Year of Disney #50: “Tangled” (2010)

I’m possibly contradicting myself here (although not being able to re-read all of my old Disney posts right now, I can’t say for certain), but Tangled very well might be my favorite Disney princess film of all time. If not, it at least shares the top spot with Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and the brand-new Frozen, although in the case of the first in that list, I consider that less a “princess film” and more an “awesome middle-aged fairies grudge match film,” but that’s probably neither here nor there.

What makes Tangled so wonderful is how utterly different it is than anything that came before it in the Disney Princess genre. The major element that has united all Disney Revival princess films to date is that none have done “straight” versions of their respective fairy tales, instead producing nearly fractured ones. That isn’t to say that most of Disney’s preceding fairy tale films never diverged from their source material–The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast are two of the most cherished and famous, and large portions of them are practically unrecognizable from the originals–and yet each of these stories basically borrow the major, defining element from each of their tales and then spin off into an entirely new direction, a move that is further justified by the fact that they each have a non-traditional title. The Frog Prince became The Princess and the Frog, The Snow Queen became Frozen, and here Rapunzel becomes Tangled.

And while some have argued in the case of the latter two that these are marketing moves designed to not scare boys away from the subject matter, by obscuring that they are about princess, I think it actually makes a lot of sense. Because Tangled is not the traditional Rapunzel tale by any means. In many ways, it is a mash-up of the original story and an action-adventure film, as if a Pixar film were crossed with a Disney fairy tale musical.

Rapunzel interrogates Flynn.

Rapunzel interrogates Flynn.

One of the film’s primary innovations is in turning the prince of the original fairy tale into a swashbuckling, cocky thief known as Flynn Ryder, who winds up finding Rapunzel’s tower whilst searching for a place to hide from the palace guards and an extremely persistent bloodhound-like horse, Maximus.



And what he discovers is no meek, blushing, inexperienced girl but a strong-willed young woman who may be a bit odd due to having spent her entire life cooped up in a tower with an emotionally manipulative toxic mother figure but who is extremely intelligent, brave, and able to defend herself physically, thanks to her long and praeternaturally gifted hair that seems to be able to carry out her will, in addition to its magical healing and restorative properties. Oh, and Rapunzel is no longer an everyday maiden whose father had stolen radishes from the witch next door but a princess who had been specifically abducted by an old woman so that her enchanted hair could keep the hag young and beautiful forever.

These storytelling decisions serve multiple purposes, all in the interest of creating a more balanced story for the characters. In place of a bland cypher of a prince, we have a much more involving male lead, a dashing, over-confident charmer with an unexpected backstory–he has fashioned the whole suave rogue routine in order to hide that he grew up a rather ordinary guy unceremoniously named Eugene–and an arc from cynical criminal to romantic hero, while never losing what makes him him.



Author: Robert Berg

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  1. I do love Tangled – with two caveats: First, I'm not the only person to be made kind of uncomfortable by the way Mother Gothel's physicality is contrasted to Rapunzel's; one is small and blonde with long straight hair, and the other tall with black, very curly hair. It's not like Gothel has a hook nose or anything, but I wish the animators had put more thought into why witches (and female villains) are traditionally represented with crazy black hair. Cat Valente is more explicit about it than I'm being – and I don't wholly agree with her analysis – but these physical contrasts between female hero and female villain (or rival, as in the case of Enchanted) have seemed to plague the Disney films of the last decade (or longer):

    My second issue is, to my mind, more significant (primarily because I don't think Disney is intentionally creating evil Jewish female villains). My problem with Tangled (spoilers) comes when Flynn cuts off R's hair, because he does it without her permission. Yes, he's sacrificing himself to save her – but he's undercutting her decision, made in the heat of the moment but no less unwillingly – to sacrifice her freedom to save him. If she'd cut off her own hair? Well, that'd be one thing. Instead, his last act is to destroy her extraordinary magical gift, entirely without her consent. He's literally destroying her agency, in an effort to give her freedom.

    Shit really bugs me, is what I'm saying.

    But, yes, I loved Tangled. I especially love the 60s-esque illustrations over the closing titles, which are so cute.

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    • No less willingly, not no less unwillingly. DOUBLE NEGATIVES, AMIRITE.

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  1. Year of Disney #51: “Winnie the Pooh” (2011) | DreamPunk - […] Year of Disney #50: “Tangled” (2010) […]

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