The Walt Disney Animated Studios logo announces Tangled as the fiftieth animated feature from its official canon, certainly an equally noteworthy and irrelevant accomplishment. What makes the milestone worth mentioning at all is the fact that it is a true return to a formula that works — a musical based on a classic fairy tale — in a newer medium — computer animation.

The reason those films still stay in the public consciousness generation after generation, through re-releases in theaters and restorations on home media, is the purity of the stories. Yes, we all know the story of Rapunzel, or at least what everyone who knew she was up in that tower would have to yell to spend some time with her, and we seem to always have known it. There’s no ignoring the nostalgic appeal of the classic Disney animated features, either.

Tangled comes as close to the aesthetic style and look of those traditional animated films as any developed in the digital realm. It is a film with a rich tapestry of colors, imaginative depth in character design (speaking of dimensions, it is a rare instance of a 3-D presentation in which I did not find the gimmick an overt distraction), and standout sequences of visual splendor.

This is the “very fun” story of the death of narrator Flynn Ryder (voice of Zachary Levi), an infamous thief who has just stolen a royal crown. Years and year before that, though, the pregnant Queen of the land fell ill, leading to the acquisition of a magical flower with restorative properties. The baby was born, but the evil witch Gothel (voice of Donna Murphy) stole her away to use the child’s hair, which holds the same power as the blossom, to avoid death.

Back in the present, the unaware princess Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore) has grown up in a tower, locked away from the rest of the world except for daily visits from her counterfeit mother to take advantage of her (really, really) really long, golden locks. Escaping the palace guards and a loyal bloodhound of a horse named Maximus, Ryder discovers Rapunzel’s tower and scales it to hole up. The two strike a deal (after she strikes him a couple of times with a frying pan and tries to hide the body): She will return the crown he stole if he leads her to view the floating lights that appear from the palace and its surrounding village every year on the night of her birthday.

Once the basics of the plot have been established, Dan Fogelman’s screenplay begins a steady riffing — sometimes subtle, sometimes overt — on the conventions of storybook adventures. Whether it’s the devotion of Maximus to the cause of hunting down his man even to the point of being the other participant in a sword fight or Rapunzel’s manic-depressive argument with herself about the reaction of her “mother” to her escape against the thrill of her freedom, the film has some truly funny and inventive moments. Rapunzel’s animal sidekick Pascal, a chameleon with an attitude, provides a lot of laughs.

The best comic scene, perhaps, comes when Rapunzel, who also fights by using her hair as a whip, and Ryder, who has a newfound admiration for the frying pan as a weapon, visit the most dreadful watering hole of rapscallions and brutes in all the land called, of all things, the Snuggly Duckling.

As it turns out, even the scum of the earth have dreams, like to become a concert pianist, a mime, an interior designer, or a fashioner of ceramic unicorns, and they sing about it, too. The songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater — while not one of them stands out as very memorable after the fact — are enjoyably assembled and serve a purpose, whether to establish character (Rapunzel singing “When Will My Life Begin?” while performing the stream of daily chores that make up her current, uneventful life, or Gothel crooning “Mother Knows Best” to coerce her “daughter” to lose her dreams of the world outside the safety of the tower), develop a relationship (Rapunzel and Ryder confessing “I See the Light” in a ballad of their love for each other under the hovering lanterns and over their reflections in the water), or just have fun (“I’ve Got a Dream” in the pub).

Tangled is amusing throughout but also sincere in the trappings of fable. A silent moment between Rapunzel’s parents preparing to start the bittersweet proceedings surrounding the the celebration of their daughter’s birth and the cry out for her return is truly touching. It’s a minor but entertaining return to the tradition of the classic Disney animated musical using a medium people (myself included) once decried as veering too far from tradition.

Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.

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