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Tangled – Rapunzel’s New, But Still the Same

December 2, 2010

Over Thanksgiving weekend I got to hang out with two of my favorite people: my two seven year old nieces. My sister and sister-in-law had them three months apart so they’re naturally best friends even though they couldn’t be more different. One has beautiful dark hair and eyes and could not love being a girl any more. The other is a lanky tomboy with gorgeous dirty blond hair and green eyes. This time, they asked me to join them and their moms to see “Tangled,” the new Disney movie based on the Rapunzel fairy tale.

The Disney version is pretty close to the original story that first appeared in the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (I know this thanks to our friends at Wikipedia*). A princess is stolen from her castle by an evil woman, Mother Gothel, for her magical hair. The hair allows the woman to stay eternally young so she locks the little girl in a tower with no stairs and raises her as her own, naming her Rapunzel.

We meet the grown Rapunzel shortly before her 18th birthday and she seems pretty bored in her tower all alone, spending most of her days doing incredibly gendered activities: baking, cleaning, combing her hair, etc. although she does read and paint as well. And of course she sings about all of it; it is a Disney princess movie after all. She and her sidekick Pascal, a very charming chameleon, entertain the audience for a while until we meet Flynn Ryder, a handsome thief who is running from the castle after having just stolen a crown that ironically belongs to the very girl he will soon fall in love with. Flynn climbs the tower to hide and eventually he and Rapunzel leave and go on a wild adventure trying to stay away from Mother Gothel, a couple of goons Flynn duped early in the movie, and the King’s men, including one of his adorably valiant horses, who are trying to get the crown back from Flynn.

Overall, I thought the movie was cute. I liked that Rapunzel gets into the physical aspects of the adventure with Flynn and even saves him a couple of times instead of it always being the other way around.

However, I think Disney still falls short of truly changing the princess story. From representations of bad characters to the misunderstood prince-at-heart, we see many remnants of the movies that have for decades painted inaccurate representations of love and happiness.

First, how annoyed was I that the evil Mother Gothel umm…sort of looks like ME? She had dark features, and dark curly hair. Honestly, I wondered how I could get my own hair to curl like hers did. And Rapunzel’s magical hair is long, straight, and blond.


Not to mention that while our new Rapunzel is likable because she’s willing to run around the forest without shoes and knocking people on the head with a frying pan, she’s still pretty flat as far as characters go. She’s rebellious yes, but other than her torment at leaving her Mother Gothel behind she’s simple and chipper. Her whole goal is to get to the castle to see beautiful lights that appear every year on her birthday, but she doesn’t really have a whole lot to say about anything. Instead, Flynn’s character has to teach her about setting goals and living life to meet those goals.

Speaking of Flynn. Can we please stop with the whole bad-boy-with-a-sad-past bit? PLEASE? It was equally bad in The Frog Princess. We learn that Flynn was really an orphan so he doesn’t like to get close to people but of course he just can’t help himself and falls in love with Rapunzel. In real life, he would probably cheat on her and leave her for the next adventure that comes along. And since the movie ends at the typical point in princess movies, the happily ever after, that possibility still exists. THIS is why the nice guys finish last. Rapunzel would never BE attracted to a nice guy, she’s too busy getting at thrill from figuring out this Ryder guy.

Flynn’s “smoldering” look.

Disney tried to give us a new take on the princess fairy tale, but ended up giving us more of the same. It’s the classic tired tale of falling in love with the first boy you’ve ever met (technically Rapunzel had never even SEEN a boy before) and insinuating that was really all she was searching for the entire time.

I just hope I provide my nieces with enough real life lessons to not let them believe that’s the way it is.

*Wikipedia needs our help!

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