Considering how many classic fairy tales Walt Disney adapted for his early animations, it is a wonder the Mouse House founder never followed through on his desire to do the same for “Rapunzel,” the Brothers Grimm’s account of a fair-haired maiden trapped in a tower high above the German countryside.
Seventy years after Disney first sent the story into development, where it languished and seemingly died from neglect, comes “Tangled,” his empire’s 50th animated feature and one of its most rewarding since Pixar ushered the studio into the digital age with “Toy Story.”
Taking cues from a 200-year-old playbook, screenwriter Dan Fogelman (“Cars”) gives his heroine recognizably modern sensibilities but resists cluttering his story with glib pop-culture references.
The result is a coming-of-age adventure tweaked just enough to seem fresh.
Ripped from the crib and held tower-bound for the next 18 years by the manipulative Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), Rapunzel (voiced by pop star Mandy Moore) is a princess unaware of her lineage.
Her days are a tedious round of hobbies — she sings, she dances, she paints — but Rapunzel is never allowed to descend from her perch.
She is not waiting for her prince to come.
Convinced by Mother Gothel that men are snaggletoothed monsters, she is happy to keep her distance, though she longs for worldly pleasures she has never known — the sun warming her comically overgrown locks, the feel of grass underfoot.
When a handsome stranger ascends her tower uninvited, she does what any proper young lady might: She knocks him cold, thrice for good measure.
He is Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi of TV’s “Chuck”), a thrill-seeking thief who dreams of stealing enough money to live like a king. Valiant? Hardly.
But despite his personal failings, Flynn is neither hard-hearted nor entirely self-obsessed. To Rapunzel, he is merely her ticket out of the tower, but as they let down their guard — and, of course, her hair — passions ignite.
No map of the human heart is needed to figure out where that will lead, but one of the joys of “Tangled” is that Rapunzel and her rough-and-tumble beau share a natural chemistry. Their romance never feels forced. The same can be said for Alan Menken’s songs, seamlessly intertwined with the storytelling.
Though 3-D has once again become more of a marketing gimmick than an aesthetic enhancement, “Tangled” is a visual achievement handsome enough to make those plastic glasses seem worthwhile — its look an impressive complement to a familiar story smartly retold.
Tangled (three and a half stars)
Starring Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey
Written by Dan Fogelman
Directed by Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Running time 1 hour 40 minutes