Un-tangling Tangled

We finally got around to watching Disney’s Tangled. I know, it came out a year ago (the last movie I saw in a movie theater was Toy Story 3,) and it’s even been on our Netflix queue for a while now, but Jonah hasn’t been very motivated to watch it with us (full-length movies are still tough for him to sit through.)

…and I’m so glad I have a boy. I worked in a theme park long enough and have enough friends with daughters to know that “Disney Princesses” are basically An Unavoidable Thing for even the most progressive parents of girls, and while we encourage quite a lot of gender-role ambiguity in our house, it’s fair to say that we spend most of our time with cars (lowercase) and trains, because that’s what Jonah likes. And it’s a good thing, too, because if I had to constantly watch these movies and be immersed in Disney Princesses, it’d drive me nuts.

It’s not that I didn’t watch Disney movies as a girl. I was 8 when The Little Mermaid came out, and I hung on until Pocahontas came out in 1995, when I was old enough to be pretty sure that wasn’t really how things happened. But I was just never really a Princess fan. Despite the fact that I was an emotional, idealistic and love-sick preteen with a messy home life, I never really looked up to or identified with any Disney characters, and certainly not any of the ones in fancy dresses. I loved them for the magic of the animation itself, and the songs were always my favorite part.

So I watch this movie, and I thank the stars that I don’t have to watch more of them, and I, like many others, wonder what these movies are teaching to all of the girls in Jonah’s pre-school class with the Disney Princess backpacks and t-shirts. They’re wonderfully made, gorgeous movies based on classic literature and fairy tales – of course we want to show them to our kids.

Fairy Tales are a tradition dating back to Ancient Egypt, and were an important oral tradition, to teach children (and adults) important lessons and morals. Be a good person, Don’t get eaten by bears, etc. We grew up with them, our parents grew up with them – look, everyone since Ancient Egypt grew up with some form of them. But at some point, don’t we have to stop and ask ourselves WHY we’re still teaching outdated morals about Princesses and Happily Ever After?

Apparently, Tangled was the last Disney Princesses movie, which likely means that the line-up above will continue to be re-used and featured again and again for generations to come. Maybe that’s why I was so disappointed with it. This was supposed to be the Disney Princess Movie with the Strong Female Lead!

Discussion of the plot below. Consider this a Spoiler Warning, although you could probably guess your way through each act if you’ve seen literally any other Disney movie.

Tangled is purportedly a movie about Dreams. The Evil Witch dreams about living forever. No wait, she actually dreams about being Young and Beautiful forever. The Princess dreams about freedom, but not really – she really just wants to explore a curiosity and then she will be right back. The Handsome Sarcastic Thief dreams about being rich and living on an island.

Oh, speaking of dreams, we also get a Hilarious Musical Number where muscled, obese and otherwise Threatening Tough Guys dream of doing non-heteronormative things such as interior design, falling in romantic love, being a mime, collecting ceramic unicorns, etc. (You see, it’s funny because they’re still big tough guys and big tough guys don’t do “girly” things.)

Rapunzel is strong and able and talented and smart. But this isn’t a movie about a girl who is driven to follow her Dreams, because at any point in the movie where she is confronted with doing so, all she has to do is wait for the Handsome Sarcastic Thief to tell her what to do. And she does.

Interestingly, she can stand up to, outwit and even defend herself against The Evil Witch, the aforementioned bar full of Threatening Tough Guys, and even a Lawful-Good Horse. But for some reason, I guess because she knows that he is her True Love, she never stands up to The Handsome Sarcastic Thief. From the time she meets him (well, after she knocks him unconscious with – yes, a frying pan,) she does what he says.

They have an adventure, they almost die, she saves his ass, they sing a song, they fall in love. 

And as we reach the conclusion of our movie, the Princess is about to make a Heroic Sacrifice, but in the nick of time, we are reminded that women are not allowed to be heroes in Disney Princess movies. The Handsome Sarcastic Thief then cuts her hair, defeating the Evil Witch and oh, yeah also removing her physical identity and (in my opinion, more importantly) her FREAKIN’ MAGICAL POWER. But it’s OK, because “He prefers brunettes.”

That’s right, folks, the The Handsome Sarcastic Thief does EXACTLY what The Evil Witch warned the Princess about for basically her whole life.

Oh, that Heroic Sacrifice she was going to give – healing him after the Evil Witch had stabbed him with a dagger. (Oh, and really, Rapunzel? 18 years in a tower, and you never stumbled across that in the desk drawer? Would have been a more effective security measure than the cookware you were wielding earlier.) Anyway, don’t worry about it, because in a totally classic Disney Deus Ex Machina, Rapunzel also has healing powers in her tears, and when she cries over her True Love, he is magically healed just in time for the Happily Ever After.

The Princess is reunited with her parents, the King and Queen of Non-Speaking Roles, and the The Handsome Sarcastic Thief becomes The Handsome Sarcastic Prince where assumedly he is now pardoned of his previous crimes and gets enough money and power that he can fulfill his own noble Dream of Being Rich. Meanwhile, the Princess gets to be good and fair and just and be loved by all of her people, and everyone loves her new hair style.

So what is the moral of this movie? Is it “Follow Your Dreams?”

Maybe for boys. For girls, the moral is not much different than most Disney Princess movies: “You Can Totally Have Dreams, Talents, Skills and Your Own Personality, as Long as You Are Willing to Give Them Up When You Fall in Love with a Man.”

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One thought on “Un-tangling Tangled

  1. Thank you for posting this! While I enjoyed the movie, I struggled with the “strong female lead” assertion too. Female characters like this tend to be the same; even if they’re not stereotypical “princess” types, as soon as their prince comes along that’s what they become.

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