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Saturday, 23 June 2018

Tangled the Series – First Season Reviews and Second Season Previews

(Note: This article contains plenty of spoilers for Tangled: The Series)

Last year, Tangled: The Series, a follow-up to Disney’s 2010 animated hit Tangled, premièred on the Disney Channel, allowing Rapunzel, the lost princess of Corona, and former bandit Eugene Fitzherbert (previously known as Flynn Rider) to go on further adventures. The series picks up where the film left off, as Rapunzel and Eugene adjust to life in Corona, and Rapunzel’s new handmaiden Cassandra becomes a feisty new sidekick for the princess. However, things get complicated when Rapunzel comes across magical rocks which cause her long and magical blond hair (cut off at the end of Tangled) to return. The first season ended with the rocks destroying the walls of Corona, and King Frederic allowing Rapunzel and her friends to leave the kingdom in order to find out more about these rocks and their mysterious powers. The second series will continue from here, with Rapunzel getting to explore the world outside of Corona.

The ratings for the first series, whilst not spectacular, remained reasonably consistent in spite of some horrific scheduling. After six episodes, the series went on a three-month hiatus, and then moved to a Sunday prime time slot (putting it in direct competition with the iconic Game of Thrones). For the last few episodes, the show was shifted from Sunday evenings to Saturday mornings, which made it difficult for the shows older fanbase to access it. In spite of this, Tangled: The Series has maintained a loyal and highly enthusiastic audience, gaining three nominations at the Annie Awards and winning a Daytime Emmy. As a result, Tangled: The Series has been renewed for a second season, but it has now been renamed Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure (more on this later) and will now air on Sunday mornings, starting from this weekend. The series will begin with an hour-long episode called ‘Beyond the Corona Walls’, which will feature brand new songs and start an epic new adventure for Rapunzel.

The New Title

For its second series, the title of Tangled: The Series been changed to Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure. It’s a bit jarring to see the title get changed, but the new name still makes it clear that this show centres on Rapunzel and is part of the Tangled universe. There are both advantages and disadvantages with this new title. It makes it clear that Rapunzel is the main character and her coming-of-age is the central focus of the show. It also implies that the adventure elements of the series (which have always been its strongest aspects) will take centre stage, allowing for a more and consistent tone. However, the new title also seems juvenile and generic, with an uncomfortably close resemblance to the title of the widely criticised Frozen Christmas special Olaf's Frozen Adventure. There is also a risk that an excessive focus on Rapunzel could distract from the other leads. When Tangled gained its title (it had initially been called Rapunzel before being controversially renamed late in production), the filmmakers claimed this was because Eugene was as much of a protagonist as Rapunzel. The idea that the Tangled brand is bigger than a single princess has also informed Tangled: The Series to an extent. During the first season, there were numerous episodes centred on Eugene or Cassandra, with Rapunzel playing a secondary role (there were even episodes where animal sidekicks Pascal and Maximus were the leads). Rapunzel is an interesting character, but so are her friends, so putting them in the background might be a problem. Nonetheless, the new title will not be too much of a hindrance if the stories remain interesting and the characters remain likeable and engaging. Regardless of the title, a series centred on Rapunzel and Eugene will hopefully remain an entertaining show.

A Quick Review

Tangled: The Series is generally great entertainment for fans of the original movie, and even those with little interest in that film will find plenty of merit in it. Disney series are aimed at a younger and narrower audience than Disney films, so they tend to be lighter, softer and less sophisticated than the original movie. However, the first season of Tangled: The Series has plenty of darker and more mature moments, which elevate it above conventional Disney Channel fare. Rapunzel’s experiences being imprisoned in a tower for 18 years have clearly had a significant effect on her psychology, and her two signature traits – her obsession with exploring and need to be liked – can be closely linked to her awful childhood. In two episodes, Rapunzel has to revisit the tower, and it is clear that this is quite traumatic for her. This dark undercurrent does not overshadow the character’s upbeat and fun personality, but it adds an unsettling layer which is more likely to be understood by adults. In addition, there is some welcome emphasis on the pressures and responsibilities Rapunzel faces as a royal, ensuring that the show has more depth than the traditional princess wish-fulfilment fantasy.

As well as having appealing characters and interesting storylines, Tangled: The Series also contains plenty of genuinely impressive animation. The 2D storybook-inspired style may seem fairly primitive compared to the detailed CGI animation of the original film, but the characters remain as expressive as ever, and the bright colours make the series feel like a recognisable part of the Tangled universe. The action sequences are fluid and often impressive, although there are some distracting uses of blocky CGI more suited to an animated series from 1997 than one from 2017. In addition to the lively animated style, there have been some more unusual touches with have enhanced the fairy tale identity of the show. One episode featured a story being told with illustrations from a pop-up book, (which were filmed in stop-motion), and concluded with a scene where the shadows of Cassandra and the villain-of-the-week were projected on the sides of a hot-air balloon as they duelled inside. Meanwhile, the final episode featured a flashback sequence told through mosaics. The interesting storylines, themes and visuals confirm that Tangled: The Series is willing to be creative and take risks, and this ensures that older audiences can enjoy it as much as the children.

However, Tangled: The Series has plenty of flaws, many of which stem from the fact that it tends to alternate between adventure and comedy without combining the two as well as the original film. The central plot arc, involving the growth of the mysterious black rocks, was neglected for long stretches in favour of sitcom antics. Furthermore, the portrayal of the lead characters could be somewhat erratic, with comedic episodes often exaggerating the worst aspects of Rapunzel, Eugene and Cassandra in order to gain cheap laughs. However, it is worth enduring the filler to get to the interesting material. Overall, Tangled: The Series is a pretty solid continuation of the Tangled franchise, and it seems like it will still be worth watching when it becomes Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure.

The Cast

It goes without saying that Rapunzel and Eugene will return, with Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi continuing to bring Tangled’s core duo to life. They are a lively and likeable pair of protagonists and it is fun to see their journey towards the inevitable wedding. The pub thugs at the Snuggly Duckling will accompany them on their adventures, literally putting their tavern on wheels and taking it on their adventures with them. Cute animal sidekicks Pascal and Maximus are also there to provide Rapunzel and Eugene with extra support. The fact that are protagonists are moving away from Corona means that the supporting characters from the first season will mostly be absent from this one. It is doubtful that the quirky denizens of Corona will return in any major capacity, as the mysterious blacksmith Xavier (voiced by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is the only one with a real role in the larger storylines. Rapunzel’s parents will also have a significantly reduced role, but Rapunzel’s growing maturity could lead to interesting changes in her relationship with them. Last season, King Fredric (voiced by Clancy Brown) was generally defined by the tiresome ‘overprotective father’ tropes, and his stifling attempts at keeping Rapunzel safe could get pretty annoying. Hopefully, he will be allowed to become a more unique and likeable character, and it would also be great if the underused Queen Ariana (Voiced by Julie Bowen) gained more opportunities to come into her own.

However, for all of the characters who may be absent, the three strongest additions to the Tangled cast will definitely be back for more adventures. Cassandra (Voiced by Eden Espinosa) is going to get more opportunities to fight for Rapunzel and friends after leading Corona into battle at the end of the last season. Eugene’s childhood friend Lance Strongbow (Voiced by James Monroe Iglehart) has joined the pub thugs, which will probably allow him a larger role in the series. Finally, fan-favourite villain Varian (Voiced by Jeremy Jordan) will be back, still looking for revenge on Rapunzel and a means to free his father Quirin from the crystal prison created by the black magic of the rocks. It will be fun to see how these three characters evolve in this season.

A variety of new characters will be added in this series, with many of them being female. Two of the most interesting are Madam Carnadist, a mysterious figure seen in a teaser at the end of last season, and Stalyan, Eugene’s ex-fiancée. Carnadist is voiced by stage and screen veteran Carol Kane, whilst Stalyan is voiced by Yvonne Strahovski. Strahowski’s role is especially significant for fans of the action comedy series Chuck, as she starred opposite Zachary Levi as the female lead. Both characters seem like they will cause significant trouble for Rapunzel and friends, but they will hopefully be given the depth and nuance needed to make them appealing and memorable.

The up and coming Lil Rel Howery will star as a character called Goodberry, and Britt Robertson is voicing a new teenage character called Vex. B-Movie icon Bruce Campbell has been cast as the ‘bizarrely charming’ King Edmund, whilst former James Bond Timothy Dalton (another actor who had a central role in Chuck) will voice an adventurer and inventor called Demanitus. Both have worked with Pixar in the past, but it’s pretty surprising to see them appear in a Disney channel series, and their presence will certainly entertain any fathers who happen to be watching. Meanwhile, Kathy Mixon has been cast as an alluring character called Seraphina and Kathy Namijy will voice an eccentric forest dweller. The most recent actor confirmed to be joining the cast is Lance Henriksen, who will apparently be voicing the Baron, a hitherto unseen crime boss whose minions have created trouble for Eugene and Lance in previous episodes. It is likely that all these characters are going to be recurring presences, and we could see further celebrities make one-off appearances throughout the season. The first season featured one-episode guest appearances from the likes of Danny Trejo, Bradley Whitford, Jane Krakowski and Ellen Greene, and more notable actors and actresses could follow in their footsteps.

Tangled: The Series Soundtrack – A Review

Tangled: The Series is not a full-on musical series in the vein of something like Glee or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but it often makes use of music, with each of the three ‘tentpole’ episodes containing two or three songs. Past animated series based on Disney films, such as The Little Mermaid and Hercules, also had semi-musical formats (although they featured more songs than Tangled: The Series), but Tangled: The Series stands out because it is the first Disney Channel series to feature new songs from Alan Menken, who composed the music for Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Menken wrote the songs for Tangled with Glenn Slater, and the duo returned to create ten new songs (two of which are reprises). The three ‘tentpole episodes’ of Tangled: The Series are pilot episode Tangled: Before Ever After, winter special Queen for a Day and season finale Secret of the Sundrop. All three feature songs which range from enjoyable diversions to genuinely interesting anthems worthy of comparison to the music from the original film – a pretty impressive feat given the reduced standards of a Disney Channel series.

The songs mostly fit an upbeat guitar-pop style reminiscent of ‘When Will My Life Begin’ from the original Tangled. Although this relative sameness narrows the audience (if you dislike acts such as Colbie Caillat, or hate the early songs of Taylor Swift, this soundtrack is not for you), it generally suits the sunny fairy tale approach of Tangled: The Series, even if the use of electric guitars in ‘Life After Happily Ever After’ and ‘I’ve Got This’ feels a bit jarring. However, it’s no coincidence that the best songs in the soundtrack are the ones which do something a little different. The translation of the songs from screen to album is somewhat inconsistent, as some songs keep the dialogue surrounding them (‘I’ve Got This’ and ‘Listen Up’) but in for other numbers (‘Wind in My Hair (reprise)’ and ‘Ready as I’ll Ever Be) all the extra dialogue gets cut. It’s no surprise to learn that former popstar Mandy Moore, and Broadway regulars Zachary Levi, Eden Espinosa and Jeremy Jordan, all give excellent performances, as they really do a great job bringing their characters to life. Clancy Brown does not have their technical ability, but his smooth and deep voice is always a pleasure to listen to.

The overriding theme of Tangled: The Series is Rapunzels’ struggle to balance the pressures and responsibilities of royal life with her own desire to see the world and go on adventures, and the songs in Tangled: Before Ever After, set this conflict up pretty strongly. The opening song, ‘Life After Happily Ever After’ does a solid job establishing what life is like in Corona’s royal palace for Rapunzel, Eugene and King Frederic. It also introduces the reliably compelling ‘after ever after’ theme of the series, as Rapunzel realises that struggles to cope with the pressures and responsibilities of life as a princess. The song conveys the rush of Rapunzel’s royal life very well, and the downbeat ending does a good job of highlighting Rapunzel’s anxieties. ‘Wind in My Hair’ is the second song from Tangled: Before Ever After, but it appears first on the album, most likely because it functions as the theme song for the entire Tangled series. As a lively pop anthem, it works excellently in this context, as it highlights Rapunzel’s enthusiasm and her desire to go on adventures, which is the overriding theme of the series. The song also gets a short reprise at the end of the episode, further cementing its status as the signature tune of the series.

Queen For A Day shows Rapunzel being put in temporary charge of the kingdom while her parents are away. Whilst managing life in Corona, she sings ‘I've Got This’, which adds old-fashioned folkier elements to the Tangled sound. It’s another energetic tune, but it features Rapunzel realising she is out of her depth as ruler of Corona, as every decision she makes leads to further problems. It is followed by ‘Let Me Make You Proud’, the signature song for new character Varian. This troubled young alchemist seeks to make his father Qurin proud at all costs, and his single-mindedness begins to turn into fanaticism throughout the episode. As Varian heads to Corona in a doomed attempt to seek help for Qurin, he sings this soaring power ballad, which is full of energy and passion, and easily the best song on this soundtrack. The short, downbeat reprise at the end of the episode sets up Varian’s descent into villainy in powerful fashion, as his pain and dismay at losing Quirin turns to anger. The closing lines are delivered in an aggressive fury which is genuinely quite menacing. Overall, Varian is probably the best Disney villain since Mother Gothel from the original Tangled, and the two versions of ‘Let Me Make You Proud’ demonstrate why he is such an effective character.

Although the vast majority of music in Tangled: The Series is confined to the tentpole specials, two songs came from other episodes. Pascals Story features a catchy new song called ‘Friendship Song’, sung by 15 year-old The Voice semi-finalist Brennley Brown. This tune was only heard for about 30 seconds in that episode, and is probably better in that smaller dose, as Brown’s energetic but immature voice and the relentlessly upbeat arrangement make the song feel rather cloying when extended to four times that length. Meanwhile, ‘Listen Up’ comes from Halloween special The Wrath of Ruthless Ruth. The song is performed by the titular ghost, who haunts the Snuggly Duckling tavern until she gets to fulfil her dream of singing in public. It represents a bit of a departure from the Tangled: The Series style, with a ‘haunted house’ atmosphere which is pleasingly spooky but never remotely scary – essentially, it’s what you would expect from a Halloween special for a Disney Channel series, but it’s still fun to listen to.

The two songs from season finale Secret of the Sundrop come late in the album, as they effectively feel like eleven o'clock songs for the first season as a whole. ‘Set Yourself Free’ is one of the weaker numbers on the album, as it sounds a little too much like a slightly more sombre version of ‘Wind in My Hair’. However, Mandy Moore does a good job of conveying Rapunzel’s need to keep her spirits up and her desire to escape the confines of her castle. The second song in the special, ‘Ready as I’ll Ever Be’ is far better. As Varian, Cassandra and Rapunzel prepare for the final battle, this song provides a warlike, invigorating prelude to the climax, demonstrating how strong the series can be when dealing with big themes and providing epic adventures.

The album concludes with ‘More of Me’, an end credits song performed by Natasha Bedingfield, who had big hits in the mid 2000’s with songs like ‘These Words’, ‘Pocketful of Sunshine’ and ‘Unwritten’. Her generally sunny and optimistic style is an excellent fit for the Tangled universe, but ‘More of Me’ also has a more modern feel which separates it from the rest of the songs on this soundtrack. It probably would have been a decent hit if Natasha had released it as a single at the peak of her career.

Overall, the Tangled: The Series soundtrack is a decent little album for fans of Tangled: The Series. When all the songs are put together, it becomes clear that their lively guitar-based approach can get a little annoying when overused. However, like the larger series, this soundtrack is colourful and entertaining, and there are enough genuinely interesting songs and moments to give it a much-needed edge.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to use the comment section to correct an error in my review. I referred to the mysterious warrior from the last scene of the previous series as Madam Carnadist. After seeing 'Beyond the Corona Walls', I can confirm that the character is actually called Adira and voiced by Kelly Hu. Madam Carnadist seems to be a separate individual...