In Tangled, Disney takes a crack at yet another classic fairy tale, Rapunzel. Now I think most of us are familiar with the story of Rapunzel; innocent girl with freakishly long hair held captive in a tower by yet another evil older woman until prince charming comes along. If Disney had kept very close to the original story line, I would have ignored it (which honestly wouldn’t have been too hard seeing as it’s not a very action-packed plot), but luckily, they didn’t. Instead Disney did some major tweaking (as usual).
Rapunzel is still the girl (actually a princess in this version) whisked away by an evil older woman, waiting to go outside, but she’s got a lot more spunk than the original Rapunzel. Swinging frying pan-kind of spunk. Because of a healing flower the pregnant queen consumed to save herself from sickness, Rapunzel was born with magical hair granted with the same power as the flower. Well, the crazy old lady of the story (no fairy tale is complete without one) wants that power to keep her young forever and kidnaps the princess, raising her in a tower for almost 18 years secluded from the world. Prince Charming eventually shows up except he’s not a prince like the original; he’s a criminal finding refuge in the secluded tower. (That’s when Rapunzel brings out that frying pan.) Flynn reluctantly helps Rapunzel escape, but Rapunzel’s captor isn’t going to let her go so easily. Thus begins the adventure.
After seeing the commercials way back when Tangled was being released to theaters, I was intrigued by Disney’s more adventurous take on Rapunzel. It didn’t let me down on that. Tangled’s Rapunzel has a lot of giddy energy which is not as annoying as it sounds; compared to stiff renditions of young princesses in past Disney princess movies like Aurora, Cinderella, and Snow White, this energy breathes life into a previously dull girl whose only memorable characteristic was her flowing locks. This doesn’t give her an air of great maturity, but this goes along with the goofiness of the other characters. And while this new Rapunzel is captive, she doesn’t give off the feeling of a helpless damsel-in-distress (for example, she’s not rescued from the tower; she actually strikes a deal with the criminal Flynn to get him to escort her out of the tower). She may not be wielding the frying pan the whole movie, but Rapunzel is pretty resourceful and isn’t just along for the ride. This is a Disney princess movie so, the focus is on romance, but Rapunzel is one of the more modern princesses I’ve seen from Disney. She’s no Mulan (who, strangely, is considered a princess), but Rapunzel is a notch above most of the princesses.
The love interest of Tangled is a mixed bag. Flynn Rider replaces the prince from the original tale as a criminal which is good and bad. In some big ways, Flynn is similar in personality to Prince Naveen from Disney’s other most recent princess movie; he thinks he’s hot stuff just as Naveen did and both men have an unhealthy obsession with money. Flynn also starts off as a bit of a jerk at the beginning. His character has a bit of a twist though; he’s really not the tough guy that he acts like, but puts up an act to emulate a “cool” guy. This makes things tricky. He’s not your average trope, but this still presents the message that if you just dig deep enough, a guy who seems jerky will turn out to be nice. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know how I don’t like this idealistic notion of a jerky guy *
changing purely due to love. (*After something a reader pointed out, I’d like to correct this; often the jerk-who’s-not-really-a-jerk changes due to love, but this is not entirely the case in Tangled.) I know these characters are supposed to be good guys that just aren’t in tune with their hearts or whatever, but unfortunately, it’s not such a pretty scenario in reality; in reality, rarely does a jerky guy change like Disney and other fiction suggests. However, with so many stories spinning this tale, some people pick this idea up and expect similar results in real life. I do see why Disney did this though; by making Flynn a criminal/guy-trying-to-act-cool instead of a prince, he’s someone who has just as many problems and issues to work out as the female lead. So, not my favorite stereotype at all, but I’ll acknowledge the effort.
That brings me to my next comment; I did like the equal standards in Tangled. Not only did the two leads both have issues to work out, but they helped each other through the journey and both did some saving. Looking back at the original where Rapunzel just sits in a tower until a prince comes around and helps her escape, it was much more interesting seeing Flynn steal into the tower to hide out only to be hit by Rapunzel with frying pan (the natural reaction to an intruder) and forced into helping her then watch as the two evade not only Mother Gothel but also the authorities after Flynn. As I said, equal opportunity.
On the other hand, the antagonist in the movie, the evil old woman called Mother Gothel, is not so refreshing. As I said earlier, we are presented with the evil older woman trope once again. Her entire motive for kidnapping Rapunzel is to retain her youth. Of course, this power apparently extends beyond granting youth but also allows Gothel to live well beyond her years, perhaps forever if she continued to use the power as needed. However, the story is more focused on Gothel forever scrambling after her lost youth rather than any greater ambition like immortality. Also, while the movie makes a point to show viewers that looks don’t necessarily reflect what’s inside, Rapunzel’s real mother (who is, of course, a kind and good person) remains youthful despite the 18 years that have passed during the movie (maybe because she ate that flower?). It gets back to the old idea of beauty=good and old=bad, an idea that seems very limited in its usage to female characters.
In the end, Tangled is still a princess movie which, with more traditional/stereotypical aspects, will not break many boundaries of the genre, but it meets modern times halfway by introducing adventure and more equal standards between the male and female lead. For those of us looking for something more radically different, maybe our wish will be granted in the upcoming Pixar movie, Brave (keep hoping!), but all in all, Tangled is one of the better Disney Princess movies.