By Ann Hornaday
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 3:34 PM
Almost exactly one year ago, Disney made a little bit of cinema history by releasing "The Princess and the Frog," featuring cartoon-dom's first African American princess. "Tangled," this year's animated holiday offering from the studio, may not possess the same symbolic import or rich musical score. But it provides further evidence that, with live-action movies increasingly opting for naturalistic grit, animation may be the last refuge for sheer, unapologetic beauty.
Don't let the title fool you: "Tangled" is a princess story, too, in this case that of Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore), who as an infant is abducted from her parents' castle by the vindictive Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) and raised in a tower, her hair all the time growing, growing, growing. And glowing, glowing, glowing: Rapunzel's super-long (and amazingly well-conditioned) tresses have magical powers that make them light up and turn back the clock for whomever they touch - namely, the youth-obsessed Gothel.
Rapunzel's home life may be a study in passive-aggressive dysfunction, but for the most part "Tangled" is zippy and engaging, especially when the wide-eyed heroine joins forces with a cocky bandit named Flynn (Zachary Levi) - and a scene-stealing palace horse named Maximus.
Reportedly, the filmmakers were inspired by French Romantic painting, but with its luminous azures, lavenders and golds, the film's dazzling color palette also recalls Maxfield Parrish. The result is an uncommonly pretty visual experience, especially during a climactic scene when hundreds of lanterns are sent aloft into the night sky. One thousand points of light never looked so fetching.
Tangled (100 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for brief mild violence.