MILD SPOILERS So, I loved Tangled. That’s right: someone as evil and twisted as yours truly loved not only a Disney movie, but one involving acres of musical numbers, cutesy animation and a princess who wears pink for pretty much the majority of the movie.
But then, I’ve never been one who says Disney Princesses are *against* little girls’ best interests, story-wise. As undoubtedly shocking to some progressives as that statement is, I’ve always been of the opinion that whilst not ideal, Disney Princesses offers something a HUGE majority of kids’ movies don’t: female characters at the heart of the narrative. As much as I love Pixar and feel their female secondaries are strong (Dory and Jessie in particular), where are their female protagonists? Why is it, whether they have monsters, cars, insects, fish or toys in the story, the lead character *is*, and voiced by, a male? In my experience, little girls love movies as much as little boys – and nag their parents just as much to take them to Saturday matinees, meaning the whole “it’s all about finance” argument doesn’t work for me. So where are the female fish and insects and toys and cars etc driving the action of these Pixar movies? Now we mention it, there’s not even that many in Dreamworks pictures; when I think of all my favourites – Shrek, Over The Hedge, The Ant Bully – yet again, female characters are consigned to secondary roles, however good they are. I wonder what animation has got against female protagonists at the moment, but that’s a post for another time.
And for the record, I’ve never been against pink. The Wee Girl asked for a pink bedroom and she got it; she likes to wear pink and if you’ve met me in “real life”, you’ll know I wear lots of it, too. Bar a short period during my teenage years where I was a GOTH (and thus only black would do), I always have worn pink; I like it. The furore surrounding pink and how it apparently “infantises” girls and women bemuses me. After all, you don’t find many people advocating RED AS THE COLOUR OF THE DEVIL nowadays; or even red as being the sign of a Scarlet, or supposedly “loose”, Woman. Why pink should be different seems odd to me, especially when pink seems quite popular among young teen fellas these days, especially neon pink: the Male Spawn has been known to wear it now and whilst we’re on the subject, Mr C wears pink shirts and pink ties at work with a second’s thought. (Now, pink as a lazy substitute by manufacturers to relate products *to* girls – THAT’S a different matter altogether, as is the gender stereotyping of play or toys, but again topics for another post).
But putting a princess in the title role doesn’t have to be a bad thing anyway in my opinion, as I outline in this post on The Princess & The Frog, which I also like a great deal (though I thought Tangled knocked it into a cocked hat). Little girls like princesses, because they’re often avid consumers of fairy tales, which – you guessed it – often contain princesses. My feelings on fairy tales on the whole vary; some I think are excellent cautionary tales; others I think are “meh”; whilst others I think are vile and even occasionally morally wrong. Yet I’m yet to knowingly meet a child who had their morals corrupted by one. In fact, listening in the car to one of Wee Girl’s such CDs – “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Anderson – the Male Spawn, upon hearing the duckling was accepted by the swans on account of his BEAUTY at the end, quips: “That’s a HORRIBLE story!” Personally I’ve always felt the same and a conversation ensued about the WRONGNESS of only liking people because of their appearance, which provided a valuable learning occurrence not only for the Wee Girl, but even Mr C who confessed to never thinking about the story before in that way, despite his ripe old age (arf).
So actually, assuming someone *like me* wouldn’t WANT to go and watch something like Tangled is stereotyping in itself. And whilst it wasn’t my first choice to spend a Saturday afternoon and I was led by The Wee Girl, I was happy enough to go. I do find it slightly depressing girls and women tend to be able to see more of themselves in animated toys, princesses, fish and insects as secondary characters on the silver screen, but in comparison to a lot of supposedly “real” women in film, ironically the animated ones are often a lot more convincing and less likely to be stock characters or facilitators of male emotion.
And I was not disappointed by Tangled. On first glance, I was afraid the male narrator Flynn Rider might take over and eclipse the female protagonist reviews had lauded, but I needn’t have worried. This was every inch Rapunzel’s story and her emotional arc across the narrative, going from a scared little bird in the nest to a woman of the world, was satisfying and cleverly matched by Flynn’s (much smaller) realisation he must abandon his life of crime. In parts it was genuinely funny; others, actually moving. And the animation was fabulous, particularly the first time Rapunzel goes out into the meadow and that impressive lantern scene.
If you recall the original story, there is a herb called “Rapunzel”, which the Witch later takes as the child’s name. The Witch claims Rapunzel because the king (or husband, depending which version you hear, Rapunzel’s parents were not *always* royal) STEALS that herb from The Witch’s garden that saves his queen/wife’s life. When the Witch discovers the king/man in the act of theft, she makes him promise to give her his first born in return. As people in fairy tales are wont to do, they agree thinking “it’s very unlikely” they will have to make good on the deal (ha!). The Witch then keeps Rapunzel in the tower for no other reason than pure wickedness and even in some versions, lives directly behind the man and woman’s home, so they’re forced to watch Rapunzel grow up, trapped in the tower. Nasty!
But in comparison, the storytelling in Tangled is much cleverer and in-depth. Mother Gothel occupies the witch’s role without ever being called one and instead, the herb is a flower which is never named, either. The King does not steal the flower for his dying PREGNANT Queen, immediately making us more sympathetic towards the parents. Instead the flower is retrieved from a clifftop within the kingdom, so he was perfectly within his rights. The reason Mother Gothel wanted the flower, then? Because as a secondary effect (after saving pregnant Queen’s lives), the flower gives ETERNAL YOUTH. Vain old Mother Gothel wants to stay young, a great motivation for her wanting to steal the child Rapunzel instead – who has absorbed the magic of the flower in utero and now has… MAGIC HAIR!!! By brushing it, Mother Gothel is able to stay young.
In the old version, Rapunzel’s hair serves little purpose narrative-wise than letting the witch climb up it, but here we have a “proper” reason why the evil Mother Gothel wants her. And rather than be an evil old crone who keeps Rapunzel locked up against her will, Rapunzel thinks Gothel *is* her mother, who in turn uses the most exquisite of emotional blackmail to keep Rapunzel tied to her apron strings. Bravo. This then means Tangled essentially becomes a “coming of age” story, where Rapunzel defies her mother for the first time and leaves the tower with Flynn Rider (whom she meets in the most gloriously convoluted fashion), after sending Gothel on a wild goose chase for a present for her birthday.
And best of all? Rapunzel spends nearly all the movie SAVING Flynn Rider, in direct contrast to the usual fare of saving the dashing knight saving the young maiden… So when Flynn does actually step up to the mark and save HER, it is the most powerful bit of cinema I’ve seen in AGES. Yes, you read that right! If you loved Toy Story 3 (and I did), then I think the resolution of Tangled offers *something* just as strong. BTW, if you’re wondering why this movie is a PG instead of the usual U as I was, you will be in for a BIG surprise.
VERDICT: Watch it. Seriously: just watch it.