Tangled: An In-Depth Look
I’m sure you have read more reviews on this movie than you ever wanted to. Tangled got a lot of flack from the Christian community- it also got a lot of praise from the Christian community. Before you walk away from this review, I’d like to break down some of the basic arguments raised on this film and present you with the facts, in context.
The storyline is one that I’m sure all my readers are familiar with. A long, long time ago, a drop of sunlight fell from the sky. When it touched the Earth, a glowing yellow flower blossomed. The flower was found by a woman named Mother Gothel, who soon learned that when she sang a certain song to the flower, it exuded a power that restored her youth.
Many many centuries later, a King and Queen were expecting the arrival of their first child, but the Queen grew deathly ill. Everyone searched for the rumored yellow flower that could restore life, and when it was found, it was distilled into an elixir and given to the Queen. She soon gave birth to a little girl who, unlike her parents, had beautiful golden hair. Giving her the name Rapunzel, the Royal family held a celebration, in which they sent aloft a glowing paper lantern.
Determined not to lose her flower of Eternal youth, Mother Gothel stole into the castle late one night and kidnapped the young princess whose hair held the magical properties of the sun flower. Taking her to a secret tower, Mother Gothel raised the girl to think that she was her mother, teaching her the song and relying on her for youthful restoration.
As Rapunzel grows, so does her hair, until it stretches to a length of about 70-feet (the hair cannot be cut for specific reasons). Rapunzel has been locked in this tower her entire life, never even able to step foot on the grass outside. One day, the bandit Flynn Ryder scales the tower and is taken captive by Rapunzel. Rapunzel strikes a deal with the thief to act as her guide to travel to the place where the floating lights come from that she has seen every year on her birthday.
From here the story takes off, but there is no need to go further. What I’d like to focus on is the themes of the film.
There’s a lot here to love. Rapunzel is a bright-eyed, innocent, lovable, and very beguiling character. In spite of the difficulties of her life, she is characterized by the ability to see her environment, and the situations around her, as more than half full. She tries to make all aspects of her life as sun-filled as possible.
Flynn Rider also makes quite the journey in this movie. Through many circumstance he comes to realize that he doesn’t have to be characterized by the persona he has forced upon himself. He learns that the simple things in life are far better than his previous monetary desires. Rapunzel also makes a comment in the movie about liking the orphaned Eugene Fitzherburt much better than Flynn Rider, the thief with a smolder. By the end of the film Flynn/Eugene has transformed into a hero willing to sacrifice everything to do what is right.
Perhaps though, for me, one of the strongest and most beautiful themes in the film was the portrayal of the beautiful love, and undying hope of parenthood. Much is made over the “mother” figure of Gothel, but little is said about the beautiful portrayal we see in Repunzel’s true parents. Through tears and anguish they never lose hope that they will one day be reunited with their child. In the end, we see this love overflow into tears and beautiful embraces between the separated family. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Rapunzel’s parents a good rulers. The people love them. In fact they are so devoted to their King and Queen that everyone in the kingdom celebrates the Princess’ birthday with their sovereigns, sending thousands of floating lanterns into the sky to commemorate the birth, and loss, of their child. This act says much about the King and Queen.
Countering the Bad
There is an oft talked over quote from the movie that deals with rebellion. The quote is as follows:
“Does your mother deserve it? No. Would this break her heart and crush her soul? Of course, but you just got to do it…..This is part of growing up—a little rebellion and a little adventure. This is healthy.”
This line is taken out of context and, when place in a review, certainly sound bad. And it is. However, in the context of the film, Flynn uses this quote as a ploy to get what he wanted, i.e. he wants the crown that Rapunzel is holding hostage, without having to work for it. He was luring her into a trap. By telling her what she was doing was wrong and would crush her mother’s soul, he was playing off of Rapunzel’s earlier confliction over her acts. See, Rapunzel has been calling herself a horrible daughter, despicable human being, and other things. The truth is that this quote is not the sermon of the story and is NOT an overarching theme. Although, some may argue the fact that Rapunzel continued on the quest after this, making it an overarching theme (more on this later).
Many people have expressed being upset over a home bashing portrayal in the beginning of the movie. This argument is somewhat comical to me, although it is certainly a serious subject. Rapunzel is portrayed as enjoying her life of “homemaking”, if you will. She is also made to believe that the outside world will harm her and take advantage of her, so she is in no big rush to go strike out on her own. However, as time goes on and she is still stuck in the tower day after day, year after year, with no human contact, she begins to long for the unknown. She wants to feel the touch of grass under her feet, the river outside her tower rushing past her legs- Rapunzel isn’t searching for some career or adventure. She wants what any human would want. The ability to enjoy the simple things in life that she sees outside her tower.
The argument is made that Rapunzel is not being content. She is wearying of the monotony of her life. My answer is yes, she is, and justifiably so! Seriously, who in her position would not? If you spent 18 years of your life locked in a tower, without even your parents to pass the time with you (for Mother Gothel is always gone), you would long for more too. Rapunzel’s life is not a biblical view of homemaking. It’s not even a healthy view. She has little to no human contact. There is no new food for her mind (after all, she’s read all the books she has, has painted over every scrap of available wall, and you can only cook so many confections in a day and have no one enjoy them but you). I just can’t see where Rapunzel is bashing home making.
Another negative element that people point out is the fact that Rapunzel does leave her tower against her mother’s wishes, thus rebelling. There is no arguing this fact or justifying it into being okay. However, I think people make this issue too cut and dry. I’d like to bring to light some of the extra steps that were put into this movie that impressed me. Rapunzel didn’t just up and decide to leave. There was a process.
See, Rapunzel loves her “mother”, frightening as that is for us viewers. The thing that people forget, though, when they make this rebelling argument, is that Rapunzel asks for Mother Gothel’s protection. She wants her to take her out and protect her. She begs her mother to take her to see the lights, to be her protective covering. This request is met with violent refusal, coupled with the words “You will NEVER, EVER leave this tower, EVER!” This comment is followed up by Mother Gothel being upset with Rapunzel for making her the bad guy by asking for the request in the first place. Everyone seems to get caught up in the fact that Rapunzel left. What I find fascinating is that she asked her “mother” to take her. She didn’t ask to leave the nest. She didn’t want to set out on her own and make something of herself. She wanted a simple pleasure, a simple request (made not so simple by Gothel’s sinful past actions).
Also worth mentioning is the fact that Rapunzel leaves her tower fully intending to come back to her mother. Rapunzel wasn’t an 18 year old stay at home daughter wanting to get away from the nest. She was a girl wanting to know what was beyond her celled tower. And she wanted her “mother” to go with her.
While we are at it, we should probably talk about Mother Gothel, too. This nemesis is pure evil, but hides behind the façade of motherhood, a word that should invoke nurturing love and protection, but is twisted into selfish desires. She is not really portrayed as a witch, which surprised me, but someone who is using magical properties for selfish gain. She is, in my opinion, one of the scariest Disney villains. Part of what made her so evil was the fact that Rapunzel constantly runs to find protection and comfort in the bosom of a viper, because she has known nothing else. Gothel is in no way a villain who blurs the lines between good and evil.
Another big debate piece against this movie is the feministic slant that people says it has. Here is a quote:
“We see this in a number of ways- running away from home with a complete scoundrel, camping out in the woods with said scoundrel, an unbiblical view of love, emotional enticements (e.g. smolder), and also, within the dialogue. Their relationship (Rapunzel and Flynn) is one of mutual, self-serving interest. He’s a helpless, sensitive, emotional male- an accessory to the capable, brilliant, amazing Rapunzel. And, because she’s an emancipated princess who knows how to get her man, in the spirit of Indiana Jones she wields her 70 foot hair, pulling off all kinds of daring feats and rescues.”
I would like to point out that just because a girl can take care of herself, doesn’t mean she is a raging feminist who is allowing the man to be an accent piece. I can shoot a rifle, pistol, and bow. I was my Daddy’s right hand farmhand until my brothers grew old enough to take that place. I am a very capable woman. This doesn’t make the feministic terms above apply to me. It also doesn’t mean the man I marry will be an accent to myself. And I am in good company, too. If Rapunzel is a feminist because she can take care of herself and those around her, so are most of the women this country was founded on. I love the stories of the pioneer women who were not only capable, but defended those in their care with a ferocity that made the Indians refer to some of them as “white demons”.
Also, I think there are many portrayals of biblical love in this film, specifically the fact that Flynn gives his life for Rapunzel. He knows he will die and he sacrifices himself anyway. The term “an emotional, helpless male” is strange to me. Should he be a stick in the mud with robotic responses? Flynn is not an emotional pansy man. When push comes to shove he is right there trying to take care of things. In fact, I have heard some refer to him as a Robin Hood figure, without the giving to the poor part. I may or may not agree with that, but I think saying Flynn is a wimp is a bit harsh. After all, how many of us would think twice before sacrificing ourselves?
There is also an argument made by some that no one seems to pay for their sins. There is some truth to that, I suppose, but the movie is a fairytale; it’s supposed to end in happily ever after. I was happy that they showed a change in Flynn Rider, instead of ending with him still being the same unsavory character he was in the beginning.
Magic. You knew it was bound to come up sooner or later. The magic in this movie is very unusual. While it is certainly a central theme, it is also very minimal. The back-story obviously has the ray of sun that drops to the ground and makes the flower with healing properties, which translates into Rapunzel’s hair, but other than that, there is no magic. Shocking for a Disney Fairytale.
I will be the first to admit that there were some issues with this film, but how many are without issues? I feel like people who went into this movie believing it was going to be bad found every possible thing they could to justify that belief. There were a lot of very redeeming and surprising things mixed into this film. Shockingly, the movie was also very wholesome and genuinely funny- clean funny. For me, what it all boils down to is whether or not children/people have been trained to be discerning. Could a child take the line “children are meant to rebel” and run with it? Sure they could. However, if the child has a firm grasp on reality, and understands Flynn’s motivations, they aren’t going to run with it. They will see it for what it is. A ploy. Yes, we should protect our children from certain things. You will get no argument from me on that score. However, we should also be preparing kids to be critical thinkers. If your child is not ready for the film, then that’s okay. It is your right as a parent to say no. What is frustrating for me is when people say “Well, because I don’t want my children to see it, it is a bad movie”.
Tangled is an excellent movie, one I would recommend to anyone. Disney actually followed the old themes of good, wholesome characters the audience can fall in love with. That was the presiding force behind what made this movie beautiful. The question is, in my mind, not whether or not the movie is good. It is whether or not you can enjoy it, knowing the argument made on all sides.