and having truly loving parents! We get to see Rapunzel and Eugene be absolutely adorable together, celebrating birthdays and having each other’s backs in battle!
This is a show that leans heavy into the tropes, and even gives Rapunzel a best friend/lady-in-waiting who is extremely lesbian-coded – Cass is essentially Joan of Arc with an owl, more comfortable in armor and swinging a sword than in a dress doing needle-pointing.
There’s healthy masculinity! True feminism (in that there’s no wrong way to be a girl)! Diverse characters! Prophecies and magic and epic battles! Oh, how I love it all…
“Tangled: The Series” has three seasons (plus the “Before Ever After” special), and is available on Disney+. For anyone looking for some wholesome, family-friendly entertainment, there’s no better way to spend a few days.
ANGIE BARRY is a contributing columnist for Shaw Media. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers topics in pop culture, history and literature, contact her at email@example.com.