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'Tangled' may be best Disney movie of all time

Walt Disney Pictures

Rapunzel and Flynn Rider prepare for their wedding in a new short, "Tangled Ever After," showing with "Beauty and the Beast 3D."

OPINION

“Beauty and the Beast 3-D” opens this weekend. I plan to take my 4-year-old to the film less for the main feature -- though who doesn't love Belle? -- and more for the preceding short, “Tangled Ever After," which features Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder's wedding.

The two of us can't wait to see Rapunzel and Flynn from "Tangled" again. Disney was so afraid that this movie wouldn’t attract boys that they named it “Tangled” instead of “Rapunzel." I don't know what the boys thought, but this movie was a hit in my house.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Disney classics, from old-school "Cinderella" to "The Little Mermaid." But "Tangled" has a modern, witty edge and somehow even manages to improve on the Disney formula.

Start with Rapunzel herself. Princess movies have often been criticized for setting a bad example for little girls, showing young women with nothing to do but wait around for their prince to come. Not a problem here. Even though she's essentially a captive in her tower, Rapunzel reads, paints, makes candles, plays guitar and even dabbles in ventriloquism. When handsome Flynn Rider breaks in, she neither swoons and awaits a kiss nor cowers in a corner. Instead, she smacks him over the head with a frying pan, ties him up and only agrees to let him leave so he can guide her to the floating lanterns that she longs to see.

Flynn's not your average Prince Charming, either. Voiced perfectly by Zachary Levi (of "Chuck"), he's an unabashed thief who, when the movie begins, is in the process of double-crossing his cronies. He doesn't immediately turn goody-goody either -- it's a slow and believable transition -- and his narration over the movie is whip-smart and hilarious.

Rapunzel further endears herself to the audience when the two of them hide out in a pub full of scary-looking characters. The thugs quickly warm to her -- tt's the untrustworthy Flynn they aren't too fond of.  And Flynn's still no suckup -- when forced to confess his dream, it's nothing fakily altruistic, instead he longs for his own island and "enormous piles of money." This is not your mother's Disney prince.

In fact, every character in the movie is a well-rounded treat. The bar patrons (according to a clip from "Tangled Ever After," at least one attends the wedding) have their own personalities and the voice casting is smack on. Brad Garrett as Hook Hand Thug ("Though I do like breaking femurs, you can count me with the dreamers") is fantastic. And Maximus the horse, who abandons the Royal Guard to pursue Flynn on his own, never speaks, but somehow manages to portray a gutsy, brave, somewhat crotchety animal with a soft spot for apples -- as long as Flynn didn't steal them.

As any parents with a DVD player can tell you, you don't see a movie like this once. You see it over and over and over again, sometimes on planes, sometimes from the couch while holding a feverish toddler. For a film to hold up to repeat viewings, for adults as well as kids, it's got to be both smart and simple, fast-moving and creative, with personalities you don't mind spending time with and songs that are catchy and bright. It's a fairy tale, yes, and a Disney movie, no doubt. But like "Toy Story" 1, 2, and 3, it rises to real-movie heights. It's Disney's 50th animated film, and for me, it may be their best.

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