If the folks at Disney indeed follow through on their decision to stop making princessy, fairy-tale movies (they’re nervous about continuing to marginalize the young male population), Tangled is about a good a send-off as they could hope for.

Equal parts swashbuckler and ‘happily ever after’, it more than makes up for the relative disappointment of last year’s The Princess and the Frog. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you might just think it was the beginning of a fresh, new era at the Mouse House… not the end.

Tangled takes the original story of Rapunzel and turns it on its ear just enough to be a super fun, highly entertaining movie musical that girls and boys (and, let’s face it, their parents, too) will like equally.

Instead of Prince Charming, we get Flynn Rider (voiced by Chuck‘s Zachary Levi). He’s a roguish, daring thief (who’s still, well… charming), and the story begins with his telling the story of the baby who would become the girl with the really long hair (voiced by Mandy Moore).

Turns out the hair is not only fresh out of a Pantene commercial, it also has magical healing powers and acts as a forever-young serum. This mass of fortuitous follicles, of course, appeals to Gothel (voiced by two-time Tony winner Donna Murphy), a hundreds-year-old, witch-like woman. She decides the easiest way to regain her girlish good looks is to kidnap baby Rapunzel from her King and Queen parents and lock her away in a hidden, ten-story-high tower. As if that weren’t enough, Gothel also (in one of Tangled‘s more amusing musical numbers) schools the girl on the dangers of the world (ruffians, quicksand, and The Plague, oh my!) just so she won’t try to run away.

The day before her 18th birthday, though, Rapunzel decides she wants out. You see, every year on her birthday, the King and Queen (and townsfolk) launch thousands of paper lanterns into the air, hoping (unbeknownst to Rapunzel) to draw their child back to them. Rapunzel wants to get out and see them up close for herself, singing (with apologies to Beauty and the Beast‘s Belle) that there must be more to this towered life.

‘Round about this time, Flynn has stolen a tiara from the castle, and discovers Rapunzel’s tower during his getaway. To escape capture, he scales the walls, and in what must be a first, runs out of the ‘fire’ and into a frying pan, Rapunzel’s weapon of choice. When he comes to, she offers him a deal– take her to see the lanterns for her birthday, and she’ll give him the tiara back. He agrees, and then, in what is perhaps the movie’s most hilarious scene, watches as Rapunzel jumps back and forth (and back and forth again) between exultation at finally being able to roll around in the grass, and self-loathing for betraying Gothel with her escape.

There are some tense moments in Tangled, including a death, a near-death, and some particularly scary-looking baddies, but screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Cars, Bolt) deftly moves on from them, usually with a well-placed joke. His screenplay is smart, clever, and extremely inventive, plus it introduces us to the usual cast of memorable characters. Along with the free-spirited Rapunzel and smart-alecky Ryder, we also get the guilt trip-inducing Gothel, a merry band of quirky, Viking-like thugs, and (of course) the requisite funny Disney animals– including a bloodhound-like stallion and Rapunzel’s gruff little pet chameleon.

Directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno (Bolt) took the excellent source material and ran with it, creating a world that’s as close to a lush painting as you can get while still using computers. They also wisely took a little extra time to make wearing those 3D glasses worthwhile. The scene where Flynn and Rapunzel watch the paper lantern launch is easily one of the most utterly beautiful and stunning scenes in recent (or even distant) Disney history.

Further kudos to the studio for bringing composer Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast) and lyricist Glenn Slater back into the fold– marking their first work on a Disney Animation feature since 2004’s Home on the Range. Their half-dozen songs, each better than the forgettable tunes in The Princess and the Frog, are a welcome reminder of the way things used to be in the good ol’ days.

Welcome back, Disney. Sorry to see you go.

4.5/5 stars