Three movies left and just over two weeks to go. Let’s get into our next Disney Princess Movie: Tangled.
Not gonna lie, guys: this is one of my favorites.
Per usual, SPOILERS abound.
Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) has glowy magic healing hair . . . so long as you don’t cut it. Which is why evil Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) steals Baby Rapunzel away from her parents, the King and Queen, and raises her in an isolated tower, never allowing her to leave. When outlaw Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) comes climbing up one day, though, Rapunzel sees an opportunity to leave and watch the annual release of the sky lanterns, something she feels inexplicably drawn to.
Love happens, naturally. Also, self-discovery. Also, frying pans.
1. We begin Tangled by explaining the origins of Rapunzel’s magic hair, namely that once upon a time, a drop of sun fell from the sky and grew into a magic flower before a sick preggers lady ate it in her bowl of chicken noodle. I feel it’s important to note here, for the children, that I somewhat doubt the scientific veracity of this sun drop daisy bullshit.
2. Tangled doesn’t strike me as an overly ambitious movie (unlike Pocahontas, for example, it doesn’t appear to be shooting for Best Picture), but it still has a whole lot going for it. One thing that’s particularly striking is its villain, Mother Gothel.
Unlike other Disney villains, Mother Gothel doesn’t have what I’d call a particularly iconic look. It’s not a bad look, mind–she has all the curl and volume in her hair a girl could dream of–but visually, she doesn’t stand out to me as much as classic baddies like Ursula, The Wicked Queen, or, best of all, Maleficent. (It’s all about the hat, people. You wanna be an icon, you get yourself a cool hat.) Despite this, Mother Gothel is easily one of Disney’s best villains because, unlike other bad guys, what’s particularly sinister about her isn’t that she wants to rule the kingdom or that she sexually covets the heroine; it’s not even that she kidnaps a baby or locks a young woman in a tower without a key, although she does do those last two. No, what’s really sinister about Mother Gothel is how she imprisons Rapunzel; it’s the emotionally abusive relationship she’s purposefully developed, pretending to be Rapunzel’s mother and manipulating her at every turn.
Disney has obviously had stories with parental abuse before; after all, consider their source material. Fairy tales are just drowning in shitty parents. I, personally, think Disney’s next horrific retelling should be “The Juniper Tree”–let’s see them try and cute that story up. (“Donkeyskin” would be even worse.) But the relevant fairy tale and Disney movie here, of course, is Cinderella, as Cinderella also gets trapped at home by an emotionally abusive maternal figure before she finally escapes into her happy ending. The difference here is that Cinderella never takes much time to examine the relationship dynamics between heroine and wicked stepmother, nor does it bother to give Cinderella much sense of interiority or agency. We never see the internal struggle, how all these years of servitude and emotional neglect have affected Cinderella psychologically, how it has shaped her as a person and how she learns to move past it. Cinderella basically just allows a flighty fairy godmother to shove her off to a ball, and boom! Happy ending achieved.
Such is not the case in Tangled, where Rapunzel–desperate to see the world but simultaneously terrified of it–really does get to have an internal struggle, best encapsulated in one scene, otherwise known as the BEST scene.
On one level, this bit works because it’s hilarious: Rapunzel bounces back and forth between joy and guilt so quickly and so extremely that you can’t help but laugh, particularly with Flynn just standing there, watching all of this with the supremely unimpressed look of a man who can’t believe he’s in this situation. But the scene also works because it just feels so true: after spending her whole life in a tower, craving freedom while simultaneously failing to understand how much of a prisoner she actually is, it’s only natural that Rapunzel’s first steps into the world would cause her to vacillate wildly between giddiness, pride, and self-loathing.
It’s kind of heavy material for a cartoon, I know. But it’s executed so perfectly that I’m honestly a little in awe of it.
3. Another reason Tangled works so well for me, I think, is the humor. Not that previous Disney movies have been joyless glumfests or anything, but Tangled might make me laugh the most consistently, from the great quippy dialogue (“so, you’re being strangely cryptic as you wrap your magic hair around my injured hand”) to the great reaction faces (basically everyone, but most especially Maximus) to Flynn Rider’s surprisingly amusing narration (because narration can go so bad so fast, can’t it?). It’s also probably the first Disney Princess movie where the heroine tries to shove an unconscious body in a closet, which obviously is something I’d like to see more often.
But this reminds me: I’m afraid I must now share with you my unfortunate head canon, the secret truth behind Tangled: people, Flynn Rider is totally dead.
If you didn’t realize this, then I’m sorry to be the one to inform you, but the very sad truth about life is that there’s a limit to how many times you can be whacked in the head with a frying pan before you die, and in Flynn’s case, that’s two. (He’s actually hit three times, all within ten minutes, but as you’ll see in a moment, he wasn’t actually alive for the third bonk.) See, Flynn survives the first crack against the skull, although considering that he entirely loses consciousness, he definitely suffers some head trauma, like, we’re talking a concussion at the very least. However, the second blow to the head that comes only a minute later while he’s still lying prone on the ground? Nope, that’s a killing blow. See how ridiculously long Flynn is unconscious for? See how utterly unresponsive he is when Rapunzel tries to shove him in the closet, not to mention all the head, spine, and neck trauma he must rack up during those attempts? I’m sorry to ruin the dream, everyone, but that boy be dead as disco.
If you’re thinking, Okay, but Flynn seems to be talking an awful lot for a guy who’s a corpse, then let me tell you one of two possible theories: uno, Flynn is a figment of Rapunzel’s traumatized imagination, or dos, Flynn is a ghost who doesn’t realize he’s dead. Personally, I prefer the latter theory because it works better for the voiceover; after all, movies love themselves some posthumous narration, not to mention that Flynn says right up front that this is the story of how he died. Yeah, scratch the hallucination theory: our Disney Princess straight up murdered this dude and then fell in love with his spectre.
This is obviously the best Disney movie ever.
4. Despite being a killer (or because of it), Rapunzel is a pretty great Disney Princess.
Her enthusiasm for just about everything reminds me quite a bit of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I desperately want to write fanfiction about the two of them being friends and gleefully exploring new stuff; actually, writing Disney Princess crossover fanfiction is basically all I want to do now ever. So, yeah. Thanks, Disney. Fighting back this impulse is not helping my productivity, like, even a little, and I want you all to recognize this very difficult struggle.
Anyway, I like Rapunzel quite a bit. Other than just being adorable, she’s fierce, very proactive about self-defense, knows how to speak in italics (listen to how she says Flynn Rider), and is otherwise just hugely daring. Not fearless, obviously, cause yeah, Rapunzel ain’t fearless. But that’s kind of what makes her whole journey so brave, that she’s terrified to go but goes anyway, that she keeps pushing forward. Which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to watch when she runs back to Mother Gothel after thinking that Flynn has left her. I’m being totally literal here; it’s so awful watching Rapunzel get tricked into running back into her abuser’s arms that I actually had a little trouble looking at her heartbroken expression during that scene.
Honestly, the only thing about Tangled that doesn’t quite work for me is that Rapunzel doesn’t have the opportunity to save herself at the end of the story; rather, fatally wounded Flynn saves her instead when he cuts off her hair before she can make good on her bargain to leave willingly with Mother Gothel. Which I don’t mind exactly; after all, while I’m all about a heroine’s agency, agency works both ways: if a girl is willing to sacrifice her life to save a boy, it’s kind of fair play for that boy to try and sacrifice himself first to save the girl.
That being said, the haircut is what kills Mother Gothel, which leaves considerably less for Rapunzel to do at the end of the movie. She does save Flynn through the Power of Tears, but since she had no idea she could do that, it doesn’t exactly scream agency. (Not to mention that the Healing Tears are sort of a problem, considering that–unless I missed a line somewhere–no one foreshadows them at all. I mean, I knew they were coming because of the fairy tale, but I’m sure there are plenty of kids who saw this movie before they heard the original story, and anyhow, haven’t we come a ways since defeating our villains with conveniently placed and previously unheard of buckets of witch-melting water? Like, I don’t care if you’re “just” a kids movie; lazy writing is lazy writing. Set that shit up.) I just wish there was something active Rapunzel did that saved Flynn’s life at the end, providing a bit more balance between them, though I’ll admit to being at a bit of a loss to what that could be.
5. Hm. I called Rapunzel’s tears “healing tears,” but of course, that’s not what they are: they’re resurrection tears, right? See, Flynn never accepted that he was dead because his actual death happened so fast; here, though, it’s Flynn’s fervent belief that he’s still alive which allows him to appear as though he’s dying after Mother Gothel stabs him. When Rapunzel turns back from the window, though, Flynn’s spirit has sort of integrated back into his corpse that’s just been lying around the tower moldering for a few days. He has the opportunity to say a last goodbye and then finally accepts his death . . . that is, until Rapunzel cries Her Deus Ex Resurrection Tears all over his dead face, and he’s brought back to life for realsies.
Yes. That’s how it happened, folks, and you will never convince me otherwise.
6. Where I was originally going with this, before I got a bit sidetracked into awesome gothic head cannon, was to say that for a dead guy, Flynn is a pretty fun love interest.
Okay, technically, he’s a bit of a schmuck at first, like, no matter which way you look at it, he totally double-crosses his partners at the beginning of the movie, which isn’t great; just because the subtly named Stabbington Brothers team up with Mother Gothel by the end of the film doesn’t mean they don’t have legitimate reasons to be pissed at Flynn. Still, I just can’t help but like the guy; he gives killer deadpan, has far more personality than all the early Disney Love Interests combined, doesn’t stalk anyone, doesn’t hold anyone prisoner, doesn’t fat shame anyone, doesn’t abandon anyone in sub-freezing temperatures, and doesn’t sing jaunty songs about killing Indians. He also has some great reaction faces, and you guys know I’m all about the great reaction faces. (Basically, everyone in this movie does, honestly. Another reason I like this one so well.)
7. I’ve noticed that, post Aladdin, I haven’t been particularly excited about a lot of the music, which I was starting to chalk up to nothing competing with my Nostalgia Feels. But despite one or two songs that run just a bit poppy for my tastes, I actually think Tangled has a pretty great soundtrack. There are a lot of really fun songs: my favorite is actually something of a toss-up between “Mother Knows Best” (obviously excellent) and “Kingdom Dance” (which doesn’t even have lyrics, but for some reason I just really enjoy).
Meanwhile, my least favorite song is definitely the love ballad (you know, the one that got nominated for an Oscar), which is as unsurprising as it unfortunate because otherwise, the scene with the sky lanterns is just gorgeous.
I actually started searching around on my iTunes for a song I thought fit the scene better. Which is hard because of course nothing quite times up perfectly (especially when Rapunzel and Flynn actually start talking and singing, those pesky bastards), but I did rather like watching the scene while listening to this song. (Although the album version works slightly better in my opinion because it’s a bit softer, but apparently you can’t find that version on Youtube for God knows what reason. Which is mostly amusing because I was so cranky when I couldn’t buy the live version off iTunes like I’d initially wanted and had to settle for the album version. Figures.)
8. Tangled also puts us back on track with awesome animal sidekicks.
Pascal the chameleon is obviously adorable (his reaction to Rapunzel trying to convince him that he prefers hanging out in the tower is great), but I don’t think anyone can beat out Maximus the horse, who’s kind of the best. Maximus is very, very determined, even to the point of attempted homicide, which clearly means he’s right at home in Tangled. And I know I mentioned this before, but seriously, the reaction faces, especially the one above, which is how he looks at Flynn when he does his whole earnest “maybe this whole time we’ve just been misunderstanding each other” line.
This face kills me. It’s basically my default expression at any given moment.
9. . . . okay, I promise this is the last time, but . . . it just occurred to me that both Flynn and Maximus miraculously survive a fall near the beginning of the movie that even God would have had a hard time walking off, so it’s actually possible that Flynn was already dead before he even climbed the tower, or else that the ground in Tangled is secretly made of marshmallow and that they both just bounced off of it.
I think I’m going with the latter. Otherwise, Maximum has to remain a ghost horse and Rapunzel never actually killed anyone. Obviously, that’s something of a letdown. Besides, who doesn’t like secret bouncy marshmallow ground?
10. Finally, some random notes to wrap up:
10A. It probably makes sense that they change Rapunzel’s origin story: for one, she wouldn’t be an actual princess if they didn’t. For another, her birth parents would have essentially given her up to a witch in exchange for a bunch of totally not-magical vegetables. I can see how Disney was like, Yeah, maybe not.
10B. Even though I’ve seen Tangled before (well, once), it was still a little startling to watch this 3D CGI animation after a year of watching Disney’s traditional 2D style. I’m not saying it was bad or anything, but it took a minute to get used to–kind of like how I always feel watching Harry and Ron with their long hair in Goblet of Fire (which, to be clear, IS bad–who thought those were flattering hairstyles) before my brain finally just accepts it and starts paying attention to the actual story.
10C. I initially smirked when I saw the Queen because it was clear that, while the King had aged 18 years, she’d barely aged a day since Baby Rapunzel had been taken. But what I assumed was sexist cultural bullshit (older men can be dignified and stately, while older women are hags and crones, etc.) IMDb trivia reminded that since the Queen eats the magic, age-defying flower in the film’s opening act, her aging probably actually did slow down. I thought that was a surprisingly neat detail.
1oD. I see Rapunzel’s magic powers now include glowing hair, resurrection tears, and perfectly timed infant memory recollection. Okay, then.
10E. During the sky lantern scene, Mek told me she thought it’d be cool if Disneyland could somehow recreate this over the Rivers of America, you know, like a fireworks show but, like, way more awesome. I now desperately want to see such a show and my life will not be complete until I do, so, yeah. Thanks to you, too, Mekaela.
10F. I was surprise to see that Disney had allowed Flynn to actually bleed after he’d been stabbed; I didn’t at all expect Rapunzel to lift his vest and see red, even if it was only for like two seconds. I was like, Wow, Disney. Excellent job on the violence! Of course, there’s no blood on the knife that actually stabbed him, which possibly means he was actually stabbed by air, or by an invisible knife, or–you guessed it–it only occurred to Ghost Flynn to manifest blood upon his person, not other physical objects. (Yeah, yeah, I lied about discussing Dead Flynn some more. Deal with it.)
10G. Finally, I’m very amused that it wasn’t enough for Mother Gothel to age hundreds of years in a matter of seconds, turning into one big pile of bone dust. She also had to fall out of the tower window first, cause, like, Disney.
Goodbye, you evil, manipulative wonder. In death, try to make peace with the fact that, while you may have lost your immortality, your life, and just the day in general, you were a way better villain than losers like Ratcliffe or Shan Yu.
Flynn: “This is the story of how I died . . . don’t worry, this is actually a very fun story, and the truth is, it isn’t even mine.”
Rapunzel: “Welcome home, Mother.”
Mother Gothel: “How you manage to do that every single day without fail, it looks absolutely exhausting, darling.”
Rapunzel: “Oh, it’s nothing.”
Mother Gothel (sing-song): “Then I don’t know why it takes so long!”
Rapunzel (panicked): “Okay, okay, okay. I’ve got a person in my closet. I’ve got a person in my closet.”
Rapunzel (suddenly delighted): “I’ve got a person in my closet!”
Rapunzel: “Who’s that?”
Flynn: “They don’t like me.”
Rapunzel: “Who’s that?”
Flynn: “They don’t like me, either.”
Rapunzel: “Who’s that?”
Flynn: “Let’s just assume for the moment that everyone here doesn’t like me.”
Rapunzel: “Now, sit. Sit.”
Flynn (disbelieving, in the background): “What?”
Rapunzel: “We made it!”
Flynn: “Her hair glows.”
Rapunzel: “We’re alive! We’re alive!”
Flynn: “I didn’t see that coming.”
Flynn: “The hair actually glows.”
Flynn: “Why does her hair glow?”
Rapunzel: “Is it ruffians? Thugs? Have they come for me?”
(A cute bunny rabbit emerges from the bushes.)
Flynn: “Stay calm. It can probably smell fear.”
Rapunzel: “Something brought you here, Flynn Rider. Call it what you will: fate, destiny–”
Flynn: “A horse.”
Rapunzel: “So I have made the decision to trust you–”
Flynn: “A horrible decision, really.”
Flynn: “The only thing I want to do with your hair is to get out of it. Literally.”
Flynn: “Listen, I didn’t want to have to do this, but you leave me no choice. Here comes the smolder.”
(Flynn gives his best smoldering look. Rapunzel stares at him, confused, with clearly no idea what he’s trying to do.)
Flynn: “This is kind of an off day for me. This doesn’t normally happen.”
Flynn: “So, you’re being strangely cryptic as you wrap your magic hair around my injured hand.”
Rapunzel: “Please don’t freak out!”
Flynn (very, very fast): “I’m not freaking out. Are you freaking out? No, I’m just very interested in your hair and the magical qualities it possesses. How long has it been doing that, exactly?
Rapunzel: “What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?”
Flynn: “It will be.”
Rapunzel: “And what if it is? What do I do then?”
Flynn: “Well, that’s the good part, I guess. You get to go find a new dream.”
Flynn: “That was pretty impressive.”
Rapunzel: “I know!”
Despite that I wish Rapunzel had the opportunity to save herself at the end of the story (or at least save Flynn in a more interesting way), I really enjoy Tangled. It’s just funny and super cute, and I’m pretty sure this is going on my list of Comfort Movies.
God, that’s hard. I keep changing my mind!
Um . . . I’m going with Zachary Levi today, mostly because I feel like a fair amount of my enjoyment in this movie rests on finding Flynn more charming than schmucky. But Mandy Moore and Donna Murphy are serious, serious contenders.
Never go anywhere without a frying pan. Seriously.