Now, I've reviewed kids' movies before, and it hasn't been that bad -- aside from the embarrassing moment at Planet 51 when I realized that I really should have brought a kid along so I'd be less conspicuous. But thanks to the fact that it was Thanksgiving, or maybe the fact that this was Disney's 50th animated film, or just my sheer bad luck, this time things were more like what you'd expect to find at a kids' movie. That is to say, lots of kids, none of whom seemed willing either to sit still or to be quiet. Three minutes in, one little chatterbox asked if the movie had started yet. At one point, they all happened to fall silent at once, during a quiet spot in the movie, and I wondered if I'd gone suddenly deaf.

As mentioned, this is a Disney flick -- and I mean just Disney, not Pixar -- so there's singing. There are people in the credits listed as the Thug Chorus. Zachary Levi as dashing rogue Flynn Rider says he doesn't sing, but a few dozen swords being pointed at him by the Thug Chorus soon change his mind. He's actually got a pretty good voice. Maybe he should sing to Sarah on Chuck.

But I digress, as usual. This is, after all, a film about Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), even if she isn't quite the title character. It's kind of odd that Disney missed this story all these years, but there we are. Rapunzel's hair is magical -- and it must have been a little magical all along, or it wouldn't have been long enough or strong enough to let anyone climb up and down it. But it's really magical this time around. Among other things, it can keep someone young indefinitely.

That's why she ends up in the tower, living with Gothel (Donna Murphy, Spider-Man 2). Gothel isn't quite a witch in the sense of casting spells, but she's a witch in the more colloquial sense, all right. She's totally self-centered -- she reminded me sometimes of Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard -- manipulative and passive-aggressive, and frankly, it's a marvel Rapunzel turned out relatively normal. She's a princess here, and when Gothel realizes the power of Rapunzel's hair, she daringly steals the baby from the castle. From then on, every year on their lost daughter's birthday, her mourning parents and their subjects release thousands of glowing lanterns into the sky; and Rapunzel watches them longingly from her window.

The lanterns look gorgeous, by the way. It seems to me that it wouldn't necessarily be easy to get a nice, realistic glow effect, but it's done beautifully here. Also, the water. I think it used to be really difficult to render realistic water, but if so, someone's figured out a way around that. There's a bit where a flash flood washes through a canyon, and for a second I thought they'd worked real water in.

Rapunzel grows up with only Gothel and her pet chameleon, Pascal, for company. Her hair isn't as prehensile as I'd hoped, but it seems to wrap around things pretty well, much like Pascal's tail. Using her hair, she flings herself daringly around the tower, like a cross between a gymnast and a trapeze artist. And when dashing rogue Flynn Rider, on the run from the king's guards, scrambles up into the tower to hide, she uses her hair -- and a frying pan -- to great advantage.

After some unusual debate, a deal is struck. Flynn will guide Rapunzel to see the floating lanterns go up into the sky, and then Rapunzel will give him back his ill-gotten gains. She ventures out with only Pascal and her trusty frying pan, which provokes much comment about how useful it is. I could have told them that -- I once played a character in a tabletop role-playing game who ended up wielding a frying pan, and I think I hit more and killed more orcs with that than with anything.

Of course, the closer Flynn gets to the castle, the more likely the king's guards will catch him -- though I'm not sure he was really in much danger. They're not the brightest bunch. The smartest one seems to be the lead guard's horse, Maximus, who thinks he's part dog and loathes Flynn on sight. Throw in Flynn's erstwhile partners in crime, the Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman), and you've got just about everything you need for a pretty good flick.

The thugs are, um, odd, but the kids loved them. They're sort of like the barbarians from those Capitol One credit card commercials, except they also sing. It doesn't really entertain the adults like Shrek or Megamind, but it did entertain, so it gets four out of five. And the next time I review a kids' movie, I'm going to call up T.J.'s parents and make sure they're not bringing him to the same showing. I'm not putting up with hearing him get scolded every five minutes again.

The lanterns being released from the palace on Rapunzel's birthday.


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