So this isn’t strictly a YA-related post, but I saw Tangled this weekend, and I was completely shocked by how much I loved it. So I’m posting about it anyways. Cool? Tangled reminded me of the best parts of the later ’80s/early ’90s Disney movies: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin. And best of all, it had an unexpected feminist message. The first thing that struck me was how the main villain, Mother Gothel, embodied all of the negative messages girls hear every day.
Spoilers after the cut.
You’re too weak. You’re too stupid. You’re not pretty enough. You’re too immature. You’re too naive. You’re not strong enough. You’re too chubby. You can’t. No one will ever like you for you. You’re not good enough. You’re a silly little girl. You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.
Ingeniously, Mother Gothel, the old woman so obsessed with keeping her beauty and her youth that she kidnapped baby Rapunzel to use her magical hair, tells Rapunzel these things over and over again. Every year, Rapunzel asks to leave her tower, and every year Mother tells her no, because the world is too harsh and cruel and horrible, and Rapunzel is just so innocent and weak that she must be protected. Mother represents the many voices that girls hear every day, telling them that they need to change this and fix that, act this way or you’ll never get a man, don’t go out at night because you might get hurt. It’s terrible watching Mother tell Rapunzel these things under the pretense of love, when really she just wants to use Rapunzel for her magical hair, which heals and gives youth.
Throughout the movie, Rapunzel struggles between trusting Mother and believing in her own strength. When Rapunzel shows that she’s capable of saving Flynn (multiple times), it felt awesome because she was doing exactly what Mother told her she couldn’t do, year after year. And yet Rapunzel used her determination and cleverness and fierce aim with a frying pan to get out of dangerous situations. Even when Flynn shows up in Rapunzel’s tower the first time, it’s not to save her – he’s just looking for a place to hide, and acts as the catalyst that spurs Rapunzel to finally leave her tower. (When he enters the tower, Rapunzel knocks him out with a frying pan and locks him up. She intends to tell Mother as proof that she’s strong enough to handle herself out in the world, but Mother keeps reminding her how weak and stupid she is, so Rapunzel doesn’t tell her and then sneaks out with Flynn when Mother leaves.)
Even Flynn is a refreshing change from the standard Disney hero: he’s not a prince, but a thief. And while at first he thinks he can deceive Rapunzel, he quickly realizes that she’s not as dumb as her blond hair and big eyes may make her appear. And she doesn’t need to change herself or shut up (like Ariel, who changes her body and gives up her voice to meet Eric) for him to see it. Flynn loves her the way he is, so much that he’s willing to reveal his real name (Eugene!) and give up his life of crime in order to be with her.
But the best part still is the scene where Rapunzel realizes that she is actually the lost princess, and that Mother kidnapped her and had been keeping her all these years not out of love, but out of greed and vanity. Mother reaches out a hand to stroke Rapunzel’s hair, and Rapunzel grabs it and says, “No. I will never let you use me again.” It’s such a fierce moment, and I cheered in the theater. In the next scene,
Flynn Eugene shows up to rescue Rapunzel and finds that Mother has her chained up and intends to drag her away somewhere where no one will ever find her. Mother stabs Eugene, and Rapunzel says that she will never ever stop fighting to get away from her, but if Mother allows her to heal Eugene with her hair, she’ll go with her quietly. So when she bends over Eugene to heal him, he reaches behind her and cuts off all her hair in one fell swoop. You see, if you cut off her magical hair, it loses its powers and turns brown. So now she can’t heal Eugene, but Mother can never use her again. Which is a great thing to see a male love interest care about – he’d rather know that Rapunzel is free than actually be able to be with her.
Now, in true Disney fashion, it turns out that with her magic hair gone, Rapunzel’s tears are imbued with the same healing properties, and Eugene is saved. Rapunzel now has very short brown hair, which in most movies would be seen as a loss of her beauty. But in this movie, it makes her even more beautiful, as Eugene wakes up and tells her he’s always had a thing for brunettes. It’s rather nice to see the trope of the beautiful, innocent blond subverted like this.
And the movie doesn’t even end with a wedding! Many Disney movies end with a wedding as a symbol of ultimate happiness, but this one ends with Rapunzel being reunited with her parents, the king and queen, and the kingdom celebrating her return. There’s a voiceover from Eugene saying that one day they did get married, and herein lies my only complaint about the movie: he says something like, “You’re probably wondering if we ever got married. Well, the answer is that one day, after many proposals, I finally said yes. Just kidding, I asked her.” What!? It would have been an absolutely perfect fit if Rapunzel had been the one to propose, since she was the one always knocking the expectations of her on their asses.
But seriously? That’s my only complaint. Rapunzel even dips Eugene for a final kiss, which is another great reversal of the norm. I loved the music; the animation was beautiful; I loved Pascal and Max, the trusty animal sidekicks; and I cried at least twice. Mother was a fabulous villain, and seemed inspired by one of my favorite Disney villains ever, Ursula. This is going down as a Disney classic, and both main characters are awesome feminist characters. Bravo, Disney.