“Tangled” is Disney’s newest animation feature film and supposedly their last “Princess”-movie. It is an adaption of the fairy tale Rapunzel, which was also going to be the title of the film. However, since “The Princess and the Frog”, the previous animated feature film from Disney, didn’t make as much money as wished since little boys saw the film as “a girl’s movie”, “Rapunzel” was switched to more oblique and action-tinged title ”Tangled”. The commercials for this film also heavily toned up the fact that the main character of the film was to be a wise-guy thief named Flynn and not the imprisoned damsel Rapunzel. Which is what the film actually ended up (somewhat) becoming in its final cinematic form. “Tangled” is a very light, fun watch. It’s pretty funny at times and has okay characters. However, the story could have been worked on a little better and brought to better fruition. This post will feature spoilers of the film, so be warned.
“Tangled” begins with a voice over told by the thief Flynn Rider narrating the tale, as background information, of how Rapunzel came to be locked up in her tower. Rapunzel’s mother had grown ill while pregnant, and had gotten so sick she had needed a miraculous cure. The whole kingdom went searching for a legendary magical flower that could cure any wound or illness as well as restore youth. The flower was found, and the queen was healed moments before giving birth to Rapunzel. What the king and queen were not aware of was that Mother Gothel, an elderly woman, has been using that flower to stay eternally young for centuries. She realizes that Rapunzel, the newly born princess, has devoured the flower as well as its powers and steals the infant away. She keeps Rapunzel in a tower, raising her to believe that she is the young lady’s mother and that the world is so dangerous it is best for her to forever stay in the tower. This way she can use Rapunzel’s hair to keep herself eternally young. However, as Rapunzel reaches tender age of eighteen she begins to grow curious about the world. At the same time as this longing to experience the broader existence of the world grows in Rapunzel’s mind, the master thief Flynn Rider is found by the audience running for his life after stealing a priceless Tiara from the nearby kingdom. After betraying his partners in crime, making enemies with everyone, he comes across a mysterious tower and in desperation climbs to a chamber at its summit. There he meets Rapunzel and, after a mad negotiation culminating in striking a deal with each other, Flynn and Rapunzel leave the tower together and embark on a grand adventure.
When compared to Disney’s previous blockbuster, “The Princess and The Frog”, “Tangled” falls short. “The Princess and The Frog” had more memorable characters, more interesting story telling, more feminist and politically correct plot lines and subtext, and better music.
But not all is lost. As a movie “Tangled” has many strong elements and comes across in many ways as likable storytelling.
The best thing in this film was Rapunzel’s character. Her personality is well fleshed out and realistic for the background story given to her. One of the funniest but sadly honest scenes in the movie is when Rapunzel has just stepped outside of the tower and for the first time is out in the real world. She has taken leave of the tower, despite her “Mothers” adamant and strict prohibition of ever exiting the premises, out of an understandably human and intellectual curiosity. Merely walking around in the unknown and newly-experienced world both ecstatically excites her while simultaneously making her feels horribly disobedient. There is a short marathon of scenes where Rapunzel is first jumping around the forest, spellbound by all of nature’s beauty, and then in a next scene crying hysterically and proclaiming she’s the worst daughter in the world. She switches from euphoria to guilt in mere seconds. I really admire the realistic portrayal of Rapunzel’s feelings. As any child who has been brought up by an overly strict and protective parent, she wants to revolt and do new, forbidden things, yet feels bad for breaking the rules of a parent she loves. Even if the audience knows Mother Gothel is not Rapunzels mom, Rapunzel has all her life viewed this woman as her mother. Therefore she out of love wishes not to go against Mother Gothel, but out of natural interest in the world, and the experiences it can give her, has a need to disobey the figure of the mother. Rapunzel comes to the decision to rebel against the mother with sly thoughts of attempting to solve the dilemma of her guilt by planning to ask for forgiveness at a later time.
Another fun thing about Rapunzels characters is that they don’t make her helpless; when in danger, Rapunzel puts the danger at bay by waving, in her most threatening manner, a frying pan around. This is mostly used for comical reasons but the same time shows a realistic way of how one may defend oneself. It is a bit problematic to portray women defending themselves as “something funny”, though. Tiana, the heroine in “The Princess and The Frog”, defended herself as well in her film. Sometimes it was funny, but other times it was actually showing Tiana as an ordinary person trying to survive. That problem aside, Rapunzel was a delightful depiction of a female character in a children’s film.
The biggest disappointment in “Tangled” was, however, the fact that Rapunzel is not the one who gets to save the day in the end of the film. Flynn is the one who defeats Mother Gothel while Rapunzel quite passively stands by. Even if women in children’s films are becoming more active, they still rarely get to save the day. Out of Disney films, Mulan and Tiana are still the only ones who have done so. The rest have been Mrs. Brisby from “The Secret Of Nimf”, Susan from “Monsters vs. Aliens”, Anastasia from “Anastasia” and Chihiro from “Spirited Away”. There are twice as many, maybe even three times as many, men saving the day then women.
As the film-narrative unfolds, and Rapunzel discovers that Mother Gothel stole her away from her real family, this precipitates the films climatic conflict which plays out in a struggle between Rapunzel and her pseudo-mom. Given this narrative turn of events, and therefore in all honesty, Rapunzel should have become the one to defeat Mother Gothel, not Flynn. Another missed opportunity “Tangled” neglected was in the very end, when Flynn mentions: “After many proposals… I finally said yes”. He then quickly states that it was in actuality he who proposed and not Rapunzel. It would have been a lot more interesting if Rapunzel would have proposed to Flynn; the rules of marriage are still very conservative and for some reason the idea of women proposing to men is viewed as funny and not right. It is such a shame that “Tangled” felt it necessary at this point in the story to make a joke of women popping the question instead of making an obvious (feminist) point of the current contemporary re-evaluation of marriage and the realignments men and women have in relation to this institution. So yeah, “Tangled” was a letdown at the near end from a feminist (humanist) viewpoint, but overall the portrayal of women in this film was quite nice and modern.
The image of men, however, was not quite as thrilling. Flynn, along with all the other main male characters, was portrayed as a criminal with a heart of gold. The movie brags about Flynn’s cunning and his heightened and elaborate skills in stealing. There is also a subplot where a gang of criminals talk about their dreams to Rapunzel and Flynn after first behaving like blood thirsty crooks who try to hurt Flynn. This joke was not only predictable, but made me wonder what exactly it was trying to say to young boys. It’s okay to be a criminal for a short while until something better comes up? “Tangled” tries to add depth to Flynn by having him give a short summary of his tragic childhood in an orphanage. Even if this scene had some sweetness, Flynn’s reasons for becoming a thief still fell flat. He explains how he dreamed of owning lots of riches, but it is still unclear what exactly made him think stealing was the only way he could get them. A simple line implying frustration with constant struggling in poverty or lack of faith in the world would have fixed this issue. But the film failed to deliver such an explanation. It felt like “Tangled” didn’t really want to explain Flynn’s stealing ways: it’s just what little boy’s think is cool, so they will just make him a thief. Flynn does deliver lots of great one liners though, so his undeveloped character is not too irritating, just not very impressive or good. When compared to Prince Naveen in “The Princess and The Frog”, I felt like Naveen was a more fleshed out, humane male character. He starts out spoiled, a typical good-for-nothing rich boy, but when turned into a frog learns that he must become responsible and in the end starts too actually work, finally contributing to society. Flynn just becomes king, doing nothing as Rapunzel rules the kingdom. Nicely back slashed, Disney…
And shortly about the villain: Mother Gothel was a very bland, unmemorable villain. Her villain song on the other hand, “Mother knows best” though, was the only well performed song that left a strong impact on me. Kudos to voice talent Donna Murphy, her singing voice carried the song perfectly and had that perfect eerie feel to it. Her motivation in the film wasn’t very impressive though. They never made her thirst for youth and beauty interesting; Gothel never delivered any emotions that would explain her obsession. Neither did they make her relationship to Rapunzel fascinating or complex, which it would have been needed for character depth. They should have a showed of narrative tidbits, or merely hints, of why she wanted so desperately to be young (besides the obvious fear of death). We are left as an audience wondering about her psychology, what makes her tick or anything which may make us invest our interest in this character. Sadly, I must say Mother Gothel is not a special villain in any way. (Still, her outfit was amazing!)
And lastly, the politics in general. “Tangled” is a fairy tale, so the kingdom featured in it is ruled by an all-powerful monarch. I understand Disney was only trying to be loyal to the fairy tale, but what was so delightful about “The Princess and The Frog” is that both the films Prince and Princess had no real political power. Instead, they actually worked; being a part of common people and doing something the viewer knows they are committed to as well as good at. In “Tangled” Rapunzel single-handedly rules an entire kingdom. According to Flynn narration, Rapunzel is a good ruler. Frankly the idea of a woman who spent her eighteen first years in a tower now being the absolute ruler of all political bodies and governance sounds like a bad idea to me. On the other hand, I really liked that Rapunzel is the one who ascends to being the ruler at the end of the tale and not the questionably immoral Flynn. The bottom line in this passage is: “Tangled” had a disturbing dictatorship thing going on while the cinematic tale of “The Princess and The Frog” was very democratic with their monarchs having no power over people. So personally, I liked the portrayal of monarchs and politics in “The Princess and The Frog” better.
If you’re looking for a film that’s sweet and entertaining, “Tangled” is a good call. Not Disney’s best by a long shot, yet somewhat of a beautiful piece of comedy and fairy tale romance.