Princess Review: Tangled
5:00 PM on 01.20.2012
Tangled is one of those movies that had some very worrisome marketing. What was initially meant to be a strong tale about a girl escaping from a tower ended up with trailers completely centering around her love interest. The fact that he was seemingly no different than any other Overly-Egotistical-Snarky-Guy character did not ease any concerns. Seeing yet another blonde princess needing to be rescued from a tower was a disappointment to many who'd been looking forward to the movie from its inception.
The movie ended up doing fairly well, and included some very dark themes about parental abuse. Of course, box office success says nothing about the effect a movie might actually have on a child. Can a princess movie successfully convey a message like that in a way a child can understand?
A long time ago, an ancient old woman named Gothel found out that singing to a magical golden flower every couple of days could make her young again. After a few centuries of prolonging her youth, Gothel finds her flower in danger when the Queen becomes really sick while pregnant (with what is inevitably the only child she can have) and sends her subjects out to find this magical healing flower. She drinks some Magical Flower Tea and pops out a toddler with hair the same shade of gold and magical properties as the aforementioned flower.
Gothel attempts to steal a lock of the toddler's hair, but cutting it causes the hair to turn brown, the color of non-magic. This does not happen when simply stealing the child, so Gothel makes do with some good old-fashioned kidnapping. She locks the child in a high, remote tower, and tells her that she can't leave because everyone outside will kill her for her magic hair. Meanwhile, the kingdom grieves, and sends out floating lanterns every year on her birthday in hopes that the missing princess will see them and come back.
Despite being cut off from talking to anyone but her “mother” for eighteen years, Rapunzel grows into a relatively well-adjusted girl. Her time alone is spent painting, sewing, reading, cooking, cleaning, and pretty much trying not to kill herself with boredom. When Gothel comes to visit, Rapunzel gets to enjoy being told that she's worthless, hideous, and stupid- but hey, at least she's safe! Spending her entire day in a tower makes her rather observant of the things going on outside her window, and she finds that every year on her birthday, there are a ton of magical lights in the sky. To celebrate not being jailbait anymore, Rapunzel asks Gothel to take her to see the lights. Gothel freaks out, reminds her of the dangers outside, and forbids her to ever talk about the lights again.
It's about this time that handsome and oh-so-witty thief Flynn Rider needs a place to escape with his stolen royal crown and happens to come across a high, remote tower. He climbs in and terrifies Rapunzel, who knocks him out and ties him up. She hides his crown and promises to give it back if he takes her to see the lights. Flynn agrees, and they have a gaggle of adventures. Rapunzel tells him about her magical healing hair, and Flynn tells her about he's actually an orphan with a dorky name. They instantly fall in love.
It can't be easy for them, of course. Gothel follows Rapunzel, guilt-tripping her about leaving and telling her that Flynn is totally going to leave her as soon as he gets what he wants from her (his crown, not sex). She gets Flynn's old partners in crime to lure Flynn away and steal Rapunzel for her hair, leaving the girl to think that she's been abandoned by her One True Love and must go back to her abuser. After a totally wacky escape, Flynn manages to get back to Rapunzel's tower and take away the one thing Gothel used her for (her hair, not sex). Gothel dries up without her magic youth provider, leaving Rapunzel free to return to her kingdom, marry Flynn, and probably have lots of babies.
I was not a big fan of Tangled on my first viewing. I thought the plot was weak, the music was worse, and while it did have cute moments, it overall felt more like a decent DreamWorks movie than a full-on Disney princess movie. I've been told many times since that I was too harsh on it and that I really should give it another shot.
This was my second viewing, and I have to say: still can't believe Alan Menken did the music for this one. I can only imagine that Disney called him while he was in the middle of family time on his yacht, and he was all like, “Ugh, fine. I'll throw something together. Just leave me alone.” I guess you can't win at everything. “Mother Knows Best” is okay, but it's certainly not the best villain song out there.
The villain song leads me to the most interesting part of the movie. While other princess movies touch on the topic of an abusive parental figure, they're usually more over-the-top in showing why that parent is evil. Both Snow White and Cinderella have abusive step-mothers, but it's easy for a kid to see that when the heroines are forced to live in rags and do chores all day while the villains luxuriate in riches.
That's not the case with Rapunzel. She does not have to work, and she's given most of the material good she wants. She is less of a person than a possession, and after eighteen years of living in the dark, it takes her a surprisingly short amount of time to come to terms with her entire life up to that point being a complete lie. She isn't completely strong about it, either: she only leaves the tower at all in the face of crippling self-doubt, and when her mother dies at the end, she still reaches out to try and save her. Some may say this makes her weak, but it's a complicated situation, and it's nice to see it painted in a somewhat realistic manner that is still accessible to kids. It's obvious to an adult that Rapunzel's mother is horribly emotional abusive, and I can only hope that a child would be able to see the same thing.
This is just disappointing. They are not like dogs at all. If they were, I would like them a lot more. Stupid horses.
Flynn and Rapunzel's relationship falls under general romantic comedy rules: the boy and the girl have some intense differences at first that overpower their initial attraction to each other. They fall for each other, some wacky misunderstanding occurs that makes one think the other has done wrong, and the inevitable redemption causes the two to live happily ever after. Of course, weak plot doesn't have anything to do with the actual stability of a relationship, but it's not exactly a strong indicator.
A lot of princess movies suffer from the fall-in-love-in-three-days formula, but Tangled has it worse: Rapunzel and Flynn fall in love in one day. Just one. What's worse is that Flynn is literally the first man Rapunzel has ever seen in her entire life. The narration right before the credits suggests that the two date for years before getting married, but the movie still ends with them getting married. That means that Rapunzel falls in love with the first man she sees on the first day she meets him (which, coincidentally, is the day before she turns eighteen) and then marries him. Yes, this is a wonderful message for little girls.
The two seem to have the same goals of seeing more of the world and neither actively tries to change the other, but when that is the best thing you can say about a relationship, there's certainly a problem.
The thing that drew me to write about princesses is the marketing, and something really odd happened in that department with Tangled. Rapunzel is perfect as a doll. She's one of the few animated characters that looks just as natural in toy form as she does on the screen. Her head is slightly bigger than her body, she has big, colorful eyes, and she has incredibly long hair. These are things that draw little girls to buy dolls in the first place. She also mentions that she spends a good chunk of her day sewing dresses, but only ever wears one.
Disney doesn't seem like one to miss an opportunity like that, but there it is. There's a fair amount of merchandise out, but not a ton. I've seen a few iterations of Rapunzel and her chameleon and a few Flynns, but unlike most Disney movies, there's no merchandise of the villain. Given how light-handed they've been with the whole thing, it's like they felt awkward about heavily marketing a movie about parental abuse. In fact, that whole aspect of Tangled seems largely ignored. Kind of seems to miss the point.
Previous Princess Reviews:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast
The Swan Princess
The Princess and the Frog
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