'Tangled' (PG)

The delightfully witty Tangled is the first animated cartoon released by Walt Disney Pictures that can stand alongside Pixar toons without apology. Working from an ingenious screenplay by Dan Fogelman that turns the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale about Rapunzel into a rollicking adventure, directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard  strike a perfect balance with high-flying action, musical numbers, a genuinely touching romance and a baddie worthy of a place in Disney’s Hallowed Hall of Villains.

Aside from the heroine (voiced by Mandy Moore) and her impossibly long, blonde hair, the particulars of the story have all been changed. The girl is a princess, kidnapped as a baby by an old hag, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) who uses the magical powers of Rapunzel’s tresses – they glow with a regenerative, healing light when she sings – to keep herself young.

Mother Gothel keeps Rapunzel locked away inside a tower, warning her that the outside world is too treacherous and dangerous. Resigned to her fate, the good-natured girl entertains herself with games, baking and her scene-stealing pet chameleon. But on the eve of her 18th birthday, she gets an unexpected visit from Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi), a fugitive thief who overcomes the young woman’s suspicions and agrees to take her out of the tower and into the surrounding forest.

Tangled starts out in somewhat rote Disney fashion, but unlike last year’s The Princess and the Frog, which was formulaic to a fault, it gradually develops a distinct identity, with some terrific supporting characters (including a king’s horse in relentless pursuit of Flynn) and some eye-popping sequences, from a giant flood to a heartbreakingly beautiful display of candles floating in the nighttime sky under which Rapunzel and Flynn fall into proper love.

Like the best Pixar films, Tangled understands that the key to any good movie — animated or not — depends on the audience’s attachment to the characters. Spectacle and music are secondary. Even though they may seem to be boilerplate fairy-tale heroes, you genuinely come to care about Rapunzel and Flynn and root for them to be together — an outcome that, although guaranteed from the start, still manages to seem in doubt. The film’s 3D effects are not obtrusive, the artistry is at times breathtaking, and the movie leaves you feeling giddy with happiness and glee. Tangled packs old-fashioned Disney magic as endless as Rapunzel’s locks.

Voices: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Jeffrey Tambor.

Directors: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard.

Screenwriter: Dan Fogelman.

Producer: Roy Conli.

A Walt Disney Pictures release. Running time: 95 minutes. Mild violence. Playing at: area theaters.