Year of Disney #50: “Tangled” (2010)

Meanwhile, Rapunzel is enhanced not only by her royal status but by her smarts and ingenuity, and grows a great deal over the course of the film, as well, thanks to her adventures and, yes, her relationship with Flynn. What’s most important, however, is that she doesn’t decide to leave her tower because of a man. She had her heart set on going on a journey of self-discovery before he arrived. Every year on her birthday, the king and queen (along with all the subjects of their kingdom) had set out floating lanterns aglow, a symbolic gesture that they would never give up the search for their lost daughter, and being a smart person, Rapunzel had taken notice that the floating lights appeared every year on her birthday and had always had a sense that the two had to be related somehow.

And, after convincing her mother to pick up special paints for her located a day and a half away with the express purpose of getting rid of her a while, she decided to take advantage of the situation and enlist Flynn’s services as a guide. She does this by at first subduing him physically and then keeping the crown he’d stolen from her parents (though she doesn’t realize this yet) as collateral to ensure he follows her wishes. She is actually a quite strong person from the get-go, the issues she needs to work through most revolving around self-confidence when it comes to dealing with her mother.



And if any other children’s film has ever concocted a more emotionally accurate depiction of a toxic parent-child relationship than that between Rapunzel and Mother Gothel, I certainly can’t think of it. Played with the gusto and attitude of a great Broadway diva–and, given that she’s voiced by the perfectly cast Donna Murphy, an actual Broadway diva, this is no surprise–Gothel is a true monster but, unlike some of the other great Disney villains, is remarkably down-to-Earth. She doesn’t seem to have any magical powers other than knowing the incantation to activate Rapunzel’s hair’s healing and youthening abilities, and is characterized by her narcissism and selfishness. She keeps this beautiful, vibrant young woman locked up because all she cares about is keeping herself young and healthy.

And like many real-world toxic parents, she keeps her daughter under lock and key by constantly undermining her self-confidence, poking holes in her self-esteem by making digs about her intelligence, her abilities, and even her weight. Her big number, “Mother Knows Best” is hilarious but very darkly so, as in between her horrified and amusingly random warnings to Rapunzel about what she will encounter in the big wide world out there, “Ruffians! Thugs! Poison ivy! Quicksand! Cannibals and snakes! The plague!” she also keeps insulting her, calling her “Gullible, naive…ditzy, and a bit, well, vague,” following that up with, “I’m just saying ’cause I wuv you!” 

"Mother Knows Best"

“Mother Knows Best”

And the irony is that Rapunzel is actually more than capable. She hasn’t been sitting in her tower the past 18 years watching the dust settle. She’s been reading, educating herself, teaching herself how to paint, how to play guitar, how to bake, and emerges an extremely well-rounded individual. All she needs is to realize that she doesn’t need Mother Gothel to survive.

And while she and Flynn both help each other grow, one of the most important things about the film to note is that she realizes the truth about her mother and eventually stands up to her all on her own. Even more significantly, both Flynn and Rapunzel ultimately save each other, Rapunzel willing to sacrifice her happiness and return to her mother in order to save his life, and he willing to sacrifice his life to keep her from a life of imprisonment, as well as proving in one fell swoop that he treasures her for who she is, not for what her hair might make her worth. And in the end, she saves him once again, with another gentle element from the original story, a magical teardrop falling from her eye.

Tangled features fantastic voice work from the aforementioned Murphy, Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, and more, and has some of the best and funniest chase sequences in any Disney film; two hilarious, refreshingly silent animal sidekicks in Pascal, the chameleon, and the aforementioned horse, Maximus; a beautiful, fresh, and funny score by the wonderful Alan Menken (lyrics by Glenn Slater); one of the most genuinely charming and well-developed “prince/princess” romances in Disney history; and some of the most breathtaking storybook visuals in any Disney film. Many might have worried that this couldn’t be accomplished with CGI, and yet Disney has produced  a film that is at least the visual equal of Sleeping Beauty, a true highlight being the floating lantern sequence, set to the  gorgeous love duet, “I See the Light,” paving the way for the equally awe-inspiring Frozen. There are many Disney Princess films I love, but few that my heart has gone pitter-pat for quite to the extent of these two most recent masterpieces.

"I See the Light"

“I See the Light”

Previous: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Next: Winnie the Pooh (2011)

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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.

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

      Post a Reply


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