As much as I enjoyed the movie Tangled, I can’t say I ever thought it had franchise potential. Unfortunately, after watching the “Queen for a Day” extended episode of Tangled: The Series on DVD, I still don’t think it has a lot of franchise potential. The second release of the new Tangled series airing on Disney Channel, this “soccer-mom” release disappoints on a number of levels.
As an updated take on the fairy tale Rapnuzel, Tangled had a perfectly good set-up, execution, and happily-ever-after, setting up the roguish Eugene as Rapunzel’s true love. The pre-release materials placed Tangled: The Series between the movie and the wedding that’s the backdrop of the “Tangled Ever After” short. Puzzlingly, those same pre-release materials suggesteed the series was going to have a lot of explaining to do to (spoilers) restore Rapunzel’s long, blonde, magical hair, which was cut off as a major plot twist in the movie and is still short and brown in the wedding. The series exploits that dissonance as its central hook, restoring Rapunzel’s hair to give the characters a puzzle to solve. Additional characters include a new Best Friend Forever in the form of Cassandra, a lady in waiting who is not fond of Rapunzel’s betrothed Eugene; and Varian, a clumsy and accident-prone young alchemist who is another of Rapunzel’s friends. I feel compelled to mention all this because Queen for a Day is a mid-season 1 episode, which makes for an oddly disconnected experience if it’s your first experience with the show. Normally, I’m all for starting a story in the middle and letting the audience catch up as they need to, and Queen for a Day mostly succeeds at doing this, but a lot of story points in the episode feel like they’d have a lot more power if you knew more of what was going on.
It doesn’t help that the central plot to Queen for a Day is well-worn territory, reminding me repeatedly of the Cinderella story in the Disney Princess Enchanted Tales DVD I watched many moons ago. Rapunzel’s parents leave the castle for an anniversary trip, leaving the kingdom on Rapunzel’s hands for a day to prepare her for the burdens of rule. Unfortunately, a blizzard of epic proportions threatens the entire kingdom, and the only way to stop it might lie in an old legend. Meanwhile, a lot of strange rocks are chewing up increasing amounts of farmland, and none of Varian’s attempts to deal with them are having any positive effect. By the episode climax, all three of these plot threads interweave together, confronting Rapunzel with some hard decisions.
The execution of Queen for a Day is surprisingly weak. The pacing is off, taking too long to establish its multiple plot lines and then resolving them too swiftly for them to resonate properly. On top of all that, one major plotline is left deliberately unresolved by the end of the episode, and even if it’s clear that it’s setting up future plotlines for the show, the fact that there’s only the one episode on this entire disc leaves a feeling of being cheated and left hanging rather than getting enticed to continue on. However, I suspect that the more fundamental problem is that Rapunzel and Eugene just aren’t all that interesting without the conflict created by Mother Gothel in Tangled. Because the series takes place after the movie but before the two are married, Rapunzel and Eugene are left in a weird relationship limbo that limits how much growth or change either one can have in relation to the other. Rapunzel is nice and enthusiastic and Eugene is a rogue with a heart of gold, and it is just not all that much fun to watch them. There’s a lot of half-warmed leftovers of romance between people of two very different backgrounds, as well as a lot of relationship misunderstandings that only happen in TV shows, but neither character can do much when their relationship stays resolutely in neutral for the duration.
At least there is quite a bit to appreciate along technical dimensions with Queen for a Day. Tangled: The Series opts for hand-drawn/Flash-style animation that ends up looking a little bit like a hybrid of cel-shaded CGI and paper-cut animation. Both Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi reprise their roles as Rapunzel and Eugene, respectively, and they’re both still as charming as they can be.
The disappointments of the episode are compounded by the fact that the disc is so short. Beyond the “Queen for a Day” double-length episode, there’s nothing else on it other than a handful of “Inside the Journal” short films that give a cursory introduction to characters in the show, done as entries in Rapunzel’s diary. Since this episode is clearly assuming that other story points are well-known and sets up a larger plot arc, I don’t think Disney is doing the series any favors by releasing it on a single-episode DVD release (and, at least according to reviews on Amazon, the first Tangled: The Series DVD has many of the same problems). I don’t think Disney has ever valued its TV animation as well as it should, creating a self-justifying feedback loop where crummy or partial releases sell poorly and justify abandoning the market. I’m not positive that Tangled: The Series would benefit from a full season set in the same way that something like Gravity Falls would, but I definitely think that the sub-par DVD of Queen for a Day may be actively hurting Tangled: The Series rather than helping it.