Why Tangled is better than Frozen — and deserves more love
I can hear an avalanche of cries of “Let It Go” headed my way now, but I’m here begging you to at last see the light and give Tangled the love it deserves.
Released 10 years ago, Tangled featured the first Disney princess to get the CGI-animation treatment in a lush film that blended computer animation with traditional animation to evoke the feeling of a painting. With a script from Dan Fogelman (This Is Us), the stunning result follows Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) as she dares to explore life outside her tower with the help of hunky Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi).
Hitting theaters only three years before Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) became a global phenomenon, Tangled is a complex tale of a princess on an empowering journey to discover who she really is. While Frozen snowballed into an epic success, Tangled never quite got the love it deserved. Sure, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider got some space at Disneyland, but overall the film never swelled to reach the booming popularity Frozen achieved with its feature-length sequel, holiday shorts, and a Broadway musical.
Some of it is probably down to timing and other intangible factors. Then, there’s the fact that Tangled lacks an earworm on the scale of “Let It Go.” Plus, it possesses a script more wry and subtle than Frozen – which is great for convincing critics to love you, but not so much small children.
But we’ve got a dream – that more people will discover what a gem Tangled is. We considered knocking you over the head with a frying pan in true Rapunzel fashion to smack some sense into you, but instead, here are six reasons Tangled is better than Frozen.
A True Disney Villain
The only thing that Disney does better than princesses is villains (hell, they’ve even got a board game celebrating this fact). Can you imagine pop culture without the likes of Ursula, Cruella de Vil, Maleficent, Jafar, and the O.G. herself, Snow White's Evil Queen? Tangled offers an excellent addition to the Disney villain canon: Mother Gothel, voiced with delicious Broadway panache by the incomparable Donna Murphy.
Disney villains range from pure, unadulterated evil to those with more complicated motives. Gothel definitely falls on the more nuanced end of that spectrum. She kidnaps Rapunzel and hoards the princess away to keep access to the magical youth restoring power of Rapunzel's hair. But she does seem to have a small degree of motherly love for Rapunzel – even if her ulterior motives are ultimately toxic, narcissistic, and selfish. What’s more – their relationship is a complex examination of mother-daughter relationships and the emotional scars that can be wrought by controlling, self-involved parents.
Frozen has this to a degree in Anna and Elsa’s parents, but their absence renders it less impactful. The villain of the first film is Prince Hans, but in a sense, also Elsa? In that she’s her own worst enemy/the crux of many of the issues at the heart of the plot. That’s a new spin on things, but it doesn’t really provide the oomph you’re looking for from the panoply of great Disney villains.
Tangled manages to combine iconic cartoonish villainy with a more psychologically astute examination of what villains can look like. Plus, Donna Murphy does the MOST with the role, playing with her vocal levels and campily chewing the scenery, especially on her standout song “Mother Knows Best.”
A hunky hero
Honestly, most Disney movies tend to give more credence to either their hero or heroine. But Tangled gives due measure to both in Rapunzel and Flynn Rider (real name: Eugene Fitzherbert). Zachary Levi makes Flynn charm incarnate with his vocal performance, and his caddish bag of tricks, including his patented “smolder” are good-hearted, goofy send-ups of the square-jawed hero. He’s all bluster, but really just a scared kid on the inside, looking for love and security in much the same way Rapunzel is.
Flynn, inspired by cinema’s greatest swashbuckler Errol Flynn, is the most irresistible of hero tropes: the rogue with a heart of gold. They nail his evolution from mercenary thief to caring love interest with aplomb, making him one of the most attractive characters Disney animation has ever created. His journey to achieve his “dream” and the shift in what that means places him on equal footing with Rapunzel, rendering their love story far more potent. Flynn is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, as testament to how much Rapunzel has changed him. That ending ranks with Beauty and the Beast for yanking at the romantic tear ducts.
Look, I don’t want to suggest that every Disney movie needs a love story. And they especially don’t all need a cis-het love story. I know a lot of people appreciate that Anna’s romance with the dorky Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is secondary to the relationship between the two sisters. That’s absolutely worth celebrating (it’d be even more amazing if they could go all-in on Elsa’s sexuality). But at the same time, Disney has long been in the business of selling us love stories and happily-ever-afters – and few of their films do it as well and movingly as Tangled.
Rapunzel did naïve and earnest first – and better
Rapunzel’s two most defining characteristics are her naiveté, a result of being cooped up in a tower her entire life, and her earnestness. When she breaks out of her cozy prison, she waffles between extreme guilt and elation at her newfound freedom in one of the most hysterically relatable montages Disney has ever crafted. But her lack of awareness about the world around her and her genuine joy in discovering everything from the delights of dancing in the village to the floating lanterns is infectious. It never seems forced or overly played for humor, but just genuine to her situation.
Frozen seems to draw on the Tangled model with Anna, who bursts with a similar zealous enthusiasm, but hers purposefully can verge on feeling over-the-top. I’ll take this more subtle version any day.
People talk about the Beauty and the Beast ballroom scene as a breathtaking game-changer. And it is. But Tangled ranks up there for me with its lush depiction of floating lanterns. It’s one of the most romantic images they’ve ever crafted, and I’m in awe every time I see this scene. It’s just sheer beauty, a true work of art brought to life. The rich interplay of the purples and darker hues of the night sky with the glowing warmth of the lanterns is extraordinary. This scene alone should put Tangled in the record books for how eye-catching and luminous it is. I dare you not to gasp in wonder while watching it.
The silent animal sidekicks
Disney gives great sidekick, but I’m going to voice an unpopular opinion here: Olaf (Josh Gad) is only enjoyable in very small doses. Conceptually, a snowman who is obsessed with summer is hilarious, and he’s absolutely endearing. But after about five minutes his oblivious shtick doesn’t melt my heart, it freezes it.
In contrast, Tangled features two blissfully silent sidekicks: Rapunzel’s chameleon Pascal and noble steed Maximus. Pascal is watchful and protective of Rapunzel, a loyal companion, who also offers loads of whimsy in his color-changing hues. Maximus is a dog in a horse’s body, at first hell-bent on hunting Flynn down and then his most ardent supporter. Their humor and fanciful nature are all conveyed through the animation of their body language, and it makes them so much more engaging and delightful.
A great score
There is no escaping the power ballad that is “Let It Go.” And rightfully so. It’s a fantastic song. But beyond that, the rest of Frozen’s score pales in comparison. Tangled, in contrast, bops along to a more even-footed set of songs composed by Disney legend Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater. From Rapunzel’s playful “When Will My Life Begin?” to Mother Gothel’s operetta ditty “Mother Knows Best,” the score is consistently delightful. “I Have a Dream” is a classic Disney track that abounds with hilarious sight gags. Our only real complaint is that Levi doesn’t get enough chances to sing.
Tangled’s best song is its love ballad, “I See the Light,” mellifluously rendered by Levi and Moore as their characters float among a sea of the aforementioned gorgeous lanterns. It deserves to be as well-known as “A Whole New World” when it comes to romantic Disney duets. It’s both intimate and soaring in scope and provides the emotional weight for Flynn and Rapunzel’s relationship in a single song.
It’s hard to ignore Frozen when it’s literally as widespread and intractable as one of Elsa’s snowstorms, but let down your hair and consider why its predecessor might actually be superior. Or at least worthy of the real, lasting kind of love that Rapunzel and Flynn share.