Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Some Tangled Messages

Tangled is Disney’s twist on the Brother’s Grimm story of Rapunzel, taking a slightly different approach than the classic fairy tale.  Princess Rapunzel is born with magical golden-blonde hair that heals and has anti-aging powers.  In her longing to keep her youth and beauty, Mother Gothel kidnaps the baby Rapunzel for her own selfish desires.  Eighteen years later, Rapunzel is still confined to the tower where Mother Gothel hid her, yearning to experience the outside world.  What Rapunzel wants most in the world is to see the festival of lights in the royal kingdom, oblivious to the fact that this occurs each year to remember the lost princess.  As we would expect, she breaks free and goes on the adventure of a lifetime, eventually discovering her true identity. It deals with several “leftist issues”, according to Giannetti’s ideologies, that could be rendered problematic for a children’s film.  Although Tangled reinforces the all-too-familiar message that girls are unable to fend for themselves and need men to save them, supplemented by the congruent argument that a girl’s worth and power are manifested in her beauty, the positive messages have far more impact on a child.  

                  First, we’ll touch on the positive elements which embody the ultimate meaning of the movie.  The two most favorable messages for children in Tangled were female independence and perseverance in the face of adversity.  Rapunzel is 18 years old and has been quarantined in a tower for her entire life, but despite her circumstances, she has a joyful spirit and many versatile interests. In the first musical number, Rapunzel sings about her numerous hobbies that she fills her day with, such as reading books, painting murals, playing the guitar, baking, doing pottery, and even playing hide-and-go-seek with her pet chameleon . Through these hobbies, Rapunzel demonstrates independence in her ability to find ways to enjoy her own company and be well-rounded as she spends her days alone.  This number makes the audience fall in love with Rapunzel’s sweetness by appealing to our pathos. She’s also chosen to make the best of her unfair situation, and this is a lesson that resonates with the audience.  Once Rapunzel musters up the courage to leave her tower and go to the festival of lights against her mother’s wishes, we witness as she faces many trials throughout her journey, yet never chooses to give up.  While in a pub, she sings an entire number about her dream to see the floating lanterns, while simultaneously inspiring everyone else to sing about their own dreams (  Behind the lyrics of the song is the resonating message to never give up.
Now for the negatives. Sexism is one of most evident negative themes that lies within Tangled.  In Disney’s attempt to broaden their audience to all young children, they incorporated a male as the main character and inevitably altered a previously female-centered fairytale into a more male-dominated movie.  This male protagonist, Flynn Rider, not only acts as Rapunzel’s sidekick throughout her journey, but also is the narrator of Rapunzel’s story. Ultimately, this choice plays into the sexism that we’ve been seeing more and more in Hollywood movies and ends up communicating that a girl needs a man in order to survive.  For instance, despite Rapunzel’s independence and willingness to take a risk, she travels with Flynn throughout her entire journey and relies heavily on him to overcome the obstacles they face.  When Rapunzel decides she is going to escape to see the light festival, she demands Flynn to “act as my guide, take me to these lanterns, and return me home safely”.  Even Rapunzel’s own words portray her as weak and in need of a man to protect her. In addition, when Flynn inadvertently breaks into Rapunzel’s tower, she knocks him out with a frying pan, and proceeds to carry this common kitchen instrument as her defense weapon throughout their expedition.  If the roles were reversed, a man would most likely use a bat or a gun, which reduces Rapunzel’s ethos in the eyes of the audience. This contrast enforces the idea that a woman’s place is in the home and further reduces her standing in comparison to men.  These are just a few of the countless examples of sexism in Tangled that convey female dependence on males.

                  Tangled also subtly fosters the negative message that a woman’s power and strength result from her beauty.  Rapunzel’s long, blonde hair is her key feature that makes her beautiful according to the world’s standards. Her hair is utilized in many different ways, and one of them is to help Rapunzel defend herself.  When Flynn breaks into her tower, Rapunzel literally uses to her hair to tie him up.  Her hair is also used a representation of autonomy as Rapunzel escapes the tower by sliding down her hair, thus setting herself free from her captivity. The magical powers that are possessed in Rapunzel’s long hair provide her with power as well.  Her hair helps others retain their youth, which is the sole reason that Mother Gothel values Rapunzel.  Rapunzel’s glowing hair ends up saving her and Flynn when they are stuck underwater, and she later heals a wound on his hand by the power of her hair.  We also see three little girls gush and giggle while they braid Rapunzel’s long beautiful hair, a perfect illustration of the reality of a little girl’s perception of beauty, which can be skewed by movies like this. 

                  When the positive and negative elements are compared, I would argue that the positives take precedence and convey the clearest messages in Tangled.  My personal rating for this movie is five stars because I wouldn’t hesitate to show it to my daughter one day.  It’s one of my favorite children’s films, and the rest of the world must have thought so too, considering that Tangled brought in $591 million in box office sales. Overall, Tangled is a witty, endearing take on an old classic story that captured the hearts of many families.

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