tangledThe newest animated motion picture from the Walt Disney Studios, originally titled Rapunzel and based on the classic fairy tale about a princess locked away in an inaccessible tower by an evil witch and the man who beckons her to let down her long, golden hair, is a mess for the first hour. Jokey, jaded and desperately trying to be modern in the worst sense of the term, Tangled trots out scene after scene of awful dialogue, cheap, physical schtick and a couple of the most unappealing lead characters (a passive male bandit and a batty, neurotic female) in some time, set to stunningly beautiful animation. After the chief characters are introduced, with Donna Murphy’s wicked Mother as a dastardly screen villainess as low as Little Mermaid‘s Ursula and Sleeping Beauty‘s Maleficent, the handsome bandit runs off with Rapunzel and her magical blonde hair and ruins the mood with, “I don’t do backstory.” Playing like an episode of South Park with shades of Shrek, Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and Now, Voyager, it’s one humorless cringe after another until the film’s rich, complex psychology takes root.

Tangled, which looks and, thanks to Alan Menken‘s new songs, sounds gorgeous, eventually gets more or less untangled, though Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) is not the heroine she ought to have been and her suitor, Flynn (voiced by Zachary Levi), is something of a louse. There are some different touches, some refreshing, such as a silent sidekick and a proud, loyal horse as their nemesis, and some not so much, such as the continuing creep of absurdism in Disney pictures, manifested here in several small ways including the appearance of a drunken old man, a sort of fairy alcoholic that might get a chuckle in its context but isn’t really funny. However, with strong songs, an exciting, action-packed climax and glowing romanticism in the second half, Rapunzel’s rejection of tradition resonates and creates an invigorating story. Murphy’s bosomy, frizzy-haired Mother is a scene-stealer around these two big-eyed leads, channeling Cher, Andrea Martin, and Snow White‘s stepmother, and dripping with malice as she sings, “skip the drama, stay with mama,” and the tower is an unforgettable place right out of a Brothers Grimm hand drawing.

But Disney should junk the jokes and stick with consistent characters in tune with the times, the theme and the story. The backslapping and dumbed-down dialogue get Tangled caught up in the weeds.